His uncertainty starkly contrasted his Mass demeanor. Gone
were the ceremonial vestments, high-peaked hat and shepherds--hook staff of Vatican-appointed hierarchy. His only remaining vestige of status was a white Roman collar.
Known as the yoke of the Gospel, the collar denotes the professional vocation of humble followers, binding pastors in servitude as sheep to their shepherd: Jesus. For Catholic clerics it implies a benevolent patriarch--why priests are called "Father." Most Revered Archbishops, like Nienstedt, are held to an even higher responsibility: to teach and abet pastoral care at levels commensurate their rank.
Doctrine of Common-Good
All this in mind, I pressed for clarity. "Corporations and government" the prelate responded, "must work for the "common good.'" Common good is social science language steeped in the rhetoric of civics--politics.
Nienstedt worked in the political office of Vatican, which helps explain his choice of words--and much more.
Common good is subjective, if not submissive to varied viewpoints of what it is. I asked him: what compels diverse political, business, academic and religious institutions to collaborate for the same common good? The Archbishop, who holds triune titles as director of the Archdiocesan Corporation, religious Scholar and as pastoral Father, again, didn't know.
In fact, Nienstedt had known in a scolding letter to Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton. Six months before, he had written: "By common good I would include such considerations as fulfilling the moral and justice to future generation (sic). Government and other institutions have a shared responsibility to promote the common good of all members of our society, especially families who struggle to live with dignity during difficult economic times. On the other hand, those who receive benefits from the commonwealth must not forget their responsibility to society in return."
The bishop and I talked of the faith citizens invest in religious hierarchies, looking to their leaders, as he'd chastised the governor to, to take higher roads and rise to higher callings, in service to the common good of all, especially the poor and those in need.
"What could we do about all these unmet needs?" I wondered. For a third time, the bishop said he didn't know.
Trying to bring our conversation back to my original themes, I noted our own religion has struggled in ways similar to how he'd alluded that government and business have.
This changed the tone. Now the bishop began pushing back on my probing. He aligned his Catholic hierarchy's difficulties with secular ones. Which, for me, brought to mind similarities between the Church and Penn State University.
This was a month after Coach Jerry Sandusky had been arrested for abusing multiple boys there. Jeff Anderson, the same attorney who has brought hundreds of cases of priest pedophilia against Nienstedt's Archdiocese over the years was representing Sandusky's victims, too.
"Do you know that the abuse really happened?" Neinstedt challenged me. "I haven't seen any evidence that can prove it, have you?"
Around the same time he had sent the letter to the Governor, Nienstedt's Archdiocese had sued Jim Keenan , who had been sexually assaulted by a priest at our childhood parish. Jim, with his parents and wife by his side sought the release of the names of priest pedophiles, so the public would know if one were in their parish or community.
The Catholic Church has long succeeded in keeping itself sovereign, above American Law and thus not culpable for revealing the identities of abusers, even when , as was the case here, the Church has acknowledge their abuse. When Keenan refused to settle with the Archdiocese, it sued him for $65,000.