By Kira Garrett
“All are welcome,” church-goers sang during the opening hymn at the student mass Sunday. The St. John’s Abbey welcomed Archbishop John C. Nienstedt of the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis to lead the mass. Nienstedt in turn excluded some GLBT supporters by refusing to grant them Eucharist.
PRiSM members and GLBT supporters arranged to wear rainbow buttons to the mass in a peaceful sit-in after senior PRiSM Educational Liaison Ana Seivert sent an e-mail rallying PRiSM members. During mass, the group of students approached Nienstedt for communion. Some reached their hands out to receive the body of Christ and were sent back to their seats without the holy sacrament. Nienstedt’s visit came directly after the Catholic Church produced a DVD that reinforces the church’s opposition to same-sex marriage. Nienstedt fully supports the DVD which will be distributed to Catholics throughout the state.
“Our goal was to show that our (GLBT) community respects the Benedictine values,” Seivert said. “We did this because we needed to address the DVDs and make a statement and we wanted to do that by participating in mass.”
Fellow PRiSM member and junior Elizabeth Gleich stressed the importance of community for GLBT supporters.
“We wanted to gather together as a community of supporters and participate in mass with the rest of our student body,” Gleich said. “Our only intention was to stand in solidarity.”
The assembly met briefly before mass to determine where it would sit. Dir. Of Life Safety Shawn Vierzba approached the group during this initial gathering.
“Shawn came up to us and pretty much just told us not to make a disturbance,” Gleich said.
Life Safety officers do not generally patrol mass but several officers were present Sunday. Vierzba said the officers were there as heightened security only because the Archbishop was visiting, not because they heard word of a protest.
“We had a VIP on campus with the Archbishop, so we were there,” Vierzba said. “We’ve been present during other masses. It’s not a new thing.”
Those involved in the sit-in were disheartened and embarrassed by Nienstedt’s refusal to offer them Communion.
“He took one look at that pin and it felt like he was saying, ‘you are not worthy of receiving Jesus,” Gleich said. In contrast to the welcoming community of the CSB/SJU monastics, Nienstedt’s public rejection of GLBT supporters especially shocked students.
“We have found great support within our community but Nienstedt’s actions go against that,” Gleich said. “A lot of students here may be uncomfortable on the issue of homosexuality, but when they see a classmate, a roommate, a friend standing up for it and getting denied, that sends a shock.”
PRiSM members organized several GLBT-friendly events for Coming Out Week which took place Sept. 20-24, including a Safe Space Training presentation.
“We were just coming off of Coming Out Week where we felt so supported by our community,” Seivert said. “Nienstedt came in and denied us of our community.”
For Seivert and others denied Communion, the mass was a glimpse into the life of a sexual minority. It showed them what discrimination feels like.
“Allies were denied too and it was really a glimpse into feeling that judgment,” Seivert said.
While this is the first time students have been denied Communion in the St. John’s Abbey, the action was not new for Nienstedt. He issued an official warning to a large group of GLBT supporters who planned to wear rainbow sashes to mass at the Cathedral in St. Paul.
“Anyone wearing a ‘rainbow sash’ will not be permitted to receive Holy Communion, since their dissent is a sign that they have publicly broken communion with the Church’s teaching,” Nienstedt said in a letter to a GLBT supporter. “I also ask that those not wearing the sashes refrain from sharing the Holy Eucharist with those who do. Such an action is unbecoming the dignity of the sacrament.”
“In comparison to the Benedictines and the CSB/SJU community, Nienstedt and Archbishops in general are conservative,” Fr. Rene McGraw said.
Church law in the past has said the only reason one can deny communion is if that person is a public sinner but Nienstedt has expanded that ruling to include actions that go against Catholic teachings.
“I think it’s a very bad idea,” McGraw said. “We wouldn’t deny someone communion who was wearing an ‘I am heterosexual’ sticker, so why would we for gay supporters?”
Those that participated in the sit-in agreed, and felt the mass made obvious the differences between the CSB/SJU community and the attitude of Nienstedt.
“I offered a mass following the student mass to those students who weren’t allowed to receive the Eucharist,” McGraw said. “It’s the church that’s causing the problems here, not the students or their opinions.”
Gleich agreed and thinks Nienstedt and those with similar conservative views are driving Christians away from Catholicism.
Others, though, felt the sit-in was inappropriate as Nienstedt is a prominent figure in the Catholic community and should be respected for his teaching of the Catholic beliefs.
“I’m all for standing up for what you believe in, but whether or not using the Eucharist as a tool in that is another thing,” McGraw said.
Nienstedt has returned to his parish in the metro-area and has not issued a statement to students at CSB/SJU. Students angered by his actions during mass now hope to continue dialogue about what happened.
“If there’s anything we can learn from this, it’s that we are now talking about GLBT and PRiSM and homosexuality and we’re going to continue talking about it,” Seivert said.
PRiSM hopes to set up a booth in Gorecki in the coming weeks to help explain Nienstedt’s DVD and discuss the mass with any students who wish to do so.
- Archbishop John Nienstedt withholds communion from gay-rights supporters during Mass, Associated Press, 10/6/2010
- Archdiocese: Communion too sacred to be used as protest, Minnesota Public Radio, 10/6/2010
- Group of Catholics Want to Gather and Return Anti-Gay Marriage DVDs to Archbishop
- Minn. pastor challenges Nienstedt's DVD campaign, National Catholic Reporter, 10/5/2010
- Lucinda Naylor suspended by Basilica for anti-gay DVD protest, CityPages, 9/27/2010