“If Nuns Ruled the World”–And Ran the Catholic Church

September 3, 2014

The title of a new book posits a hypothetical that would be intriguing to answer: If Nuns Ruled the World.  Even most of us who may may have feared nuns as youngsters have since grown to respect, admire, and love the dedication and commitment that these woman have made to the church and the world.  Even though they don’t “rule the world,” they have done so much good and changed so many lives and communities for the much better.

Sister Jeannine Gramick

Sister Jeannine Gramick

Author Jo Piazza interviewed ten Sisters for the book and devoted a chapter to each one’s life and ministry.  On The Huffington Post, she excerpted one chapter of that book into a a brief essay, and fortunately for Bondings 2.0 readers, that chapter was the one about New Ways Ministry’s co-founder, Sister Jeannine Gramick.

I’ll give a brief synopsis of that essay in this post, but if you want to read it in its entirety, you can click here.   Of course, if you want to read the whole chapter and the whole book, you can buy If Nuns Ruled the World:  Ten Sisters on a Mission (Open Road, September 2014) from your favorite bookseller.

The essay, entitled “A Catholic Nun Spent Her Life Fighting for LGBT Rights, Even Against Vatican Wishes” starts at the very beginning of Sister Jeannine’s ministry, back in 1971:

“How could Sister Jeannine Gramick have known that meeting a handsome gay stranger named Dominic at a house party on Spruce Street in West Philadelphia would completely change the course of her life?

“Dominic strode up to her. He was a baptized gay man who had left the Catholic Church because a priest told him that he was going to hell. He wasn’t alone. Most of his circle of gay friends hadn’t set foot in a church for years for the same reason.

“Dominic’s story made the young nun squirm. She knew there was a profound stigma against homosexuality, especially in conservative Philadelphia, but she despised the idea that the Church would exclude anyone for something so inconsequential. Dominic asked Sister Jeannine if she would be willing to host a home liturgy for him and his buddies, telling her he missed his faith and the Church. Anxious to help, to do something to heal his wounds, she agreed. . . .

“That was the beginning of Sister Jeannine’s fight for equality for gays and lesbians within the Catholic Church. Since 1977 she has been running New Ways Ministry, an organization that fights for equal rights.”

Sister Jeannine recognizes that she was encouraged in this ministry because other nuns, her community superiors, were forward-thinking women who saw this work as the work of God:

” ‘When we first began, my role was tenuous,’ Sister Jeannine told me. ‘No one in the Catholic community had been assigned to gay ministry before. It wasn’t even a thing. People were anxious about any sexual issues, much less homosexual ones. Those superiors were women of vision. They stood by me.’ “

As many know, however, not all church leaders approved of Sister Jeannine’s outreach.  Several investigations began, culminating in one led by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.  The result of that investigation would bind Sister Jeannine even more closely to the LGBT community:

“In May of 1988 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), then headed by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, who would later become Pope Benedict XVI, ordered the nun to sign a “Profession of Faith,” declaring that she agreed with the Church’s official stance on homosexuality.

“Her community stood strong in support of her and her work, but they could not go against the Vatican’s final decree.

” ‘I felt that what was being asked of me was unjust … that lesbian and gay people are so marginalized in the Church that they need an advocate,’ Sister Jeannine said. ‘They need someone connected to the Church institution to speak on their behalf, and I felt that God was telling me, “There is still work that you need to do here.” ‘

“Sister Jeannine didn’t want to cause them needless pain or to draw more of the Vatican’s ire toward them, so she left them and moved to a new order — the Sisters of Loretto.

“Being an outcast of the Church hierarchy has helped Sister Jeannine relate even more to the people she serves.”

So despite attempts to silence her, Sister Jeannine continues her ministry of building bridges of justice and reconciliation between the LGBT community and the Catholic Church.  Of the Vatican’s attempt to end her ministry, she states:

“I don’t like people to say I was silenced. The Vatican tried to silence me and it just didn’t work.”

What Sister Jeannine knew is that fear and intimidation only work when people agree to submit to those tactics.  We give thanks to God that Jeannine stood firm.

