A reader from the troubled Mpls diocese writes:

I listened to you on October 8, 2013, at the Argument of the Month Event in St. Paul, MN. I believe you did an excellent job and in my opinion I believe your advice for the average Catholic was much better than that from the opposing side. Praying, fasting, and almsgiving (charity) is action that we can all execute and begin immediately if we so choose.

The reason for my email is that I would like your advice on how to communicate with some of my Catholic friends regarding our Archbishop, Archbishop Nienstedt. As you know, Archbishop Nienstedt has recently admitted that he made mistakes regarding how he handled clergy sex-abuse cases under his watch. My friends are under the opinion that he should step down from his position immediately, or if he chooses to not step down, that we as his flock have an obligation and responsibility to have him removed.

Archbishop Nienstedt has apologized and I forgive him, as our Our Father will forgive him.

My position is that we forgive, pray, fast, give alms, and be patient. My friends say this is not enough.

It seems like every time I have this conversation with my friends I end up on the losing side of the conversation, i.e., they are right and I am wrong.

What advice do you have for me? What do believe is the correct action for any member the Archbishop’s flock?

Thanks for your kind words!

I guess my question is “What exactly are your friends proposing?”

Lots of Catholics of the Church Militant TV variety seem to have the same idea as Mr. Furious in “Mystery Men”. The idea seems to be that getting really really really angry is “action” while prayer, fasting, almsgiving and corporal and spiritual works of mercy is somehow passivity or unmanly or what not.

But, in fact, prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and corporal and spiritual works of mercy *are* action while anger, and particularly the sort of anger CMTV indulges and encourages, is fruitless and barren, when it is not positively destructive and corrosive.

Practically speaking, there are a few things that can be done about such situations. If something criminal has occurred, you can jail or punish the criminal. If the state opts not to do that, you can either forgive the criminal or marinate in rage. If the latter option is chosen, it won’t make a damn bit of difference to the criminal or his victims. It will just make the unforgiving person full of impotent and miserable fury. The cure for this is forgiveness, which is usually enacted through prayer, fasting, almsgiving and the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

If you think the priest or bishop has done something wrong but not criminal (i.e liturgical abuse) you can complain to his superior, whether the local ordinary or the one in Rome. If those avenues of relief don’t work, you can change parishes or dioceses if you like or learn to live where you are. Positively, you can try to educate yourself about and live the faith like a saint and bear witness to others. In short, live out prayer, fasting, almsgiving and the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

That’s why I don’t know what your friends mean by “not enough”. What–exactly and concretely–do they propose beyond being really really mad?

  • Marthe Lépine

    May I give a suggestion to people who get really really angry and find it difficult to forgive? A few years ago someone did something really bad against me. Forgiving would have been difficult, but I got this idea (or the Holy Spirit suggested it?): Each time I thought about that person, I said the Lord’s Prayer for her intentions. At first, it was several times a day. And it seems to have worked very well for me. On the other hand, it is possible that the person in question still needs prayers, and I am no longer thinking about her since I have now forgiven her …

    • Raymond

      would you interact with that person in such a way as to give them the opportunity to do something really bad against you again?

  • Pappy

    A minor nit, the diocese is actually St. Paul, though a number of years ago it was renamed to be St, Paul and Minneapolis.

  • Pappy

    Also, the ‘wrong’ thing that Archbishop Nienstedt did was to believe those in charge that everything was OK when he took the reins.

    As Stu pointed out in a different place in Mark’s blog is that the is simply payback for the good Archbishop’s support of traditional marriage a year ago. The local paper is doing very little to point out that the problems occured prior to Nienstedt being the archbishop.

    • Dan C

      In your opinion then, the allegations of mismanagement by the archbishop is unjust and he is a victim in the culture war?

      I think this is a culture war spin. The “accountability coalition” that conservativism was purportedly going to be is surrounding this man and claiming he is a victim. Not one who has erred and gravely so, but a victim.

      I think there were conservative prelates who were attacked for similar matters without gay marriage politicking in the background.

      The archbishop is not the victim here.

