Two Archbishops' Gay-Related Stories Show How Our Church Needs to Grow

Two archbishops from the United States made headlines this week related to gay issues.  Each story leaves me with a different feeling, though neither one is a good feeling.

Archbishop John Nienstedt

Archbishop John Nienstedt

The bigger of the two stories centered on Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul, Minnesota.  A news report from Commonweal informed the world that multiple allegations have emerged that Nienstedt made sexual advances toward priests, seminarians, and other men.  The archbishop strongly denied the veracity of these claims.

Nienstedt ordered an investigation of allegations against him, and the archdiocese hired a Twin Cities law firm to conduct the investigation.  In his statement, the archbishop said that he did so because that is what he would do with allegations made against any other priest, too.

This story is complicated by a number of factors.  First, there is Nienstedt’s record of very strong anti-gay comments, many of which were made during Minnesota’s debate about a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-gender marriage in 2012.  Second, Nienstedt has already been under fire because of mishandling of sex abuse claims against some of his priests.

Naturally, one of this story’s most popular responses has been to note the irony of witnessing someone who has been strongly homophobic in his speech possibly turning out to be homosexual himself.   When this accusation is made, it is sometimes made with glee, probably because to many people’s eyes and ears it is so obviously a personal problem when someone becomes so obsessed with homosexuality.   We have seen this behavior so often in our public and private lives:  people hate most in others what they really hate about themselves, and usually cannot admit about themselves.

These allegations have to be further investigated, but should it turn out that they are true, I think I will be sadder, rather than happier, to learn this reality.  To me, what it would mean is that the homophobia in our church and in our world had so affected this particular man that his ability to respond with love towards himself and others was extremely stunted.  I am angry at the harm he has caused others, but I find myself strangely sympathetic towards him if it turns out that he caused even greater harm to himself.

Archbishop Rembert Weakland

The second story, reported briefly in only the Catholic press, focused on the fact that, for the second time, Archbishop Rembert Weakland, the former archbishop of Milwaukee, was refused retirement residency at a Benedictine abbey.

Weakland, a Benedictine monk and former head of the worldwide Benedictine community of men, resigned as archbishop after it became public that he had had a sexual relationship with another man and that he had paid the man to be quiet about their involvement.   The relationship was not pedophilia and it was consensual.

Days after Weakland announced these facts, he expressed repentance publicly, celebrating a Mass where he asked for forgiveness.

The National Catholic Reporter noted that the rejection for residency came from St. Vincent Archabbey, in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, the same abbey where Weakland entered the community when he was 18 and lived for 20 years.  Although though the abbot of the community did not speak to the paper, Weakland offered his own thoughts about why he was refused:

“The Vatican recently laicized a Latrobe monk accused of misconduct, Mark Gruber, whose presence was creating some turmoil in the community. ‘The atmosphere was not a good one for me to return to,’ Weakland wrote. ‘Thus I will not be returning to Latrobe right now and at age 87 one never know what can happen in the future.’ “

The news story went on to explain the archbishop’s life since retirement:

“In Milwaukee, Weakland leads a low-profile life. He lives alone in an apartment and is said to attend daily Mass. He has no public role in the church, and when the current archbishop celebrates Mass and prays for the pope and bishops living in the diocese by name, Weakland is not mentioned. He was not allowed to deliver a homily at an annual priest retreat some years ago.”

This story leaves me feeling very sad–for Weakland, for the Benedictines, for our Church.  As in the Nienstedt case, we see how it is possible that fear of same-sex feelings and relationships can lead to behavior which harms one’s self and others.

The lesson that I take from both of these news stories is that we still have  a lot to learn in our church not only about sexuality, but also about forgiveness.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

Minnesota Public Radio: Archbishop authorized secret investigation of himself”

Star Tribune: Twin Cities Archbishop John Nienstedt faces new sex claims”

National Catholic Reporter: Report: Minnesota Archbishop Nienstedt under scrutiny for same-sex relationships” “Nienstedt under scrutiny for same-sex relationships, ex-official says”

The Wild Reed: “Has Archbishop Nienstedt’s “Shadow” Finally Caught Up With Him?”