Of course, as Sister Jeannine would say, the work of LGBT equality is the work of everyone, not just one person.  Who knows what happenstance conversations are occurring today like the one she and Dominic had over 40 years ago which changed her life and changed the direction of LGBT issues in the Catholic Church.  It’s up to everyone to take seriously the small calls from God that happen in our lives, and respond to them passionately and whole-heartedly.  Like Sister Jeannine did.  Like all nuns continue to do.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

Bondings 2.0: Under the Vatican’s Dark Cloud, Nuns Continue to Suppport LGBT People

New York Times: “Sister Acts”

Time: The Great Nunquisition: Why the Vatican Is Cracking Down on Sisters”

 

 

RETREAT OPPORTUNITY: Our Place at the Table

September 2, 2014

MansonRetreat_BrochureFrontWhat place do LGBT Catholics possess at the tables of our spiritual communities? How can LGBT people, and their family, friends, and pastoral ministers more fully live out the call to be bread for one another?

These questions will be at the heart of an upcoming New Ways Ministry weekend retreat, entitled “Our Place at the Table.”  The retreat will be held September 19-21, 2014, at the Franciscan Spiritual Center in Aston, Pennsylvania, near the Philadelphia airport.

Jamie Manson will facilitate the weekend as participants explore their own connections to Catholic identity with an eye to the ways in which our sacramental imaginations help us to see God at work in the world, especially in the lives of LGBT people. She will offer several presentations based around Margaret Farley’s book Just Love, interspersed with small group discussions and prayer.

Manson is a nationally renowned speaker, retreat leader, and media commentator on issues related to LGBT Catholics, young adult Catholics, and the future of the church. She studied with Farley at Yale Divinity School, where Manson earned her Master of Divinity. She is an award-winning writer for the National Catholic Reporter, especially for her weekly column “Grace on the Margins,” and has directed faith formation and social justice ministry efforts in New York City parishes.

Jamie Manson

Jamie Manson

Regular readers of Bondings 2.0 will be familiar with Manson’s perspectives, as we often summarize and comment on her columns on this blog.  For all the posts in which her work has been mentioned, click here

New Ways Ministry invites LGBT Catholics, the parents of LGBT children, pastoral ministers, and all who are interested to honor the struggles, affirm the holiness, and explore the church’s unfolding future when it comes to LGBT Catholics.

The cost is $205. For more information or to register, visit the New Ways Ministry website at http://www.newwaysministry.org/retreats.html or call (301) 277-5674 or send an email to info@NewWaysMinistry.org..

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


LGBT Advocates Will Explain ‘Ways of Love’ to Synod of Bishops

August 3, 2014

As you probably already know, in October this year, the Vatican will be hosting a world synod of bishops to discuss marriage and family issues.  Just days before that  meeting begins, an international group of Catholic supporters of LGBT people will be meeting in Rome, along with representatives of the Waldensian Church and of the civil society, in order to discuss about how to renew the pastoral care with a view of fully including the LGBT people, and same-gender couples and families.

The conference, entitled “The Ways of Love: International Conference for a Pastoral Care with Homosexual and Transsexual People,” will take place on Friday, October 3, 2014, in Rome.   At the close of the conference, an appeal for appropriate pastoral care for LGBT people will be made to the bishops meeting in the synod.

A keynote speaker at the event will be Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, a retired auxiliary bishop from Australia who is the author of the book, Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church.  Bishop Robinson was a featured speaker at New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium in 2012, where he called for a total re-vamping of the Catholic Church’s teaching on sexuality.

In addition to Bishop Robinson, the other speakers will be:

 James Alison, Catholic theologian and priest. Originally from the United Kingdom, he residesin Brazil and has worked extensively on homosexuality and Catholic faith, in particular on Catholic consciousness and gay consciousness;
Antonietta Potente, theologian and Italian Dominican nun based in Bolivia. She will offer a reflection on a new approach of the Gospel to the LGBT people;
Letizia Tomassone, Waldensian pastor, President of the Commission on Faith and Homosexuality of the Baptist, Methodist, and Waldensian Churches in Italy. She will tell about the path that these Churches have undertaken before openly including the LGBT people and couples;
Joseanne Peregin, President of the Christian Life Community in Malta and mother of a homosexual man. She will tell about the feelings and the fears that Catholic parents may have when it comes to homosexual children.

