Apparently, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune printed a Q&A with notoriously homophobic Twin Cities Catholic Archbishop John Nienstedt earlier this month. The topic of the article was the archbishop’s role in the campaign to pass a constitutional marriage discrimination amendment, and most of the questions were standard-issue fare for interviews like this. (Why do you believe marriage should be restricted to opposite-sex couples? Why do you believe your definition of marriage should be written into the constitution? Can a person be a faithful Catholic and still vote against the amendment? How do you answer critics who say the archdiocese should spend their money feeding people rather than fighting marriage? etc.)
But then the questions turned to the infamous anti-marriage equality DVDs that the Knights of Columbus produced and Minnesota’s Catholic bishops sent to each of the state’s 400,000 Catholic households. Nienstedt was asked the following:
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?
Woah! An angry gay publicly chucked a DVD at a Catholic archbishop? I can’t believe I missed the story of such a confrontation. (I also thought that, even though I don’t endorse attacking one’s opponents in any way, for any reason, throwing something at someone with such a high profile — in a public place, no less — takes some serious chutzpah!) Nienstedt responded, “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.”
But a man has now come forward to challenge Nienstedt’s and Becker’s account. In the latest issue of Lavender magazine, the biweekly magazine for the LGBT community in the Twin Cities, reporter John Townsend interviews Gregg Larson, who says he was the man who confronted the archbishop that night while eating dinner with his partner of 35 years. Larson claims that almost everything about the way Becker recounted the confrontation is inaccurate. He told Lavender:
“First off, I didn’t come into the restaurant. My partner and I were there before they arrived. Also, I did not throw the DVD at him. I would never have done that. In fact, nobody in the restaurant even was aware of the conversation that we had with them.”
According to Larson’s account, when he saw Nienstedt waiting near the coat check to be seated, he approached the prelate and introduced himself. Larson mentioned that his elderly mother had received a piece of “junk mail” that he wished to return (the DVD). He then told Nienstedt that he had heard rumors that the archbishop was a closeted gay man, saying that if the rumors were true, the prelate was a hypocrite.
Larson then returned to his table, but then remembered that he had the DVD in his car. He retrieved it, approached the table where Nienstedt and Becker were now seated, and informed the archbishop that rather than return it by mail, Larson decided to return it in person.
“And with that,” he told Lavender, “I broke it in half and I dropped the two pieces into the middle of the table and I took the letter and I tore it up and I put that in the middle of the table.”
Larson then brought up the rumors about Nienstedt’s alleged homosexuality for a second time. The archbishop responded, “You shouldn’t believe rumors,” to which Larson allegedly retorted, “Methinks thou dost protest too much.” He continued:
“And at that point he kind of raised his hand and snarled ‘Get out!’ And I responded that his behavior was unbecoming of an archbishop and that maybe we needed an exorcist here. There was no yelling. It was a conversational level. The restaurant was full of people. No one knew what was going on. The other priest said that we were ruining their dinner and my partner said that they were ruining people’s lives. The priest said, ‘We will pray for you.’ My partner said, ‘Please don’t pray for me. I was raised as a Congregationalist and we were taught to think for ourselves.’ The priest replied again: ‘I will pray for you.’ And at that point we both left.”
Nienstedt did not return Lavender‘s request for comment on Larson’s allegations, so at this point it’s a he-said, he-said situation. Still, as a former Catholic who now fights for LGBT equality against the likes of John Nienstedt, I personally found the story terribly interesting. I’d like to know what you think of Larson’s response. Do you think it was warranted? Did it accomplish anything? If you suddenly and unexpectedly found yourself sitting just yards away from such an outspoken homophobe, would you confront them?
And of course, if you’ve actually done something like this, I’d be fascinated to hear that story too.
By the way, click here to read the full article from Lavender reporter John Townsend. It’s on page 51.