12 replies
  1. Tim MacGeorge
    Tim MacGeorge says:

    As the report in Commonweal suggests, only time will tell how the Nienstedt story ends up. No matter what happens, this archbishop has presented to the world the picture of a man who has very little understanding of human sexuality in general; and, if the allegations are true, it appears he has very little understanding of his own sexuality as well.

    The sadder case, however, is the one involving Archbishop Weakland. Are Church leaders and institutions so bereft of compassion, Christian charity, and simple respect that they cannot open their doors — not to mention the doors of their hearts — to this elderly man who has served the People of God for so many decades? I pray there is a Benedictine Abbot who will have the courage to truly live the Benedictine practice of Hospitality. and reach out to and welcome the Archbishop in what are surely his final years.

  2. Friends
    Friends says:

    If I were adjudicating — and “who am I to judge?! — I would absolutely cut Archbishop Weakland some slack, especially in view of the fact that in our sister denomination, the Anglican Communion, clergy are actually allowed to marry their same-sex partners, at least in some jurisdictions. Not so with Nienstedt, who was actively vicious and hateful toward the very community of which he was himself a secret member. He’s the one who should be laicized — for utterly corrupt hypocrisy, much more than for sexual misconduct. To say that the Catholic Church has a major problem dealing with the normal variations and iterations of human sexual intimacy is to vastly understate the extent of the problem. This situation has got to change — and STAT! (Translation: “IMMEDIATELY”.)

  3. Joe Sacerdos
    Joe Sacerdos says:

    Sorry, but it’s not ironic when someone who makes strongly homophobic statements turns out to be a closeted homosexual. One of the surest signs of someone being a deeply closeted, self loathing homosexual, is someone who makes strongly homophobic statements. You can almost be CERTAIN that anyone who engages in homophobic statements is NOT comfortable with their own sexuality.
    I seem to say this everyday, but people don’t seem to hear it: “The biggest homophobes are ALWAYS the biggest closet cases.” Or as Jung would teach, “We most hate in others what we most fear in ourselves.”

  4. Christopher
    Christopher says:

    The church spends too much time involved in politics and have gone astray from the real works of Jesus. Whatsoever you do, to the least of my people, that you do unto me. I don’t recall Jesus saying to deny shelter to someone based on who he loved.

    What bothers me so much is how the church can turn their backs on their employees. There are many gay people – lay and religious, who minister to parish communities and on the diocesan level. Some make it to retirement, and others don’t. Archbishop Weakland, served his church faithfully for many many years, and as most church employees do, made many sacrifices for the church. And yet after all those years of service, his own community turns their back to him. No one wants bad press, and someone who might cause turmoil, but wasn’t that what Jesus’ ministry was? Christ didn’t stay away from those who might cause turmoil.

    As far as Nienstedt goes, if I were him, I’d stop wearing pants – they’re likely to catch fire. He’s nothing more than a hypocrite. I don’t understand how he can sleep at night. I’ve always said, those who condemn homosexuality often and regularly and are mean and hateful, are usually upset with themselves because they are gay, and might not like it. Except in this case it appears he was ok with it…behind closed doors.

    The church in the US has got to change and be more welcoming instead of making people feel unwelcome. That wasn’t the intention of Christ, but the US bishops have their own agenda which I don’t think Christ would of approve of. We’re all made in his image, white or black, gay or straight, fat or skinny, male or female. It’s time to set aside the differences, and begin the healing and the real mission and works of Christ.

    • Friends
      Friends says:

      Well, none of us was there to observe — but why would seminarian Marcoux have consented to a “date” with his bishop in the first place? There’s got to be a mutually voluntary “date” before there could be a “date rape”. Something in this story is not adding up to a fully plausible narrative. Whatever the circumstances, it’s clear that the Catholic Church’s enforcement of total (or totalitarian) celibacy for its clergy is the real root of the problem. It’s totally absurd, totally unnecessary, and totally counterproductive.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] of personal misconduct proving true would only add to this tragedy, as Francis DeBernardo wrote on this blog in July. I reiterate DeBernardo’s concluding words about […]

  2. […] for Marriage, even while 30,000 Catholics asked him to forgo the event. Nienstedt is currently being investigated for multiple allegations that he made sexual advances on priests and […]

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