The Archbishop of St. Paul-Minneapolis has denied communion to members of a group that included three nuns and a priest, who wore symbols expressing their opposition to Catholic Church teaching on marriage and homosexuality.
The group expressed frustration after Archbishop John C. Nienstedt withheld the sacrament from them because they wore rainbow buttons and sashes signaling their support for same-sex “marriage” and homosexuality. The archbishop, who was celebrating his first student Mass at St. John’s on September 26, instead gave a blessing to members of the group, which included students from St. John’s University and the College of St. Benedict, as well as three nuns and a priest. Rainbow Sash Movement leader Brian McNeil said the group acted independently of his organization.
Elizabeth Gleich, a St. Benedict sophomore and board member of People Representing the Sexual Minority (PRiSM), said that her group had intended to “make a statement” against the archbishop’s support for traditional marriage. She criticized Nienstedt for “mak[ing] these extreme statements” by denying the group communion. Gleich, who was wearing a sash, was given communion in another line at the same liturgy.
Another PRiSM member, Ana Seivert, complained in a Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) report that the archbishop’s action was “political.” “We weren’t the ones who made it political,” she said. “Once the archbishop denied communion, he made it political.”
Archdiocese spokesman Dennis McGrath said the church has told the Rainbow Sash Movement “for years” that members “cannot receive communion if you wear the rainbow sash, because it’s a political statement, a sign of protest,” according to the Star Tribune. “Going to the communion rail is the most sacred part of our faith, the Eucharist. We don’t allow anybody to make political statements or any kind of protest.”
“It’s a symbol of the GLBT movement en masse, and it was intended as a protest,” McGrath told MPR. “It was pretty obvious.”
Rev. Rene McGraw, a philosophy professor at St. John’s, said that he celebrated a small Mass later that evening and gave all the members of the group communion. “My understanding of church law is that one is not to deny communion to anyone unless he or she is a public sinner, and that has traditionally been interpreted very narrowly,” said McGraw, according to the AP. “My instinct was these are people who were in need, I’m supportive of them, therefore I’m happy to say mass for them.”
However, the Vatican has confirmed that Rainbow Sashers cannot receive communion while publicly standing in opposition to Church teaching on sexuality, as stated by Cardinal Francis Arinze, the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, in 2005.
Cardinal Francis George, head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, wrote in 2004 that: “The policy of the U.S. Bishops’ conference, a policy I did not invent, was to refuse Communion to anyone who used its reception as an occasion to protest against the Church’s teaching.”
St. Paul-Minneapolis Archbishop Emeritus Harry Flynn, prior to his retirement, had been singled out for praise from the Rainbow Sash Movement for welcoming members to communion in his diocese. Nienstedt succeeded Flynn upon the latter’s retirement on May 2, 2008.
Rainbow Sash wearers have successfully approached the rail in other areas, most notably the dioceses of Rochester, New York, Los Angeles, California, and Detroit, Michigan. The organization usually gears up every year on the Catholic holy day of Pentecost to launch a coordinated effort to receive communion while wearing the sashes, and have even been known to snatch the host and distribute it to members when ministers were reluctant.
Patrick Reilly of the Cardinal Newman Society, a Catholic college watchdog group, criticized the schools for failing to stand in solidarity with the archbishop.
“As long as the University sponsors a club that blatantly opposes Catholic teaching with events like ‘Freedom to Marry Day,’ I can only foresee more embarrassing and scandalous situations like this arising,” Reilly told LifeSiteNews.com Wednesday.
“This is an opportunity for University leaders to explain Catholic teaching, clarify the institution’s Catholic identity, and act in communion with the Archbishop. To remain silent would seem to condone the students’ actions.
Minnesota’s bishops revealed last month that they would be mailing hundreds of thousands of DVDs to Catholics in the state explaining the Church’s position against gay “marriage,” and urging them to support candidates who favor protecting traditional marriage.