Pastor's Page
By Fr. George Welzbacher
June 3, 2012

A bishop these days doesn't lack for vexations, but our own Archbishop just a fortnight ago was handed not a plate but a tubful of trouble when a group of some eighty aging and angry, disaffected priests, most of them long gone from ministry, many long since laicized, saw fit to issue a manifesto, the last gasp, as it were, of what used to be called the "Spirit" (no relation to the letter) of Vatican II.   The manifesto, hereinafter to be referred to as "Graybeards Enraged" or, to keep it short, "The Shout", railed against the endeavor led by Minnesota's Catholic bishops to enshrine within an amendment to the state's constitution the definition of marriage as an exclusive relationship of a man and a woman, or (with greater precision) of one man with one woman. The focus of the Graybeards' rage was this very wording, insofar as it would deny to same-sex couples the granting of the legal status of marriage. Such denial, so "the Shout" will have it, "violates Christian principles of love and justice."

In concert with the raging Graybeards comes now an odd trio, three dissident pastors recently retired, though still qualified for active ministry, who have issued a proclamation of their own. The text of their statement was made known to the public, courtesy of MPR (Minnesota Public Radio), the letter they initially submitted to the Star Tribune having been refused publication as representing the reassertion of a point of view to which the paper had already given ample space. In their proclamation the "Dissident Three" joined with the "Fulminating Eighty" in calling upon the public at large (and Catholic voters in particular) to REJECT the proposed amendment, predictably because once again it "would deny rights and privileges to same-gender unions."   Such "rights and privileges ," though here unspecified, clearly must, in this context, be taken to refer to the rights and privileges of marriage.

Leaving aside the question as to whether refusing to same-sex couples the full legal status of marriage constitutes a violation of justice- were such the case almost every historic culture known to man would stand condemned as unjust- we will restrict ourselves, within the limited format of this column, to the question as to whether refusal of the rights and privileges of marriage to same-sex couples "violates" the virtue of love.

The answer depends on the definition of love. Philosophers are agreed that to love is to will the good, the true good, of the beloved. And what is the true good? The true good is whatever helps to advance the beloved-and the lover-towards securing the ultimate good. Thus whatever would act as an impediment to securing the ultimate good would have to be judged as in such context evil, even if it seemed to be good, even if it was in itself good..

Now in the light of Christian faith man's ultimate good is nothing less than the possession of Almighty God within a vision that never ends. It follows that anything that stands in the way of our gaining forever this ultimate good, the beatific vision of God, must be rejected as evil.

In the light of God's word, both as written in the Scriptures and as proclaimed in the constant teaching of Christ's Church, a teaching whose truth is guaranteed by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, it is clear beyond dispute that homosexual lust will, in the absence of repentance, doom the soul to eternal separation from God. Cf. Romans 1: 18-32; I Corinthians 6:8-1 1; and I Timothy 1: 9-1 1. Cf. also The Catechism of the Catholic Church, section 2357. Homosexual couplings being thus in God's judgment intrinsically evil, it follows that to encourage others to persevere in such behavior, and to encourage them all the more by endowing same-sex couplings with such social approval as the status of marriage would confer, is to be complicit in the damnation of immortal souls. It thus represents evil "in spades." Which is why St. Paul, speaking in the Holy Spirit, warns us in his letter to the Romans (1:32) that (at the very least) just as sinful as "those who do such things" are "those who approve them" (Romans 1:32).

True love, then, demands not the encouragement but the discouragement of homosexual behavior. To encourage self-destructive behavior is not love; it's hate, hate being the willing not of good but of evil to one's neighbor. The counsel offered by "the Dissident Three" and "the Fulminating Eighty" is poison for the soul, the reconfiguration of a Satanic lie. Two passages of Scriptures come accordingly to mind: "Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil" (Isaiah 5:20); and :"Father forgive them, for they know not what they do." (Luke 23:34).