In anticipation of this conference, the website for the meeting has been posting interviews with some of the conference organizers, an international group of people from five continents.   Below is a sampling from some of those interviews, describing the needs of LGBT Catholics and the hopes for the syond.  Clicking on each name will bring you to the page with the entire interview with that person.

Michael Clifton, David et Jonathan, France:

“When the PACS (Civil Union bill) was introduced in 1999, the Roman Catholic Church’s reaction was quite hysterical, with demonstrators chanting ‘Les pédés au bûcher!’ (‘Burn the faggots!’). When last year (2013) the present government introduced a law allowing marriage and adoption for same-sex couples, there were once again enormous demonstrations, sometimes violent.

“The Church paid for special trains and buses to carry demonstrators to Paris and in churches the faithful were asked to pray for the demonstrators. But officially no members of the hierarchy took part in these demonstrations: some of them just went along before the demonstrations to congratulate and encourage the demonstrators.

“The archbishops of Paris and Lyon made quite strong public statements, likening homosexuality to, for example, zoophilia. Since the law has been enacted, the climate has become quieter and rumours are going around that a large number of the bishops regret the excessive language of last year.

“Even so, the bishop of Bayonne, earlier this year, went to Russia to congratulate Putin on his energetic persecution of homosexuals. On the other hand, two or three bishops have made definite attempts to set up some dialogue with homosexual groups and there is also some contact with influential theologians.”

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, USA

“I think this synod is a great opportunity for bishops to discuss LGBT people, relationships, and families. It is the first time the bishops are covering the topics of marriage and family in a synod since the question of legal marriages for gay and lesbian couples has become a reality. Many bishops from around the world have already publicly acknowledged that most Catholics do not accept the moral condemnation of loving, committed lesbian and gay relationships.

“If these bishops are honest, I think they will realize that this rejection of the church’s teaching is not because people don’t understand it, but because Catholics of good faith have reflected prayerfully on their experiences of lesbian and gay people and couples and have witnessed something holy in their lives and commitment.

“It’s also the first synod under Pope Francis. I think the bishops know that people around the world have responded positively to Francis’ new, welcoming approach to LGBT people. I think they will realize that any negative statements from the synod about lesbian and gay couples will alienate a great number of Catholics in the pews.”

Gianni Geraci, Progetto Gionata, Italy:

“Pointing out new ways where the ecclesial communities and homosexuals can meet and discover a new meaning for the announcement of the Gospel is what is needed. The idea is to follow in Abram’s footsteps, who wasn’t defeated by fear, who didn’t stand still in Harran where his father took him, who didn’t want to know in advance where the Lord was taking him, who didn’t ask for reassurance but only God’s promise to keep him under His blessing. (Gen. 12:1, 2).

“Homosexuals’ experience is deeply connected to Abram’s vocation: just like him, they need to face a horizon they don’t know, go down a road of which the final destination is unknown and the challenge of turning their homosexuality into sanctity without role models or points of reference. Just as happened to Abram, they will hear their old friends ask: ‘Why are you doing this? Live your life and give up unrealistic ambitions. Don’t walk roads you are not familiar with.

“But just as Abram did, they will hear God’s promise echo in their hearts: it is absurd to human reasoning (‘I will make you into a great Nation’, the Lord said to him when he was seventy-five and with no children because of his wife’s barreness) and it is demanding (‘Go from your country, your people and your father’s household’). This promise, apart from His blessing (‘I will bless you’), has no warranty (‘Go to the land I will show you’). There is only an undefined destination that the Lord will point out on the way. Yet it is God’s promise.”

The conference is sponsored by the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups and financially supported by the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture of the Netherlands.  It will be held at the Waldensian Faculty of Theology, Rome.

In addition to the three people quoted abover, other conference organizers include:

Francesco Boschi (REFO, Italy); Michael Brinkschroeder (European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups, Netherlands); Marianne Duddy-Burke (DignityUSA, United States); David Musonda (Dette Resource Foundation, Zambia); Innocenzo Pontillo (Progetto Gionata, Italy); Andrea Rubera (Nuova Proposta, Italy); Diane Xuereb (Drachma LGBT, Malta).

