Come November, Minnesotans will enter the voting booth and be given the opportunity to vote for or against a state constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriages in the state. Minnesota United for All Families, a broad coalition of organizations and community and business leaders, opposes the amendment, saying the ban "would benefit no family, create no job, defend no institution, nor welcome any person to Minnesota," but would "hurt, disadvantage, and stigmatize tens of thousands of Minnesotans and their families."
The fight leading up to the vote will be hard fought on all sides and all voters, whether they support or oppose the measure, will be asked to stand up and voice their belief on the issue. Everyone, that is, except members of the Catholic clergy.
In a letter leaked by the Progressive Catholic Voice in Minnesota on January 5th, Archbishop John Nienstedt warned priests and deacons throughout the diocese not to publicly speak against the amendment nor the church's role in pressing for it.
The American Independent subsequently reported on the leak and the Catholic Voice's response to the Archbishop:
That group’s editor, Michael Bayly, called the speech problematic.
“The Archbishop’s letter is problematic in many ways,” he said. “As a gay man, I find it particularly offensive that he can’t even bring himself to name gay and lesbian people. We’re simply a ‘minority’ seemingly out to destroy the church and civilization. Such an absurd caricature would be funny if not for the hurtful and damaging consequences to individuals, couples and families resulting from the Archbishop’s anti-marriage equality activism.”
Minnesota’s Catholic hierarchy has come under intense scrutiny over its support for the anti-gay constitutional amendment.
In the run-up to the 2010 gubernatorial election, the church sent out approximately 400,000 DVDs and mailings urging Catholics to vote for Republican Tom Emmer, the only candidate in the race who opposed marriage equality for same-sex couples and a staunch Catholic.
The campaign, paid for by an anonymous donor and produced by the Knight of Columbus, sparked protests against the church.
But, as the Minnesota Star Tribune reported Monday, the Archbishop shows no sign of backing off his stance:
Priests told not to voice dissent
Archbishop John Nienstedt is warning Catholic clergy across Minnesota that there should be no "open dissension" of the church's strong backing of a proposed amendment to the state Constitution that would define marriage as a union only between a man and woman.
In other early signs of the fervent campaign the church intends to wage for the amendment, which will be on every ballot in the state this fall, Nienstedt is appointing priests and married couples to visit archdiocesan high schools to talk about marriage. He has directed parishes to form committees to work for passage of the amendment. He also has warned a priest that he may be stripped of his ministry if he continues to disagree "with the church's teaching on marriage."
One priest in particular has be singled out by Nienstedt, as the Star Tribune explains:
One vocal critic of Nienstedt is the Rev. Mike Tegeder, who spoke against the amendment at a priests' meeting with Nienstedt in October.
In November, Tegeder received a letter stating that if he did not end his public opposition, Nienstedt would suspend his "faculties to exercise ministry" and remove him from his "ministerial assignments."
And a report by United Press International adds:
Nienstedt told Tegeder unless he desists in opposing the amendment that would define marriage as a union only between a man and woman he would strip the priest of his "faculties to exercise ministry" and remove him from his "ministerial assignments."
Tegeder said he doesn't believe the church should be actively campaigning in support of the amendment. Minnesota has about 1.1 million Catholics.
"That's not the way to support marriage," Tegeder said. "If we want to support marriage, there are wonderful things we can do as Catholic churches and ministers. We should not be focused on beating up a small number of people who have this desire to have committed relationships."