Archbishop John Nienstedt crusades against gay marriage

But increasingly, his flock of Minnesota Catholics isn't following

Not long after Bayly arrived, however, the St. Paul archdiocese began disowning CPCSM's work. Without its primary patron, CPCSM slowly lost steam, and eventually disbanded a few years ago.

"There's a fear that the bishops utilize: If gays get the right to civil marriage, then the church will be sued if we don't marry them," Bayly says. "That's a crock. The church can choose not to marry divorced people, but you don't see straight couples getting turned away because one of them is divorced."

After CPCSM shuttered, Bayly — who also maintains a national presence on his blog, the Progressive Catholic Voice — took it upon himself to carry the resistance, to pick up the pieces and show the episcopacy that he could mobilize just like it could.

Archbishop John Nienstedt has gone to great lengths to try to pass Minnesota's anti-same-sex marriage amendment
Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis
Archbishop John Nienstedt has gone to great lengths to try to pass Minnesota's anti-same-sex marriage amendment
Father Mike Tegeder is one of the few Minnesota priests to publicly oppose Nienstedt's stance on gay marriage
Mark N. Kartarik
Father Mike Tegeder is one of the few Minnesota priests to publicly oppose Nienstedt's stance on gay marriage

C4ME-MN is still a small operation, and it has been repeatedly disavowed by the archdiocese, which said it was composed of people "masquerading as Catholics." But it's managed to gather hundreds in vigils across the city, with the most prominent happening outside the Cathedral of St. Paul over Lent. Signs citing tolerance, people offering hugs and grins and two-finger signs of peace — all Catholics, all coming out against an episcopacy that, as Bayly says, "is very much a feudal system, [an] absolute monarchy."

"The church isn't going back to the 1960s — it's going back to the 600s," says Tom Murr, a Catholic colleague of Bayly, who says he was banned from sharing his gay son's story in church. "They're moving almost militantly against our LGBT brothers and sisters. If you have problem with gays, blame God, not the people."

C4ME-MN's high-water moment came last fall, when Bayly decided to respond to Nienstedt's DVD campaign with a film of his own.

Released at the Riverview Theater last September, C4ME-MN's 20-minute offering contained a series of five testimonials, ranging from same-sex couples to parents and family members of gay individuals. All were bound by their Catholic faith.

"I didn't want to speak out as Big Gay Senator. People know who I am," says Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL-Minneapolis), who appears in the film along with his husband, Richard Leyva (the couple wed in California while gay marriage was legal there). "But that DVD, it just had really beautiful vignettes, putting language and context to values people already hold. [And] you contrast the archbishop's threats and edicts with the generosity and warmth and adherence to ideals of justice that are coming from the pews, and it's striking."

The video, as with most things put forth by C4ME-MN, was received with thundering silence by the church's hierarchy. But the premiere drew an audience of nearly 300, and allowed people to connect with like-minded Catholics.

"Look at some of the statements [the church] made at DeLaSalle, where they're comparing gay marriage to bestiality," Bayly says. "It's just so over the top. I think people are hungry for a grounded, reasonable, calm, compassionate Catholic voice. And that's our aim, to be that voice."

C4ME-MN isn't the lone Catholic organization working in the Twin Cities to combat the bishop's recalcitrance. Four years ago, in light of the ballooning sexual abuse scandal, a dozen parishioners formed Concerned Catholics for Church Reform.

Paula Ruddy, a 77-year-old member of St. Boniface, noted that CCCR's impetus was to open a dialogue between parishioners and clergy. All they wanted was a chance to discuss the direction their church was taking.

"That our archbishop is leading a campaign to change the Constitution on the issue of equality is very hard to imagine," Ruddy says. "And we want to be able to talk with him, to reason it out. Because he's got to have some very good reasons for doing that, and we haven't heard them yet."

Nienstedt has maintained his distance, unwilling to attend any meeting or discussion. He has written letters to individual members, but has been loath to entertain dissent.

"We used to have consultative bodies under prior archbishops, but Nienstedt has not continued that," says Bob Beutel, a member of CCCR and a parishioner at St. Joan of Arc. "He's told us only that he thought we held positions that were a threat to our eternal salvation."

CCCR has approximately 2,500 members, with about 90 percent coming from the St. Paul Archdiocese. They're mailing and organizing, preparing for the upcoming November vote, their entire focus in 2012.

Meanwhile, Bayly is planning more gatherings, more vigils. He's planning to write more op-eds, and will be trying, against the odds, to finally discuss with Nienstedt why the archbishop carries such a preoccupation, such an obsession, with the idea of same-sex attraction.

"I think this whole issue of homosexuality is the last one the bishops still have any sort of control over, and they see that going," Bayly says. "And that's why they're putting up such a huge fight. Because after that's gone, there's nothing left in the realm of sexuality that people will listen to them about." 

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