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


What Makes a Catholic Advocate for LGBT Equality Tick?

July 10, 2014
Francis DeBernardo

Francis DeBernardo

As one of the co-founders of New Ways Ministry, I’ve had the pleasure of working for more than 20 years with Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry and editor of this blog. Many New Ways Ministry supporters and Bondings 2.0 readers have had the opportunity to meet him as he travels around the country doing workshops and talks on Catholic LGBT topics.

But, even if you know Frank personally, you will probably see a new side to him, as I have,  in the recent in-depth personal interview conducted by The National Catholic Reporter’s Sister Camille D’Arienzo, RSM.  The interview is this week’s installment of the popular series “Conversations with Camille” which focuses on the lived faith experiences of unique Catholics.

Of course, if you want to get the full experience, you should probably read the entire interview, which you can access by clicking here.  In this blog post, I’ll provide some excerpts that may give you some insights into what motivates and sustains him in his work for LGBT equality and justice in the Catholic Church and civil society.

In the interview, Frank speaks candidly and lovingly of his early development within his family:

“I grew up in a large Italian family in Brooklyn. I was one of eight siblings. We lived in a house with members of my mother’s extended family, and Sundays and holidays were always filled with cousins, aunts, uncles and close friends getting together. Family was always a very important part of my life. . . .

“My mother died when I was 3 years old, leaving my father with six children, two of whom were newborn twins and the other four ranging in age from 3 to 10. My father remarried the following year, and our “new” family began a lifelong journey of bonding together. My new mother had two more children in the coming years, bringing my large family to 10 members. I learned early the responsibility, benefits and power of belonging to a strong family unit. . . .

“This unique family experience taught me powerfully at a very early age that love, not biological reproduction, is what makes a family. That lesson has served me well as my work at New Ways Ministry continues to place me in the midst of marriage equality debates.”

Frank relates the strange and humorous set of circumstances that brought him to New Ways Ministry:

“New Ways Ministry was only 2 miles from my house. When I wanted to start working on LGBT justice, they were the closest place for me to be involved. I started as a volunteer, and then I joined the staff part time. I had been teaching writing part time, too, but I was getting burned out from that work, and the work at New Ways Ministry was very exciting to me. It just felt natural.

“I always tell people as a joke that I started work at New Ways Ministry for the money. At the time, I had just received my first credit card, and in a few short months, I racked up what I thought was a horrible debt. I realized that I would not be able to pay off the bill unless I took a second job. Just at that time, New Ways Ministry was looking for a part-time worker, and since I had been volunteering there, I was hired.

“The funniest thing about this story is that my whopping credit card debt was $800. I’ve since learned that the average credit card debt in the U.S. is about $10,000. Since that time, I have paid off my balance in full every month.”

He speaks gratefully about what he has witnessed in his ministry with LGBT people:

“The main thing that attracted me to work at New Ways Ministry and has kept me here for 20 years has been the people that I have met as I travel. I have had the incredible opportunity to hear so many amazing stories of courage, love and faith. I’ve met a number of real saints: Catholic LGBT people who faced immense amounts of oppression, often from their church and its leaders, and who still continue to testify to the truth about themselves and to live in love the way they know that God has created them. . . .

“When I first started working at New Ways Ministry, I was reading a book called Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed by Philip P. Hallie. It is the story of the Huguenot village of Le Chambon, France, which sheltered Jewish people during World War II in open defiance of the Nazi regime. The courage of these French Protestants, who took literally the commandment “Love one another,” had a profound effect on me. And as I met LGBT Catholics, their parents, and their pastoral ministers who were speaking out for their human rights and their rights as baptized people, I saw the same courageous spirit as the people of Le Chambon.”

He describes how the challenging work of Catholic LGBT ministry brings him joy:

“People tend to think that I spend my days arguing and fighting with homophobes, and as a result, I must get really down. It’s not true. Most of the people that I come in contact with are Catholics who are seeking creative ways to ensure LGBT justice and equality. I find so much joy in my work because I see so much good happening. It’s like almost every day I get to learn about real miracles taking place. How can I not be lighthearted? I get to witness so much joy.”

