Archbishop John Nienstedt was in Rome last week and agreed to answer questions via e-mail regarding his role in the marriage amendment campaign. This is a transcript of that interview.
Q: When it comes to the marriage amendment, why should a religious view of what constitutes marriage and family life be enshrined into civil law?
A: Marriage defined as a union between one man and one woman is a reality that predates any government or religious denomination. Marriage is meant for children and children flourish best with a mother and a father.
Q: The Catholic Church has taken a strong stand against gay marriage politically because the church says it violates natural order. Some critics note that you are silent when it comes to marriages between infertile couples beyond childbearing years. Are you similarly opposed to those marriages as well? Why not include them in the amendment?
A: Marriage between infertile couples reflects the complementarity of the sexes, which is an essential component in understanding what marriage is meant to be. An infertile couple is still able to achieve such organic bodily union whereas two persons with the same sexual bodies are not.
Q: Have you always felt this strongly about same-sex marriage issues? Or has this issue grown in intensity for you? Why or why not?
A: I have always believed that marriage is a union between one man and one woman.
Q: Do you believe loyal and devoted Catholics can vote against the amendment and still be considered Catholics?
A: It would be difficult to comprehend how a person could not believe that marriage is anything but a union between one man and one woman. On this point, Catholic teaching is clear.
Q: What do you say to critics who argue the archdiocese should not be spending money on the marriage amendment fight, but instead working on such issues as poverty, homelessness, joblessness and the right to vote?
A: The money that the Archdiocese is spending to support the defense of marriage is but a small percent of what she spends on an annual basis to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, offer counseling services for the needy and to educate the poor. It is one more way that the Church contributes in a positive way to promote the common good of society.
Q: Does the church have a position on legal recognition of civil unions and what is it?
A: The church teaches that civil unions are not equivalent or analogous to marriage between a man and a woman, and are harmful both to the person and to society. Any legal approval of "civil unions" contributes to the erosion of the authentic meaning of marriage, as basic human rights are violated by any and all attempts to redefine it. However, as Catholics, we are committed to defending the dignity of all people, including those with same-sex attraction. We support the fact that persons should be able to visit loved ones in the hospital, pass on their property to whomever they choose, and have access to employment, housing and the basic necessities of life, rights they currently have in Minnesota.
Q: What role did you play in the production of the DVDs supporting traditional marriage that were mailed to nearly 400,000 Catholic families in Minnesota? Whose idea was it to create the DVDs? Who funded their production/dispersal?
A: The bishops of Minnesota together decided to support traditional marriage with the mailing of 400,000 DVDs, which were created by the Knights of Columbus. The funding came, as has been reported before, from generous benefactors.
Q: In an interview with the Rev. Michael Becker, one of your friends and the rector at St. John Vianney College Seminary in St. Paul, he recalled he'd heard that you were dining at the Lexington restaurant in St. Paul and a man came into the restaurant and threw one of the church's DVDs at you. Fr. Becker said you remained composed and that the incident speaks to the way you've handled intense criticism amid the marriage amendment debate. What was your response to that incident, your recollection of it? What's been your response in general to the often heated criticism lodged your way during this debate? Do you respond to your critics?
A: In the face of this and other criticism, I try to respond to such emotional outbursts with reason, calm and patience. My goal is to always treat others with respect, even if I don't agree with them.
Q: Catholic observers point out that other U.S. bishops involved in fighting same-sex marriage in other states have been promoted within the hierarchy and that you too would be well-positioned for a promotion. What's your response to that? Do you see yourself going to another diocese at a later time?
A: I explain and defend the teaching of the Church because I have been ordained to do so and I believe those teachings with all of my heart. It is regrettable that some attribute ulterior motives to my doing so. I do not see myself going to another diocese. I believe I have already passed the age for doing so.
Q: Why are you in Rome? Are you meeting with the pope? If so, what issues are you discussing with him?