      • Pappy

        I don’t know how Bishop Nienstedt could have mis-managed these cases when he wasn’t the “manager” when the events occurred.

        BTW, I would not characterize Bishop Nienstedt as “conservative” but as Catholic. I’m not sure what your criteria to be labelled conservative is or what you think he has done to earn your perjorative labelling.

        • Dan C

          One can approach these problems as Rigali of Philly who inherited Bevilacqua’s mess or like Chaput who inherited Rigali’s and Bevilacqua’s mess. Chaput has been dealt a fair hand by a hostile press on this matter because of doing all the right things. Even when one or two decisions were troublesome, things were re- thought and better decisions were made.

          That is how it is handled.

          Running the archdiocese is a responsibility and Chaput has done his fair work with a hard scene. O’Malley also dealt with someone else’s troubles. There is a way to do it, and it is not a shocking new way.

    • Alypius

      Yes payback from the local media (i.e. Strib) is a factor here. But let’s be honest: while most of the problems were prior to Nienstedt, not all of them were.
      The promotion of Fr. Wehmeyer to pastor, despite known issues, happened entirely under his watch.
      Leaving aside the fact that others (i.e. former Vicar General Fr. McDonough) also share blame, Nienstedt is at least guilty here of a failure of leadership.
      I believe his motives are, and have always been, sincere. But that doesn’t absolve him of managerial misteps.

      • Pappy

        Today Weymeyer is behind bars. I don’t see evidence that Archbishop Nienstedt is trying to obstruct justice (as many here imply).

  • Marion (Mael Muire)

    Beautiful advice, Mark.

    Just to add my two cents, forgiveness doesn’t mean that somehow magically you now believe that the unconscionable things done, weren’t done, or that they somehow weren’t unconscionable.

    Forgiveness means that you now no longer live within your desires to get even and / or to see that person brought down, punished for what they did. It means that instead, you have placed that person, together with all their actions – good and bad – into the hands of the good God, leaving it all to Him to deal with, in His own way, in His own time. It is also includes the awareness that the good God, into whose hands you have placed this person, is a loving and merciful God, one who has forgiven you in the past, but also a just God, who does not allow serious sin to go without punishment.

    Forgiveness also does not necessarily mean that I desire to see foregone the NATURAL consequences of that person’s actions. To hope that he or she should be prosecuted, fined, sued, ostracized, etc. as a consequence, when these represent the legitimate outcomes to their own actions, is not necessarily a mark of unforgiveness on my part. However, to live in, to obsess about my hopes for them receiving these punishments or to obsess about what they did, probably is.

    To let God be God is difficult when I’m furious, when I want to see justice done NOW. However, to turn the matter over to this, the Highest Authority, is an opportunity for me to do what is right, to grow in my Christian faith, to grow in love for God, AND to protect my own physical, spiritual, and mental health.

    Forgiveness – difficult, but can’t be beat.

  • bob

    “What–exactly and concretely–do they propose beyond being really really mad?”

    Stop giving it money. How about we just start there? Stop putting any money, even one red penny, in that collection basket. When you get that Bishop’s Appeal letter, fill the envelope not with a check but with a note:

    “Dear Bishop:

    “Here is my appeal: Stop raping our children. Stop protecting those who do. Cooperate fully with civil authorities investgating child abuse.

    Step down.

    “I do forgive you, sir. I do. As a well-known blogger pointed out, nothing good comes from a rage-filled heart. I choose to believe that your contrition is sincere.

    “But forgiveness does not mean that all is forgotten. Nor does it satisfy my duty as a parent to ensure that my children are safe. And they are not safe in your diocese. So while I forgive you as one Christian should another, I can not and do not trust you.

    “And in good conscience I can not give money to a diocese that will use any part of that money to pay off lawyers who re-victimize the the children and the families in the effort to shirk diocesan responsibility. Forgiveness is one thing. Becoming complicit in grave evil is another.

    “So I can not offer you money. What I can offer you is forgiveness and prayer. And those things you have.

    “As for patience?

    “Sorry, I’m fresh out.