And, perhaps most intimately, he reveals the inner workings of his relationship with God, including his favorite Scripture verse:

“Psalm 27: 8-9. ‘Of You my heart has spoken, seek God’s face. It is your face O God, that I seek. Hide not your face from me.’ Whenever I feel lost, this reminds me of the true direction of my life. I’ve also found it helpful when I have to deal with difficult people. It reminds me that they, too, are the face of God. . . .

“Lately, my image of God is a bed. A big, soft, comfy bed with lots of pillows and quilts and blankets where I can just relax and be myself. In that bed, I can be at peace and learn to deal with and respect my morning grumpies, my terror-filled nightmares, my most hopeful dreams, my anxious questions and challenges that keep me awake at night, and, of course, my moments of joy-filled bliss.”

In the full interview, Frank illustrates many of the turning points of his life with details and stories that are poignant and telling.  I think you will find the interview enlightening, inspiring and fun.   As one of the commenters on The National Catholic Reporter’s  website said:

“Thank you, Sister Camille, for this is a wonderful interview, I am so inspired by it! Francis DeBernardo seems like a a man I would want for a friend; a delightful person.”

–Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Growing Our Community of Faith, Hope, and Advocacy for Love

June 2, 2014

My, how times flies!  We started this blog at the end of November, 2011, and we’ve been posting continually every day since then.  Now, at the end of May, 2014, we have reached our two-and-a-half year milepost, and, as has been our tradition every six months, we come to you, our readers, and ask for your financial support for this project.  Would you be able to help our community grow?

This blog was envisioned as a major extension of New Ways Ministry’s mission to educate people about the ups and downs of the relationship between the Catholic Church and the LGBT community. We wanted it to be a part of our organization’s mission to help advocate for equality for LGBT people in church and society.  We hoped that through these blog posts, we would encourage and empower people to build bridges of justice and reconciliation in their home communities, whether these bridges be great or small.

But the blog has turned out to be so much more.  It is a community of faith-filled people who read and reflect on the news and who enter into discussion with one another on issues that matter to them.  We have been edified by the many thought-filled “Comments” to our posts, in which people share not only their ideas, but their faith journeys and experiences. Your personal contributions  enrich this site.

We ask you to consider contributing financially to support this blog.  Any amount, large or small, would be greatly appreciated and would help us keep this project and community thriving.  If you contribute $50, you are giving less than $1 a week for a whole year’s worth of news, information, opinion, and reflection.

To send an online donation, click here, fill out the form, and write “Blog” in the “Comments” box of the form.  You can also send a check made out to “New Ways Ministry” to our office at 4012 – 29th Street, Mount Rainier, Maryland 20712.  If you want to contribute by credit card over the phone, please call our office, 301-277-5674, during Eastern Time business hours, and we will take down your information.

Like public radio or television, you are welcome to enjoy the material here at no cost.  But like these forms of media, we rely so much upon the generosity of our constituents.  Like radio or television fund drives, we only come to you twice a year asking for contributions:  at the end of November on our annual anniversary, and six months later, at the beginning of summer for the half-year mark.

If you find this resource helpful to your life of  faith, hope, and advocacy on behalf of love,  please consider making a donation.

Regardless of your ability to donate, we hope that you will continue to read this blog and to share it with your friends.  In whatever way you are able to help this community grow, we are deeply grateful for your support, and we will keep you all in our prayers of gratitude.

–Francis DeBernardo, Sister Jeannine Gramick, Matthew Myers, Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 


U.S. Catholics Stand with Nuns As Vatican Crackdown Re-Emerges

May 19, 2014

Nun Justice supporters vigil outside the US bishops conference in 2012

The Vatican’s heavy-handed investigations of U.S. women religious appeared to be fading away under Pope Francis. Critiquing the nuns for focusing too heavily on social justice, including equality for LGBT people, did not seem to fit within the new pope’s vision for the Church. Developments since late April have challenged these assumptions, leading progressive Catholics to act.

The Nun Justice Project, a coalition of church reform organizations that includes New Ways Ministry, released an open letter to Pope Francis defending the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and a petition for Catholics to sign. The letter, which you can read about in the National Catholic Reporter, says, in part:

“We write with respect and gratitude for your extraordinary leadership in our Church.