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Here is an account of this whole affair as reported by Minnesota Public Radio in a printed release.
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Some Minnesota Priests Differ With Catholic Church Over Marriage Amendment.
Sasha Aslanian, Minnesota Public Radio
May 17, 2012

MINNEAPOLIS-As Minnesota Voters prepare to go to the polls this fall, the Catholic Church has mounted a major effort to convince them to approve a constitutional amendment that would only allow marriage between men and women.

But Catholics are not united behind the church's official position, a point made clear today, when a group representing 80 former Catholic priests spoke out against the marriage amendment. They said the amendment violates Christian principles of love and justice.

Also coming forward to oppose the amendment were John Brandes, Tom Garvey and Tim Power, three retired priests who are still part of the church. They also came forward to oppose the amendment, putting them on a collision course with John C. Nienstedt, the Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis, who last year informed all priests that they could not publicly dissent.

Catholic bishops have made passage of the amendment a top political priority this year, even though Minnesota law already prohibits gay marriage. Proponents of the amendment say it is needed to block a Hennepin County court case that seeks to overturn state law and numerous attempts by Democratic state legislators to legalize gay marriage.

In a letter submitted to the Star Tribune, titled "Catholics of Minnesota you have a choice! " they wrote, "There is not just one way for Catholics to vote in November."

Their letter describes gays and lesbians as brothers and sisters in Christ, who need allies.

Brandes, 85, ordained in 1951, has served in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis for 61 years, including time at the Cathedral of St. Paul, St. Rita's in Cottage Grove and St. Mark's in St. Paul. Brandes said he and the two other retired priests want to be respectful of those who hold other views, and at the same time encourage dialogue about the diversity of Catholic views.

Garvey, ordained in 1957, served the Archdiocese for 40 years including at St. Luke's in St. Paul and St. Frances Cabrini in Minneapolis. He said his views on homosexuality changed decades ago after he watched an interview with a lesbian woman who described how she was different. "She began to cry convulsively and I said, 'We've got the wrong position on this,' " Garvey recalled.

Power, ordained in 1966, served at St. Thomas the Apostle in Minneapolis and St. Timothy's in Blaine before retiring after 24 years at Pax Christi in Eden Prairie. Power calls their letter "a small counterbalance" to the Church's official position on the amendment.

Power said he was compelled to speak out by the collective silence of other priests.

"People [were] saying to me, 'Where is the voice of the priests that believe the way we do? They can't all believe the party line,' "he said. "And I'm thinking too, 'Yeah, where are they? 'That's us."


Jason Adkins of the Minnesota Catholic Conference said all citizens are welcome to share their opinions on an important public debate but the Catholic position on marriage is abundantly clear.

"We certainly anticipate unfortunate attempts by some to divide Catholics from their shepherds, their bishops, and while we think it's unfortunate, we do recognize it's only a small portion of the Catholic community," Adkins said. "The vast majority of Catholics stand with their bishops and the teaching of the church regarding marriage and protecting marriage as the union of one man and one woman."

The priests' letter attempts to carve out some middle ground. The retired priests say they agree with the church's position on Sacramental marriage.

Power said that if they perform marriages in the church's name, they adhere to its policies. But the priests say if voters approve the constitutional amendment, that would cut off the dialogue Minnesota is just beginning to have about gays and lesbians and what kind of recognition their unions should have.


The retired priests submitted their letter to the Star Tribune, the state's largest newspaper, for publication. But the Star Tribune declined to publish the letter. Commentary Editor D.J. Tice told MPR News that the newspaper receives numerous submissions on the marriage amendment and has published many of them.

Tice didn't recall the retired priests' letter but said the bar is high for delivering something new.

The men say they know many other priests - retirees and those in active priesthood - who support their position but are either too prudent or fearful to speak out.

