Sunday, April 29, 2007

A day late and a dollar short again

Spot was going to write about Bishop John Nienstedt, der Panzerpappen's choice to replace the retiring Harry Flynn as archbishop for the local archdiocese. He seems like quite a fellow! But both Nick Coleman and MNObserver beat Spotty to it. Spot has been so content basking in the reflected glory of winning the award from City Pages last week that he's kind of asleep at the switch. Ah well. Parenthetically, boys and girls, this is why it is so difficult to win back-to-back World Series.

Coleman's column, entitled A dove of peace taken down by religious birds of prey (Spot thought at first the column was about Katie!), tells the story of how a Lutheran church took in a Catholic congregation after the latter's church was seriously damaged by the devastating tornado that ripped though St. Peter, Minnesota in 1998. Apparently, the two congregations each held their own services, and had some joint services as well, for over two years, until the Catholic church was repaired:

Pastors Mark Solyst and Elizabeth Yates of First Lutheran Church, which escaped damage, called the Catholic pastor, the Rev. Harry Behan, with an offer he couldn't refuse:

"What is ours is yours."

Holy Week was at hand, and with the tears and the prayers of a people hit by what would be named Minnesota's most severe weather event of the 1990s in mind, Father Behan accepted. On Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil, Catholics and Lutherans came together at First Lutheran.

Genuflecting Catholics had no kneelers. Lutherans, sitting beside Catholic nuns, had trouble keeping their eyes off their exotic guests. And there was the sensitive issue of communion. After years of ecumenical outreach, the Catholic Church was pulling back. Then-President Bill Clinton, a Protestant, had just been criticized for taking communion in a Catholic mass.

But the Christians of St. Peter, reeling from the destruction and psychological trauma of a tornado, came up with a solution: They gave themselves "a battlefield dispensation."It's like in a war," Behan told me then. "When you're being shot at, everyone worships with whoever leads them."This is not the time to divide," Solyst said at the time. "If I'm going to err, I'm going to err on the side of hospitality."

On Easter Sunday, the congregations returned to separate worship, sharing the Lutheran building with rotating services: Catholic mass at 8 and 11 a.m., Lutheran services at 9:30.

That arrangement lasted more than two years, until St. Peter's Catholic was rebuilt. The interfaith arrangement was a large part of the healing and recovery of the city.

But when John Nienstedt was appointed a bishop in New Ulm, he put an end to all the ecumenical nonsense! Yesiree bob! There is no reason why sturdy and faithful Catholics couldn't hold services outside, year-round, for a couple of years! That would be better than accepting the hospitality of a bunch of Lutherans with the attendant risk of heading down the road to perdition! And what if the Host transubstantiated itself in some Lutheran's mouth? No tellin' what might happen.

Nienstadt has similar enlightened attitudes on many issues:

When Nienstedt replaced New Ulm Bishop Raymond Lucker, a progressive who died in 2001, he denounced many of Lucker's policies and reportedly banned cohabiting couples from church marriages, kept female church leaders from leading prayers at meetings, opposed stem-cell research and claimed homosexuality is caused by childhood trauma rather than something innate in a person.

MNObserver, writing at Norwegianity, links to a PiPress online article that includes this quote from a priest who used to be in the New Ulm diocese:

Kenneth Irrgang, a retired priest who clashed with Nienstedt when he was bishop in New Ulm, predicted that Nienstedt will meet resistance among the 654 active priests in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

"I expect disaster there. I don't think those priests are going to accept him," said Irrgang, who now lives in St. Cloud. "He's a micromanager. He has to control everything. He hews the line from the Vatican without any question whatsoever. He's not a very good people person."

No he doesn't sound like much of a people person, does he?

We can expect Nienstedt to use his bully pulpit as archbishop to rail against abortion, stem cell research, and homosexuality, that's for sure. His position will give him the ability to influence the lives of Catholics and non-Catholics alike, and whether those of us in the non- category like it or not. And Spotty says, boys and girls, we probably won't.

On the bright side, Nienstedt sure sound like Katie's kind of a man. She must be very happy. We can look for saccharine paeans by Katie to Nienstadt in coming months. Oh well, it'll be a break from Katie's Muslim beat.


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