“Sadly, we also write with concern and dismay at the behavior that Cardinal Gerhard Müller recently exhibited toward women leaders of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) and especially toward Dr. Elizabeth Johnson CSJ.

“Cardinal Müller’s preemptive public criticism of LCWR leadership and Dr. Johnson, one of the most beloved and respected theologians in the world, eclipsed any opportunity for public dialogue.

“This communicates that faithful Catholic female leaders are disrespected and discounted in our Church.”

The letter continues by asking Pope Francis to remove the reform mandate against LCWR and to publicly apologize to LCWR and Dr. Johnson.

The latest chapter of the controversy between the Vatican and the nuns started when Cardinal Gerhard Müller, who heads up the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, gave a statement at the opening of meetings between Vatican officials and LCWR’s leadership that Dennis Coday, editor of the National Catholic Reporter, described as “the most direct and confrontational language since the Vatican began to rein in” American sisters in 2012. The cardinal claimed LCWR was not abiding by the mandate, including failing to have speakers at their annual assembly approved, honoring theologian Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ who had been investigated by the US bishops’ doctrinal committee (though he did not specifically name her in the statement), and promoting conscious evolution by having author Barbara Marx Hubbard address an LCWR assembly. Archbishop of Seattle J. Peter Sartain, who is overseeing the mandate’s implementation, said he agreed with Müller’s statement.

In response, LCWR’s leadership initially released a statement which said there had been respectful dialogue. A further statement affirmed their commitment to dialogue, but said meetings with the Vatican have “broken down” and “mistrust has developed.”

Meanwhile, Catholics have questioned what all this means in relation to Pope Francis who, like American nuns, has championed social justice and tried to create a more welcoming Church. NCR columnist Jamie Manson writes that Catholics must admit Pope Francis agrees with the mandate against LCWR, based on some of his recent statements about nuns and about some of the topics that Müller addressed. Commentator Phyllis Zagano seeks an “evolution of consciousness” from the Vatican, borrowing from one of the theological perspectives critiqued by Müller. Sister of Loretto Maureen Fiedler has called on the pope to intervene on behalf of the sisters. Seasoned religion journalist Ken Briggs asks the questions behind many of these pieces:

“If the pope has agreed with yet another censuring of Sister Johnson, what does that say about him and his convincing humility. And if he’s appalled by the Congregation’s treatment, why doesn’t he step in and put a stop to it?”

Lastly, The Guardian columnist Sadhbh Walshe writes:

“The really disheartening thing about the pope’s unwillingness to end the nuns’ censure – indeed, about his unwillingness to openly support them – is that his stated values are no different than the ones the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) is being punished for carrying out…

“Whatever this week’s censure of nuns – who are in trouble precisely for stressing social justice issues over abortion, gay marriage and birth control – says about the pope’s dedication to his stated mission, one thing is more clear than ever: if the church continues to pressure analready-dwindling population of nuns to abandon its social justice work, Pope Francis may undermine his own agenda, just as much as some power players at the Vatican hope to undermine the nuns on and off the bus.”

There is one hopeful note about Pope Francis and LCWR, reported by David Gibson of Religion News Service, which is that Cardinal Walter Kasper, known as the “pope’s theologian” downplayed Müller’s remarks during a presentation at Fordham University. Gibson wrote:

“On Monday, Kasper told the audience that after Francis praised him by name just days after his election, ‘an old cardinal came to him and said, ‘Holy Father, you cannot do this! There are heresies in this book!’

“As Francis recounted the story to Kasper, he said, the pope smiled and added: ‘This enters in one ear and goes out the other.’

“Asked about Johnson and another feminist theologian, Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, whose views have also been disputed by the hierarchy, Kasper said that he has known them both for years and added: ‘I esteem them both.’…

“He said that the criticism of Johnson ‘is not a tragedy and we will overcome,’ and he noted that St. Thomas Aquinas, the medieval theologian now considered one of the greatest minds in the church, was condemned by his bishop and lived under a shadow for years.

” ‘So she is in good company!’ Kasper said of Johnson.”

