More than 300 Roman Catholics braved the cold and snow Sunday afternoon to protest comments by incoming Archbishop John Nienstedt. His recent statement chastising the friends and families of lesbian and gay Catholics for supporting a “grave evil” has sparked anger in progressive religious circles. Sunday’s event at the Cathedral of St. Paul, called the Vigil for Solidarity, is one of several events in response to Nienstedt.
As protesters huddled on the steps of the Cathedral of St. Paul to get away from the chilly wind, they heard from a series of speakers decrying Neinstedt’s comments. Mel White, founder of Soulforce, an organization dedicated to ending “spiritual violence” against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people said, “Throughout history, the Catholic church, the Christian church has been saved by people like you who loved it enough to stand up and say, ‘You’re wrong.'”
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Michael Bayly, executive coordinator of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities, addressed the crowd. “The church’s teaching on homosexual activity will have to change,” he said. “And I have no doubt that it will one day change. My prayer is that Archbishop Nienstedt will join us in being a prophetic voice in working to ensure that this change happens sooner rather than later.”
The crowd then enacted a ritual death as Nienstedt’s recent statements were read through a megaphone. The protesters collapsed onto the ground in a scene symbolic of the ostracism that is felt when religious leaders express sentiments that LGBT people are guilty of “mortal sin.” The “die-in,” as the organizers called it, lasted several minutes.
Eleven-year-old Joseph Olsen read a quote attributed to Jesus: “I came that you might have life – and have it to the full!” The protesters then rose up from the ground and started singing, “I Shall Walk in the Presence of God.”
The protesters then marched to the office of the Archdiocese to present an open letter to the incoming Archbishop Nienstedt. It read, in part:
By the threat of sin, you have divided parents from children, family members and members of loving communities from each other. Many of us are not affected by your words because we firmly believe that homosexual love is, as all love is, of God. But upon others who are still struggling with Roman Catholic Church teaching on this subject, you have placed an intolerable burden.
The letter and the protesters argue that not only are Nienstedt’s words hurtful to LGBT people, but his statements expand the scope of those guilty of “mortal sin” to include the friends and families supportive of LGBT people. The letter asks for clarity on where the line is drawn. “May we have them to dinner? May we worship with them? May we take care of their children when they need us? May we tell them that we love them and are very happy that they are happy?” the letter asked.
The Archdiocese released this statement in response to the protest:
The teaching of the Catholic Church about God’s plan for human sexuality is the same today as it has been for centuries. It is not discriminatory. No sexual activity outside the commitment of marriage between a man and a woman is condoned.