Church releases DVD that makes waves

Meredith Cannon

This sculpture, by Lucinda Naylor, was created out of copies of the DVD, and was the reason for her suspension from her position at the Basilica of St. Mary

In a collaborative effort of Archbishop John C. Nienstedt along with six Catholic Minnesota bishops, the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis mailed 430,000 DVDs to the homes of registered Minnesota Catholics on Wednesday, Sept. 22. These DVDs were sent out to urge support, among Catholics, for a marriage amendment to the Minnesota Constitution, which would ban same-sex marriage in Minnesota by making it unconstitutional.

DVD released to teach Catholics

When the Archdiocese sent out the DVD, they only wanted to clarify what the Church has always believed. “The goal of the DVD was to re-evangelize the Catholic faithful regarding what the Church has always taught around the sacrament of marriage and family life,” said Kathy Laird, Director of Marriage, Family and Life through the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

The archdiocese used a DVD, rather than a letter, in order to better connect with the younger generations. “We need to do a better job connecting with the young people, [and] depending on the funding available we would like to do more DVDs in the future,” said Laird.

The DVD was designed to teach young people about the Church’s beliefs, and the Church hopes that the DVD will help better prepare them for the future. “Everybody walks a journey; our goal is to help us be clear about the journey we’re on. You young people can learn from our mistakes, and you can make the world a better place,” said Laird.

The Archdiocese said that its actions were not political or connected to the upcoming November elections. “We wanted to give young people a chance to view [the DVD] and [form] their own opinion,” said Laird.

Looking for inclusion

The Archdiocese sees the DVD it produced as affirming the position of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). The USCCB website states that “the Roman Catholic Church believes that marriage is a faithful, exclusive, and lifelong union between one man and one woman, joined in an intimate partnership of life and love.”

The Archdiocese knows that everyone takes a different path in life and, with the release of the DVD, does not mean to criticize people for their sexual orientation. “The Church does not condemn its members, and it is open to assisting people who struggle with same sex attraction, but the reality is, God came to pull us above and beyond this,” said Laird, “for those who are not married, the reality is no sex because sex is meant to be life-giving.”

The DVD was not meant to condemn people for their sexual orientation. “Some people have perceived it to be a statement against people who are gay or lesbian and it’s not about that, it’s about defining marriage,” said Dr. Sue Skinner, principal of BSM.

Over the last decade, BSM has purposefully worked to strengthen diversity and worked to create an environment where all students feel safe. “We, as a school and as a Christian community, should protect anyone regardless of their race, social, economic, or their sexual orientation, and if we’re not, we’re discriminating and are perpetrating injustices,” said Ms. Lidi Guzman, BSM’s Diversity Coordinator.

Although Benilde-St. Margaret’s works to create an environment that is open to all students, they still support the teachings of the Catholic Church. “There is no official stance [on the DVD from BSM]; this is an Archdiocesen thing,” said Dr. Skinner.

Positive response within Church

Some priests and churches have embraced the DVD and its message, such as St. Louis Park’s Holy Family, which has posted the video of the Archbishop’s message on its Website. “It’s a very powerful piece that reaffirms what we’ve always believed about marriage. Of course I promoted it; people seem to have lost faith in what marriage really is,” said Father Thomas Dufner of Holy Family Church.

Father Dufner saw the DVD as a chance to help reestablish the Church’s teachings on marriage. “[It] is a natural thing between a man and a woman together; it’s what we have always believed. It creates stability in their lives and without it, children suffer,” said Father Dufner.

“I talked to people and played [the DVD] in church. There was a really positive reaction because it reaffirmed what we have always believed: that marriage is between a man and a woman. It is a promise, a public promise,” said Father Dufner.

Criticism from within the Church

Others, though, have reacted with strong criticism of the DVD. Father Mike Tegeder, pastor at the Church of St. Edward’s, has spoken out about the video. “For me it was a personal concern. When I was in high school, I heard boys talking about going out to beat up gay people. I didn’t understand it at the time, but I thought it was wrong to beat up anyone. When the DVD was sent out, I felt compassion and wanted to do something,” said Father Tegeder.

On Sunday, Oct. 2, the Star Tribune published a letter written by Father Tegeder in which he criticized the DVD. “[I disagree with] the need to do the DVD itself. We want to be involved in society, but when you get directly involved in a political movement — it’s questionable. There are better ways to support marriage,” said Father Tegeder.

The Archdiocese decided to release the DVD without interviewing a homosexual person on the DVD itself. “Ultimately it is [the Archbishop’s] judgment, but I can’t say that I agree with his approach. I don’t know that this is the best way to deal with it. I think he should sit down and talk to [people who are gay], and when they were making the video they should have interviewed them,” said Father Tegeder.