Part of the Vatican’s criticisms of American women religious and LCWR in 2012 included their support for LGBT people and New Ways Ministry. We encourage you to sign the petition and spread the word about the Nun Justice Project, which you can access here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Fortunate Families Founders Feted for Ministry to Catholic Parents of LGBT People

May 11, 2014

Happy Mothers Day!

When the history of the Catholic LGBT movement is written, a major chapter of it must be devoted to Mary Ellen and Casey Lopata, a pair of Catholic parents of a gay son, whose journey of understanding and acceptance led them to ministry with other parents, and eventually the founding of a national network called Fortunate Families. Last weekend, Catholics from around the country gathered in the Lopatas’ hometown of Rochester, New York, for a dinner celebrating their retirement from leadership in Fortunate Families, as well as the 10th anniversary of this network of Catholic parents of LGBT people.

Casey and Mary Ellen Lopata peruse a memory album presented to them by Fortunate Families Board President Deb Word at their retirement dinner.

Casey and Mary Ellen Lopata peruse a memory album presented to them by Fortunate Families Board President Deb Word at their retirement dinner.

During the event, the history of the Lopatas’ ministry was recounted, going back to 1992 when they attended New Ways Ministry’s Third National Symposium on Lesbian/Gay Issues and Catholicism, in Chicago.  The couple attended the meeting with six other pastorally involved people from Rochester, and they returned home fired with enthusiasm to start pastoral outreach to LGBT people, and particularly, their parents.   Their efforts eventually led to the establishment of the Diocese of Rochester’s Catholic Gay and Lesbian Family Ministry.

A few years later, the Lopatas were instrumental in helping to establish the National Association of Catholic Diocesan Lesbian/Gay Ministries (NACDLGM), and in 1998 they organized and hosted the group’s national conference in Rochester, one of the most successful meetings the organization has ever had.  (NACDGLM is now known as the Catholic Association for Lesbian and Gay Ministry.) Throughout the 1990s, the Lopatas were tireless in their education, support, and advocacy ministry for families.  They served as consultants on the U.S. bishops’ 1997 pastoral letter, Always Our Children.

They published several resources including a book, Fortunate Families: Catholic Families with Lesbian Daughters and Gay Sons, and a manual entitled Seeds of Hope: Compassionate Ministry with Gay and Lesbian Catholics and Their Families. In 2004, they established Fortunate Families as a nationwide resource and networking ministry to, for, and with Catholic parents of LGBT people.  In the following year, New Ways Ministry presented them with its Bridge Building Award, “for compassionate ministry, personal witness, and national leadership to promote justice for lesbian/gay Catholics, their parents, and families.”

Fortunate Families is a member of the Equally Blessed Coalition, which also includes Call To Action, DignityUSA, and New Ways Ministry.  Representatives from each of these three other coalition partners were on hand in Rochester to praise and thank the Lopatas at their retirement party.  Jim FitzGerald, executive director, represented Call To Action; Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director, represented DignityUSA; Francis DeBernardo, executive director, represented New Ways Ministry.  Sister Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, and Father James Schexnayder, founder of NACDLGM were unable to attend in person, but they each sent video testimonials about the Lopatas’ contributions to the Catholic LGBT movement.  You can view Sr. Jeannine’s video here:

Emails and letters from parents and pastoral ministers, as well as testimonies from Fortunate Families board members, were also part of the evening’s festivities.  Fortunate Families Board President Deb Word presented the Lopatas with a memory book, and New York State Assemblyman Harry Bronson gave them a resolution from the legislature in honor of their contributions.

The Lopatas are leaving an indelible mark on our church because they have helped to affirm and empower so many parents, and LGBT people, as well. Catholic parents are among the most passionate and persuasive advocates for LGBT people in the church. Their natural love for their LGBT children motivates them to work to make sure that they are treated in the same way as their heterosexual children are treated.

For some parents, it takes some time to adjust to the new information that their children are LGBT.  Support from other parents who have gone through the same experience is often the biggest help for those who are just learning about a child’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

Parents of LGBT children are a true gift  to the church. The journey of love and acceptance that Catholic parents go on is the same journey that the entire church eventually will need to go experience.  So, all in the church, particularly pastoral ministers and bishops, can learn a lot from these people that God has made so fortunate.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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