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Minnesota

MSP Archbishop John Nienstedt crusades against gay marriage

But increasingly, his flock of Minnesota Catholics isn't following
By Casey Michel| City Pages
Monday, June 25, 2012

Mike Tegeder was 11 years old when he first heard the word “fag.”

It happened while he was stocking shelves for Benno Belzer, a local Jewish grocer, in north Minneapolis. A group of bag boys, maybe half a dozen years older, huddled nearby, discussing their plans to bash a fag that weekend.

“They just kept saying they were going to go beat up some of what they called ‘fags,’” says Tegeder, now in his mid-50s. “I had no idea what they were talking about. But I just thought, ‘Why would you want to beat up somebody just because they’re different?’”

Forty years later, Tegeder sits in the anteroom of Minneapolis’s St. Frances Cabrini Church. Tegeder — Father Mike, as he’s now known — is a priest. He’s been one for 34 years, all served in the Twin Cities. His thin-rim glasses and shock-white, shoulder-length hair give him the look of a college professor. His white collar is nowhere to be seen.

He shares stories, stories beyond those bag boys, those fag-beaters. He talks about the gay subculture he saw when he was a student at St. John’s, shared between teachers and students alike. He mentions that one of those students had to move to New York to find some acceptance, only to be murdered in a Manhattan bar by another man looking to beat some fags.

Mark N. Kartarik

Father Mike Tegeder is one of the few Minnesota priests to publicly oppose Nienstedt's stance on gay marriage.

But Father Mike won’t share the man’s name, because that man’s family still lives here, and even though they know everything that happened to their boy, the embarrassment still exists. The shame, all these years later, remains.

Archbishop John Nienstedt has gone to great lengths to try to pass Minnesota's anti-same-sex marriage amendment.

Because, as Father Mike explains, the family is among the 1.2 million Minnesotans who still call the Roman Catholic Church home. And so the shame — all that sin, all that damnation — is what this family remembers when they think about their son. The shame is what their church taught them.

Which is why Mike’s here, talking about it, slamming his finger on the desk and calling out the shame that his church promulgates. Calling out the way his church robs homosexuals of their dignity, the way it stares them down and claims they are “intrinsically disordered.”

“The greatest threats to marriage are the economy, joblessness, alcoholism, drug abuse — there are a lot of threats to marriage, but it has very little to do with homosexuals having a committed relationship,” says Tegeder, who’s also a pastor at the Church of Gichitwaa Kateri. “I know committed same-sex people who are doing God’s work.”

Tegeder knows what the Bible dictates on homosexuality — along with what it dictates about shellfish, and mixed-cloth clothing, and all those other Bronze Age concerns. And he knows there’s no single person responsible for the shame his church lifts from these passages.

But there is one person who could single-handedly end it all in the Twin Cities: His Excellency, the Most Reverend Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis John C. Nienstedt.

“Nienstedt is just so rigid about these things,” Tegeder continues, growing animated. “But, you know — just let go of it. What are we trying to defend? Marriage? Has the Catholic Church protected marriage? I mean, [Nienstedt] has a priest who impregnated one of his staff members, broke up their marriage, and the guy’s still functioning! … Why don’t we take care of our own issues before we start imposing views onto other people who don’t have the same religious beliefs?”

It wasn’t always this way. Archbishop John Roach and his successor, Harry Flynn, led a notably progressive, inclusive, post-Vatican II archdiocese, one balanced on even-handed discussion. They understood the church’s line on certain social issues — reproductive rights, welfare reform — but always kept their doors, and their minds, open.

But in the mid-’80s, with AIDS and “moral relativism” coming to the fore, the church began sidelining priests who’d championed gay parishioners. Pope John Paul II closed rank, and his successor followed suit.

“I’m afraid these men have sex on the brain, and between you and me that’s not the best place to have sex,” says Leonard Swidler, a prominent Catholic theologian and professor of Catholic Thought and Interreligious Dialogue at Temple University. “Issues of birth control, marriage, divorce, married priests, female priests, same-sex marriage — it’s all sex, sex, sex. They’re sex maniacs.”

Few fit Swidler’s caricature of the current episcopacy more naturally than Nienstedt. Born in Detroit in 1947, Nienstedt took to the church early. His parents were devout Catholics, and it took little time for Nienstedt to find his calling, claiming from an early age that he’d someday become a priest.

Patrick Halfpenny, now a monseigneur in the Detroit archdiocese, first met Nienstedt when they were freshmen at seminary school in Detroit. Bonded by a common affinity for hockey, the two formed a fast friendship, one that has continued 47 years to this day.

“From the start, he was a very bright man, with a very good sense of himself,” Halfpenny recalls. “We both come from families that were very devout and serious in the practice of their faith — the church is the place we were first nourished.”

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16 more reader comments:

  1. they are going down fighting.

    Posted on Monday, June 25, 2012 at 12:33pm
  2. That loud clanging sound you just heard was my gaydar going off the meter.

    Posted on Monday, June 25, 2012 at 12:34pm
  3. He needs to crusade against the pedophile priest within the Roman Catholic church!

    Posted on Monday, June 25, 2012 at 12:39pm
  4. I always wonder if the vatican hierarchy have forgotten to ask WWJD? and are too busy asking what they would do.

    Posted on Monday, June 25, 2012 at 12:39pm
  5. who the fuck do he think he is

    Posted on Monday, June 25, 2012 at 12:40pm
  6. chrcuhes are SUPPOSED t oSTAY out of politics….preach your hatred in your church bigoted so called holy men

    Posted on Monday, June 25, 2012 at 12:41pm
  7. Jesus is not the problem. Its fans club is :(

    Posted on Monday, June 25, 2012 at 12:51pm
  8. These churches that wish to influence political and social affairs need to lose their tax-exempt status pronto.

    Posted on Monday, June 25, 2012 at 12:51pm
  9. By the shear fact that several Catholic Churches/Organizations marched in the PRIDE parade yesterday, I believe the hierarchy is becoming aware of their irrelevancy. Yes, they threaten damnation and hell if you vote “No” on the marriage equality amendment. But guess what? People… Catholic people, are having none of this. These dillholes can argue all they want. The PEOPLE of the church have spoken. No one under 40 blindly obeys their catechism even when threatened from the pulpit. And MSP is a great place to be LGBT! The Church has bitten off more than it can chew. I personally hope they choke on it. (I was raised Catholic).

    Posted on Monday, June 25, 2012 at 1:31pm
  10. Is the Catholic Church being forced to marry gay couples? Does the law say they have to honor every couple with a marriage license with a religious ceremony? Oh yeah, they might loose their tax exempt status if they refuse? It’s all about politics and money for the catholic church. Why should they change now?

    Posted on Monday, June 25, 2012 at 3:33pm
  11. The gus isnt right in the head, I doubt he will be with that church much longer!

    Posted on Monday, June 25, 2012 at 6:09pm
  12. Isn’t this the same creep who wants to put the LGBTQ community in lock up…”until they die?”

    Posted on Monday, June 25, 2012 at 7:21pm
  13. he has a very fancy wedding gown, but is red really the right color for him? hmmmm

    Posted on Monday, June 25, 2012 at 7:21pm
  14. Give it up, dude… you are gonna lose…

    Posted on Monday, June 25, 2012 at 7:22pm
  15. anyone who crusades should be sent to where there are no people we dont need crusades anymore its the 20th century

    Posted on Monday, June 25, 2012 at 7:23pm
  16. wow if marriage is so sacred why do they allow divorce.

    Posted on Tuesday, June 26, 2012 at 8:07am