Minnesota Archbishop John Nienstedt has decided the critical issue in this year’s mid-term election is electing candidates who support an anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment.To this end he sent out a video to all Catholic families describing the supposed dangers to traditional marriage gays and lesbians pose. Never mind that millions more Americans felt under the poverty line in the last two years, a line already so low it teeters on the absurd - $22,050 for a family of four. Talk about being out of touch with the real world. The Archbishop lives splendidly, having his every need taken care of by a diocese that includes many Catholics living in poverty. But instead of speaking on their behalf, calling for support for candidates who take economic inequities seriously, he is de facto campaigning for politicians like Michelle Backmann who wants to cut social services and extend tax cuts for the wealthy solely but is solidly against gay marriage.
This is a man who supports the church’s upside down priorities. The poverty rate in this country is rising and an Archbishop of the Catholic Church thinks gay marriage is the great moral issue of our time. This is beyond scriptural misunderstanding. It is moral blindness. Gay marriage poses no threat to the Catholic Church’s stand against it. No priest will ever be compelled to perform a gay marriage. But this is not a Catholic nation, nor a Christian nation. The Constitution is intentionally neutral on religions, going no further than to guarantee freedom to practice and not practice religion. Thankfully there are Catholic lay people who understand the separation of church and state in this country far better than the Archbishop does, or the Catholic Church as a whole. The Catholic Coalition for Church Reform wrote a letter to supporters saying in part, “The Church is not prevented from making its own rules for sacramental marriage and for teaching its members Catholic doctrine. The ethics of citizenship, however, call for respect for the beliefs of other citizens in making civil laws that coerce people to act in a certain way or that deny them benefits and protection. We would not want to be coerced by law or denied benefits of laws based on the tenets of other religions in this pluralistic society.”
Their concern is the Church’s effort to impose its narrow view of morality and skewed understanding of scripture on the whole of our secular society. But it is ignoring the social disgrace of an increasing poverty rate that makes the Archbishop’s position worse. One wonders what could have possible driven Archbishop Nienstedt to make gay marriage his focus now. How could he have possibly reached the conclusion that it should be when millions of Americans are suffering economic devastation. Even Tom Emmer, the ultra conservative GOP gubernatorial candidate here in Minnesota, said last week that this election was not about hot button issues like gay marriage, that it was about the economy. So what is driving the Archbishop to engage in election year politics at the expense of moral clarity?
Perhaps we shall never know, but one thing we do know. He is showing why more and more Catholics are ignoring what the church says and making moral decisions for themselves that often go against official church teaching. And well they should. History will show the Archbishop – along with many Protestant clerics – is as wrong as the entire academy of southern Catholic bishops were in the 1850’s when they openly supported slavery and the south’s succession from the Union. It may not be a good thing for Christianity in America to become de-churched among Catholics and Protestants, but that is what is happening. This decision by Archbishop Niedstedt graphically illustrates why it will continue.