Father Tegeder believes that getting to know people who are homosexual allows others to see things differently. “I know some heterosexual parents that are thankful that their children have friends whose parents are homosexual. They see it as a good thing: a chance for the children to experience different things,” said Father Tegeder.

Possible reactions create fear

Because this subject is so controversial, many people are scared to speak about their beliefs. In some cases, they are afraid of losing their jobs, while others may just be worried about the reactions they might receive. “A lot of people are afraid to say anything because they don’t know what will happen, but actually, you can get in trouble by not speaking out. There are times when people keep quiet when they should speak out,” said Father Tegeder.

Many people feel uncomfortable talking because of the possible outcome; this fear has led to many people, including some in leadership positions at BSM and elsewhere, declining to comment about the DVD for this story.

Disagreements on parenting abilities

Laird questions whether same-sex couples can raise a child the same as a heterosexual couple. “There is not enough evidence to say that children raised in same-sex parents’ households will grow up the same. Will they be loved? I’m sure,” said Laird, “Is it best? No. There’s new research that says that children who are raised by same-sex couples are much more likely to repeat that. It’s not to say you can’t rise above it, thank God in his good grace you can.”

Father Tegeder knows parishioners who have been in a committed same-sex relationship for over twenty years and have two adopted sons from an orphanage in Russia. “One of the boys needs a lot of help and they’ve sacrificed a lot for that. They have children and they care a lot,” said Father Tegeder.

Laird was aware of Father Tegeder speaking out for what he believed in; however, Laird suggested that what he promoted was against the teaching of the Catholic Church. “Everyone has the right to their own opinion; now it’s up to his conscience. Ultimately it is between him and his bishop, and we’ll see what happens,” said Laird.

DVD inspires artwork

Of the people speaking out about the DVD, one woman who stands out is the former artist-in-residence at the Basilica of St. Mary, Lucinda Naylor. She was suspended from her position on Sunday, Sept. 26 after creating a work of art with copies of the DVD. “I was doing this as a personal project,” said Naylor, “I wasn’t trying to connect myself to the Basilica, but City Pages made that connection for me, so once that was connected, then I couldn’t fly under the radar.”

The artist decided to take action regarding the DVDs because of a personal connection. “When I read about the DVDs in the newspapers, I immediately thought of a woman I know who is the mother of a lesbian daughter,” said Naylor, “I thought, this is really wrong, and I don’t want to see people like her leave the church, so I [decided to] take those [DVDs] and do something that says that every DVD that I collect is [from] a Catholic [who] is in favor of inclusion instead of exclusion.”

She placed the DVDs together in the shape of a wave, painted it blue, and titled her sculpture “The Wave.” Naylor describes her work as a statement about “the Spirit of inclusion and love, which is sweeping through the Catholic Church.” “This isn’t an issue that is one of the infallible issues we all have to believe in to be Catholic, so I just think that it’ll take awhile but I think that things will change,” said Naylor.

Although she was suspended from her work at the Basilica of St. Mary, Naylor accepts the consequences of her actions. “I totally understand why this pastor felt he had to suspend me. I don’t regret doing it; [there are] times when you have to stand up for what you believe and I totally don’t believe that it’s right to be oppressing people. The Church that I know and love welcomes everybody,” said Naylor.

To collect the DVDs, she, along with other volunteers, stood outside of five churches, including the Basilica of St. Mary, while many others mailed them in. She also paired up with a program called ReturnTheDVD. “I got about a thousand from people directly, and about a thousand from ReturnTheDVD,” said Naylor.

ReturnTheDVD is a group of mostly suburban, middle-aged, married Catholics who are concerned about the priorities of the leaders in the Catholic Church in Minnesota. For every DVD they received, they made a donation to the St. Stephen’s homeless shelter. Naylor is done collecting DVDs, but ReturnTheDVD will continue to collect into November.

Funding the DVD

The DVD was funded by an anonymous donor and not by the Catholic Church, and the Knights of Columbus are credited for support in the video itself. Funding came from “an anonymous donor, which is nothing new. Everyone has to find what they are going to give to, they have to find what is important to them,” said Laird.

“The last part of the DVD came from the Knights of Columbus in New Jersey who work to strengthen understanding of life issues and marriage so there was no cost; we just added the [segment with the] Archbishop,” said Laird.

The Archdiocese has received criticism from the group ReturnTheDVD about using money for the DVD instead of for more pressing issues such as poverty, but the Archdiocese defends its record. “The Catholic Church is the number one charitable institution in the nation and probably the world,” said Laird.

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