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Conservative bishop to succeed Flynn: A lauded liturgist, administrator, New Ulm conservative also is known for controversy
4/29/2007 8:00:00 PM by DAVID HANNERS - TwinCities.com-Pioneer Press
Roman Catholic Bishop John Nienstedt of New Ulm, Minn., a theological conservative who has taken on Hollywood, stem-cell research and people who make too much noise in church, was named Tuesday to succeed Archbishop Harry Flynn.
The announcement by the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis that Nienstedt, 60, had been named "coadjutor archbishop" ended months of speculation over who would succeed Flynn, who will step down when he turns 75 next year.
Flynn, who has been archbishop since 1996, introduced Nienstedt at the archdiocese's chancery in St. Paul. He called Nienstedt "such a capable bishop" and said he had "broad experience that will serve him well."
But Nienstedt's time as bishop of the Diocese of New Ulm has not been without controversy. While Flynn and others lauded him as an able administrator and liturgist, some of his actions have rankled his own priests and parishioners in the diocese he has led since August 2001.
Soon after being named bishop in New Ulm, he condemned some of the theological views of the man who had held the post before him for 25 years, Bishop Raymond Lucker, a noted progressive clergyman who died in 2001. Denouncing his predecessor's views was an "extraordinary step," the National Catholic Reporter noted in an article on the incident.
As bishop in New Ulm, Nienstedt prohibited cohabitating couples from being married in Catholic churches. He barred female pastoral administrators from leading prayers at a semiannual leadership event. He once disciplined a priest for holding joint ecumenical services with a Lutheran congregation after the Catholic church had been destroyed by a tornado.
Kenneth Irrgang, a retired priest who clashed with Nienstedt when he was bishop in New Ulm, predicted that Nienstedt will meet resistance among the 654 active priests in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
"I expect disaster there. I don't think those priests are going to accept him," said Irrgang, who now lives in St. Cloud. "He's a micromanager. He has to control everything. He hews the line from the Vatican without any question whatsoever. He's not a very good people person."
But the Rev. Philip M. Schotzko of the Church of St. Peter in St. Peter, Minn., praised Nienstedt's abilities.
"Bishop Nienstedt is a consummate man of the church," said Schotzko. "He thinks with, prays with and loves the church with everything he's got. He just follows very carefully the teachings and all aspects of church theology and moral teachings. You'll get a very committed man in that way."
He said Nienstedt is "gifted in many ways as a liturgist" and considers him "a good organizer and planner and administrator."
According to his church biography, Nienstedt was born in Detroit, the second of six children. He completed his theological education at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit and the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, and was ordained into the priesthood in July 1974.
Nienstedt has held a variety of positions in the church throughout his career. He's been an associate pastor, priest-secretary to a cardinal, vicar general of the Archdiocese of Detroit and served in the Vatican Secretariat of State.
He was ordained a bishop in June 1996.
After Flynn introduced him Tuesday, Nienstedt spoke of his life in the church.
"When I was yet a boy, I fell in love with a beautiful woman who was the bride of Christ," Nienstedt said. "For me, the church has never been just an institution, just a hierarchical structure, just a doer of good works for the poor, the sick and the stranger, but she was and is a concrete manifestation of God's great love, for whom Jesus gave his very life."
A coadjutor archbishop is akin to an archbishop-in-training. Nienstedt will assume some of Flynn's duties, and aid him with others.
Nienstedt is moving from a diocese that has 42 active priests and 68,000 parishioners to an archdiocese with 454 priests and 646,000 parishioners. He noted the difference in his remarks.
"And while we, in the Diocese of New Ulm, have our share in life's joys and sorrows, I somehow think that both will proportionally increase with this new assignment," he said.
As bishop in New Ulm, Nienstedt wrote a regular column, "And Miles to Go," for the diocese's newsletter and Web site. In the first column, written in September 2001, he complained about President Bush's decision to fund stem-cell research into possible cures for disease.
Nienstedt called on government and people to "curb the scientist's thirst for novelty" by ending the research. In a later column on the subject, he called legislation allowing stem-cell research "a very misguided, political attack on human life," and said, "there have been no medical cures resulting from the use of embryonic stem cells."
He also used his column to air his views on homosexuality, saying people became gay or lesbian as a "result of psychological trauma" when a child is between the ages of 18 months and 3. Homosexuality, he wrote, "must be understood in the context of other human disorders: envy, malice, greed, etc."
Nienstedt also advised parishioners to avoid the movies "Brokeback Mountain" - "a story of lust gone bad," he wrote - and "The Da Vinci Code." He said Dan Brown's best-selling novel, later turned into a movie starring Tom Hanks, was "pure Evil in its intent" and "seeks to confuse the young, whose faith may be weak, and lead them astray."
In a column from June with the headline "Silence," Nienstedt complained about people talking while he prepared for weekend liturgies, saying it was a "din of noise ... not unlike that of a sports arena."
"I have tried to overhear what is so important that people need to speak in church," he wrote. "Normally comments range from one's view of the weather, to a recent sports event, to how old Uncle Henry is looking. None of it is essential. None of it has to be spoken at that time."
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