Last year, Archbishop Nienstedt sent a letter to all priests in the diocese calling the charge to defend traditional marriage "one of the greatest challenges of our times." He reminded them of the vow they took on their ordination day to promote and defend the church's teachings and warned, "There ought not to be open dissension on this issue. If any have personal reservations, I do not wish that they be shared publicly.

The three retired priests received the letter.

In his 55 years of being a priest, Garvey said he can't remember a similar warning.

"That was a terrible thing, such an injustice to us to say you cannot disagree with me on this matter," he said. "And it's just not true."


Also Thursday, a group representing 80 former priests expressed their opposition to the amendment. Bob Minton, a former priest who organized the group, distributed a sheet with 80 names, tallying up their combined "more than 1,000 years of service to the Church" who are now free to express their opinions openly.

Ed Flahavan, who was a priest in the Archdiocese for 48 years, talked about overcoming his own homophobia through getting to know gay and lesbian people in his parish work.

Flahavan, who's now been married to his wife for seven years said, "For the life of me, I cannot see how same-sex marriage is in any way a threat to my happy marriage."

Paul Mohrbacher spent 16 years in the priesthood during the time of another great social divide: the civil rights movement. Mohrbacher recounted how he walked the final two days of the Selma to Montgomery march in 1965, wearing his priest collar.

"Back then, nobody told me I had to support a civil rights plank or had to speak out for it. It was a matter of conscience," said Mohrbacher. "I call for similar restraint today on the part of church leaders: people of faith can be opposed in good conscience to this amendment."

"For the Church to actively be promoting systematic exclusion in society grieves me," said John Estrem, a former rector at the Cathedral of St. Paul who went on to head Catholic Charities.

The Minnesota Catholic Conference released a statement in response: "As with any citizen, they have the right to share their views in the important public debate about the definition of marriage. While we are grateful to many of these men for their previous years of service, they have now chosen to separate themselves from the teaching of the Catholic Church regarding marriage. The Minnesota Bishops, like their counterparts across the country, along with every Catholic priest and deacon, have the responsibility to communicate Catholic teaching on this most fundamental matter. Only marriage between one man and one woman is consistent with the Gospel and the demands of justice."

The Priests' Letter [The Supplementary Letter of Three Retired but Non-laicized Archdiocesan Priests]

Catholics of Minnesota you have a choice!

As you undoubtedly know five months from now voters in Minnesota will be asked to vote on the so-called Marriage Amendment. This vote will allow or deny GLBTQ couples the right to pursue civil protection in their partnerships. This is a vote about who has rights and who does not. It should not be written into such a permanent document as our State Constitution. We are writing in opposition to our Catholic Church's promotion for Catholics to vote in favor of the amendment.

The Catholic Church's position on Sacramental marriage is very clear and we agree with that position. However, regarding saine-sex unions even the Catholic Hierarchy has members with different views on this issue. The Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna, Christoph Schoenborn is one who has a different point of view. Here is a quote from another Catholic Archbishop, Vincent Nichols of Westminster, England: "We would want to emphasize that civil partnerships actually provide a structure in which people of the same sex who want a lifelong relationship (and) a lifelong partnership can find their place and protection and legal provision." (Press Conference on November 26, 2011 following the English and Welsh Bishops' Conference Meeting).

Right at home here in our own parishes there are gay-lesbian couples who are strong active and faithful Catholics. These church members are not only our sisters and brothers in Christ, they are the blood relatives of you and me and of large numbers of our parishioners and friends. They need allies.

We, the signers of this letter (and we know that there are many other priests who support this position), are opposed to a Constitutional amendment that would deny rights and privileges to same-gender unions in Minnesota. The so-called "Marriage Amendment" would do just that. We write now to say that there is not just one way for Catholics to vote in November. We ask you to consider voting "No" this November on the Marriage Amendment. We feel that our church is stronger when both sides of an issue are part of the public dialogue.

Thank you for your consideration.
Fr. John F. Brandes
Fr. Thomas J. Garvey
Fr. J. Timothy Power
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