I asked the Bishop how the Church could be a model for government and business. It was then that Archbishop Nienstedt, perhaps caught off guard, proffered a startling but remarkably candid answer. It would be the first and only answer he'd give me:
"We need to have less separation between Church and State," said the Archbishop of the St. Paul and Minneapolis Archdiocese. Located in our Country, which was founded on the belief that religious freedom means none are required to adhere to Church doctrines even as all are free to practice whatever religion or not, they choose.
Religion and the Fallen Empire
Ancient Rome crossed my mind. Like the US, Rome was founded as a "we the people' republic, governed by democracy with intentionally strict separations between Church and State. Over the years, the Vatican slowly exerted its power and will, throwing money, doctrine and--no doubt--the threat of eternal damnation around to assert its influence. After imbedding both its riches and religion throughout the increasingly corrupt Roman government it helped undermine the foundations of the Empire--which, history reminds us, fell from grace in spectacular fashion while leading a vast global collapse.
Money, doctrine, damnation. The Archbishop hasn't held back on any, either. Including recently eliciting an additional $650,000 from Catholics to fight gay marriage.
Tax-Exempt Church Costs Citizens
The poverty he spoke so movingly of the day I met him remains largely unaddressed by the Bishop's Church. Meanwhile, it enjoys exemption not only from US laws meant to protect children, but also taxes needed to fund courts where priest sex abuse cases and their related penalties are brought. And, taxes needed to fund the very charity that Neinstedt has threatened "taking away' from the government, even though the government funds represent the largest institutional contributions to Catholic Charities, through government grants. And which the Church itself is the smallest funder, accounting for only 4% of the charity for poor families and children.
Which brings me to Peter, the saint Neinstedt called up in his sermon to address families and children attending Mass in impoverished North Minneapolis.
Peter is an ecclesiastic enigma. Known as the first Archbishop of Rome, he is a powerful example of how social pathologies infect the holiest of people. Well before his ascension into the holy echelons, Peter was notoriously self-serving. He was the Apostle who, during Jesus' darkest hour famously denied the Lord, standing idly by when he could have helped while Christ, his heartbroken mother grieving nearby, was brutally crucified.
Peter thought no one was looking. When asked if he knew his would-be Savior, Peter--answered that he didn't. Three times, Peter, the future Archbishop, said "I don't know."
Which reminds me of Neinstedt's questions after his sermon about Peter. And makes me wonder if the Archbishop has asked himself: "What am I like when no one is looking? How have I helped the poor?" And, "What kind of an example do I give others?"
What kind of example does the Archbishop give to sons of poor heartbroken mothers? Like the ones struggling to make ends meet in urban Minneapolis? Or like Jim Keenan's mother, who set nearby looking heartbroken while her son endured a very dark hour. And what of the mother who reached out to Neinstedt for support, but was damningly denied? Whose gay son, as Neinstedt knows, has long been crucified for simply being who he is.