    “Yours respectfully,

    “[Insert Name Here]“

    • Dan C

      This is an unhelpful approach. The rhetoric is misplaced and inaccurate.

      The archbishop probably should resign, but probably won’t. We are long past the day that we pretended the bishop had a “marriage” to one’s diocese, so that is not the motivation, but more human motivations. As such, one may choose to try to engage the leader, who will likely rule until promotion or retirement. And it is “rule.”

      A full- on boycott will stop discussion.

      The key to engaging in these matters is to remain focused : this is not “culture wars,” not “sexual revolution,” the problem is not “the gays,” etc. it is leadership and management.

      These folks “rule” in a sense much like one rules in medieval times. One needs to influence this ruler who may have had an opportunity to learn. This boycott in this manner is likely to be perceived as inflammatory by this ruler and he will shut this out retreating to the thought of “well, we do need a smaller purer church…. ” mindset that is likely not far from such a man’a mind.

      Sorting out techniques for constructive engagement may be more helpful.

      This approach will not be helpful.

    • Julian Barkin

      Bob, this is not a smart strategy. You have to realize that parishoners or the volunteers will screen the envelopes to account for the collections and tally money, as well as to ensure you get your tax receipt for the proper amount at the end of the year. So most of the “well-meaning” or “Spirit of Vatican II” parishioners in that position (that is, if they idol worship their lukewarm/liberal bishop) will ensure your letter never sees the light of day when they open the envelope first before the bishop’s office gets the contents within. And they will rightly chuck it in the garbage or report you to the pastor if you are not anonymous.

      • bob

        Report me to the pastor? By all means. Report away.

        Am I supposed to be afraid of the pastor? (Perhaps this mindset is part of what has brought us to this place?)

        Let me be clear: What am I proposing is that ALL the Catholics in the diocese take this approach. Not just the person who wrote to Mark.

        Why would it be “right” for volunteers to shield the bishop from the sincerely held views of his flock?

        • Julian Barkin

          All I’m saying, is a move like that will mean zilch, have zero effect on your parish life and (arch)diocese, and only screw you over if you do that. It’s like trying to hit a small target in a shooting range with a shotgun at far range. You need a concise pistol to hit the bulls-eye, not scatter-shot that rarely will hit the center of the target.

    • Spastic Hedgehog

      I downvoted only because if you’re talking about withholding from the Sunday collection, unless you are a parishioner at the Cathedral itself, you’re kind of cutting off your nose to spite your face.

      • bob

        How so?

        • Spastic Hedgehog

          Because while I know that parishes have some kind of “tribute” that they pay to the diocese that goes towards paying priests, health insurance, etc. the lion’s share of your offering goes to keep the heat and lights on in your parish. So unless your pastor and parish are directly involved, your anger ends up being misdirected. And unless your pastor holds some position in the diocesan curia or is golfing buddies with the bishop, chances are he’s just as angry as you are and frankly, just as powerless.

          The bishop’s appeal is a totally different animal. And while I’m not sure that writing a letter would help, it certainly couldn’t hurt.

          Frankly, I’d talk to my pastor about how best to voice my displeasure. And, of course, pray for all involved.

          ETA: I live within a 2 hour radius of the epicenter of clerical abuse: Boston. People were (rightly) angry with the episcopal administrations and did exactly as you described and it didn’t change anything other than to hamstring already cash strapped parishes in carrying out their ministry. The thing that ultimately changed it up here? A visit from the state attorney general.

          • bob

            When the bishop discovers that the light and heat bills aren’t getting paid at the local parishes, that the parishes are not getting funded at nearly the same rate they once were, and that a lot of folks are making clear why that is, we’ll see if the bishop continues to ignore it.

            And if he does, so be it. As my dad used to say, we can do this the easy way or the hard way. The diocese can reform itself. Or it can be destroyed financially and then rebuilt. It’s the bishop’s decision.

            I realize that a funding boycott throws a lot of good babies out with a lot of dirty bathwater. So be it. There is clearly no other way to reform the diocese. Same goes for Kansas City.

