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Sunday, April 29, 2007

Cautiously Optimistic

Fourth Sunday of Easter

That's my preliminary take on the appointment of Bishop John Nienstedt as coadjutor archbishop for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis (here's the press release--link valid until the archdiocese issues its next one). If not based on introductory news conference snippets from the StarTribune:
Nienstedt lamented "the contraceptive mentality in this country" that has made Catholic families smaller, saying it has made parents more reluctant to encourage their sons to become priests and imperiled some Catholic schools. "If we want to keep the schools alive, we have to tell Catholics to have more babies," he said
and background from the Pioneer Press:
As bishop in New Ulm, Nienstedt prohibited cohabitating couples from being married in Catholic churches...

As bishop in New Ulm, Nienstedt wrote a regular column, "And Miles to Go," for the diocese's newsletter and Web site. In the first column, written in September 2001, he complained about President Bush's decision to fund stem-cell research into possible cures for disease.

Nienstedt called on government and people to "curb the scientist's thirst for novelty" by ending the research. In a later column on the subject, he called legislation allowing stem-cell research "a very misguided, political attack on human life," and said, "there have been no medical cures resulting from the use of embryonic stem cells."

He also used his column to air his views on homosexuality, saying people became gay or lesbian as a "result of psychological trauma" when a child is between the ages of 18 months and 3. Homosexuality, he wrote, "must be understood in the context of other human disorders: envy, malice, greed, etc."

Nienstedt also advised parishioners to avoid the movies "Brokeback Mountain" - "a story of lust gone bad," he wrote - and "The Da Vinci Code." He said Dan Brown's best-selling novel, later turned into a movie starring Tom Hanks, was "pure Evil in its intent" and "seeks to confuse the young, whose faith may be weak, and lead them astray."

In a column from June with the headline "Silence," Nienstedt complained about people talking while he prepared for weekend liturgies, saying it was a "din of noise ... not unlike that of a sports arena."

"I have tried to overhear what is so important that people need to speak in church," he wrote. "Normally comments range from one's view of the weather, to a recent sports event, to how old Uncle Henry is looking. None of it is essential. None of it has to be spoken at that time,"
then perhaps for the letter response he provoked from a notoriously leftist and rumored heterodox priest (rumored because I am not an eyewitness):
Off to a sour start

At his opening news conference, the new coadjutor archbishop, John Nienstedt, needlessly sent a few shots over the bow ("Interests may signal goals of next archbishop," April 25).

It would have been more gracious for this newcomer to greet his new subjects and ask for prayers. Rather, he chews out Catholics for making responsible family planning choices.

Incredibly, "Nienstedt lamented 'the contraceptive mentality in this country' that has made Catholic families smaller, saying it has ... imperiled some Catholic schools. 'If we want to keep the schools alive, we have to tell Catholics to have more babies.' "
It takes a special type of mind to promote more babies to keep Catholic schools open. He should be chewing out Catholics for not making enough money to send their children to the schools.
Without a doubt, there are those who agree with the idea that it is money that primarily is preventing Catholic parents from sending their children to "imperiled Catholic schools," but I am skeptical. First, Catholic schools don't turn away families because of financial need (they do effectively filter families who have different spending priorities). Second, who's more likely to send their children to a Catholic school, contracepting couples, or non-contracepting couples?

It seems we may be set up for a shift from the pastoral ways of Archbishop Flynn. Then again, leading an archdiocese with St. Joan of Arc and Holy Redeemer toward one end and the likes of St. Agnes toward the other, may require walking the thin line the Archbishop has tread for more than a decade. We shall see.

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