USA Today carried a headline this week that made me want to throw up my hands: "Minn. archbishop: No 'lukewarm' Catholics welcome." It's difficult enough to interest people in the Catholic Church these days without having bishops usher them toward the exit.The headline was on an Associated Press story recounting an interview with Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul-Minneapolis. The archbishop is evidently feeling pressured by a week of controversy which included his announcement that 21 parishes would be closed and much debate over his decision to mail the faithful a DVD opposing gay marriage.The archbishop has a right and even a duty to speak out on church teachings, although he and other bishops who isolate a single, politically controversial issue at election time in a way that might provide advantage to one candidate over another should not be surprised to find themselves in the middle of the political fray.In this case, it looks as if Archbishop Nienstedt responded to this pressure unwisely - by daring Catholics who disagreed with his DVD to leave the church. At least, that is what comes across in The AP's story, which quotes the archbishop as saying that Jesus told his followers to "either be hot or cold, but if you're lukewarm, I don't want that. So we want people who live their faith.'"It is a very selective reading of Scripture, since Jesus is depicted time and again in the New Testament as welcoming those who were outside the fold of religious orthodoxy. He brought people to the table.For some, it's just not enough that nearly 1 in 3 adult Americans raised Catholic has left the fold, or that 1 in 10 Americans is a former Catholic.
Paul Moses, a contributing writer at Commonweal, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @PaulBMoses.