            Prayer and forbearance are fine and good but that and nothing more what Catholics have always done. And if you continue to do what you’ve always done you’ll continue to get what you’ve always gotten. And what we’ve gotten so far, in a lot of these dioceses, are corrupt administrators who seek to protect themselves first and who don’t understand what all the hubbub is about.

    • Pappy

      Yes, because in this country we presume guilt until proven innocent, esp. for Catholic priests and bishops. Tell me what Bishop Nienstedt has done that merits this (and when it allegedly happened) Almost all of these allegations have occurred prior his being made archbishop. The one case (that I recall) that has happened on his watch has resulted int he guilty priest now living behind bars.

      • Dan C

        1. I think Neinstedt is unjustly accused of abuse.

        2. Outside of that, he is not victim but failed to lead his diocese to address abuse. In one case, someone got a promotion. That underscores problems.

        This archbishop made choices on how to spend his efforts and time. He chose to lead an effort on one of the culture war’s hot spots. He did not choose as Chaput or O’Malley did to focus on managing and leading his diocese in a way that it could address problems, deal with them and heal.

        Chaput and O’Malley could have inserted themselves in the hard core culture war battles in their diocese, but chose what I think is better work and more necessary work for their diocese.

  • Eve Fisher

    When someone has been abused / hurt / damaged, no apology is enough, because what they really want is for what happened to never have happened. Yes, forgiveness is the only way to heal. And eventually, given enough time, prayer, counseling, etc., that can happen.
    But a couple of points:
    (1) Don’t push it. It takes time to heal, to forgive, to let go. And the last thing someone needs immediately after a rape, murder, or other horrendous invasion of everything sacred is, “Now you’ve just got to take a deep breath, forgive them, and move on.” Let them get to the point where they can get up in the morning without wanting to throw up. Or kill themselves.
    (2) A classic trope of perpetrator/victim is for the perpetrator – when caught – to say “I’m sorry” and then in the next breath to say, “What do you mean, you don’t forgive me? I thought you were a Christian!” and get all self-righteous. In other words, spin it right back on the victim. Again.
    (3) Apologies may be genuine, but if there is no change in the behavior, or in the management, it’s reasonable to question said apology. If Uncle Farcus has finally been caught for molesting his sister Annie’s kids over the last couple of years, and the whole family wants Annie and the kids to just shut up about it because Uncle Farcus is such a good man and is really just sick and besides, it would ruin everybody’s Christmas if Annie and the kids don’t forgive and forget and there’s a good old-fashioned Christmas as always…. The family is deeply, deeply sick and needs serious professional counseling. And Uncle Farcus needs to go to jail.
    I say this, because what a lot of people are very, very angry about in sex abuse cases – in the Catholic Church, in Scouts, in schools, anywhere – is that the management, which covered the whole thing up, when caught is (sometimes) handing over the actual criminals. But then expects to stay in power, without obvious changes (other than a lot of talk, talk talk), and expects everyone to not question it. It feels like a shafting all over again.

  • http://chicagoboyz.net/ TMLutas

    It is the job of any almsgiver to try to ensure that his alms are not wasted. Forgiveness is one thing but if you have no confidence that today, the money that filters to the diocese will not go towards supporting sinfulness then there very much is a problem that needs concrete action.

    The solution is not a funding boycott. You give because it is a sign of love and an obligation for you as a christian. That should stay constant or even increase if you can.

    When, how, and to whom you give is entirely different. Materially cooperating with evil includes funding clerics who assist in the abuse of children as much as paying into an insurance fund that pays for abortion. How can one avoid funding such clerics when you know your funds have gone to that in the past? Consider this and consult an accountant. Conditioned donations that go to specific purposes are a message that cannot be distorted into an accusation that the giver is just being cheap, especially if the level of giving is increased. It plays havoc with diocesan financial management in a way that doesn’t actually impoverish the Church.

    But be careful and make sure to lay out a pathway for the diocese to start getting unconditional general donations again. If conditioned giving gets to be too much of a habit, it can set the Church back.


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