U.S. Catholics Make Known Their Opinions on Marriage and Family Issues

February 22, 2014

In the past few weeks, we’ve posted about a few international bishops’ conferences reporting about what they have learned from their surveys of their lay people on matters of marriage and family life, in anticipation of the October 2014 Synod in Rome on those topics.  More and more bishops’ conferences are starting to disclose the responses to these surveys, and we will be reporting on them in the coming days.

Noticeably absent has been any report from the U.S. bishops, and this is probably due to the fact that very few of them made the survey available to their laity.   To remedy this omission of the voices of U.S. lay Catholics, a network of Catholic reform organizations sent out the survey to their members, and yesterday they have released a report on the compiled responses.  Released by member groups of the Catholic Organizations for Renewal and entitled Voices of the People: Responses to the Vatican Survey in Preparation for the Extraordinary Synod on the Familythe report provides statistics on the information gathered from over 16,000 respondents.   According to a press release, the report categorized responses under seven major themes:

  1. Pastoral care urgently needed
  2. Pedagogical/evangelism challenges
  3. Separated, divorced and remarried Catholics
  4. Same-sex marriage
  5. Women in the Church
  6. Sexual abuse scandals
  7. Skepticism and hope.

The survey responses were analyzed by an independent reviewer, Dr. Peter J. Fagan, M.Div., PhD., from the Department of Psychology and Behavioral Sciences at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, in Baltimore, Maryland. 53% of the respondents identified as weekly church-goers, higher than the national average of 31% of Catholics who do so.

On the issue of  marriage equality, the report offers the following evaluation of Catholic attitudes:

“There  is  a  law  recognizing  marriage  equality  in  the  states  of  57  percent  of  the   respondents  (Q29)  and  marriage  equality  is  very  important  for  26  percent  of  the   respondents  and  extremely  important  for  47  percent  (Q33*).

“Respondents  were  asked  to  judge  the  attitudes  of  their  diocese,  parish  and  small   faith  communities  toward  both  marriage  equality  and  same-­‐sex  couples  in  a   committed  partnership  (Q30).  As  the  geography  of  the  entity  became  more  local  and   familiar,  i.e.  from  diocese  to  parish  to  faith  community,  the  respondents’  judged  that   the  attitudes  were  less  hostile,  less  condemning  and  less  negative  and  became  more   supportive,  even  highly  supportive.  This  pattern  applied  to  both  marriage  equality   and  same-­‐sex  couples  in  a  committed  relationship.    One  third  of  respondents  viewed  their  dioceses  as  hostile  and  condemning  of  marriage  equality  (37  percent)  and  same-­‐ sex  couples  (35  percent);  their  parishes  as  hostile  and  condemning  of  marriage   equality  (11  percent)  and  same-­‐sex  couples  (13  percent);  and  their  faith  communities   as  hostile  and  condemning  of  marriage  equality  (3  percent)  and  same-­‐sex  couples  (4   percent).

“Asked  about  attitudinal  support  of  marriage  equality  and  same-­‐sex  couples,  the   inverse  pattern  applied:  the  more  local,  the  more  support  for  marriage  equality  and   same-­‐sex  couples  in  a  committed  partnership  (Q30).    Seven  percent  of  dioceses  were   seen  being  at  least  somewhat  supportive  of  both  situations,  as  did  thirty  one  percent   of  parishes  and  two  thirds  of  small  faith  communities.    The  striking  contrast  in  this   inverse  pattern  is  the  discrepancy  between  the  dioceses  perceived  as  hostile  and   condemning  toward  marriage  equality  (37  percent)  and  same-­‐sex  couples  (35   percent)  and  the  perception  of  the  respondents’  small  faith  communities  attitudes  as   being  highly  supportive  of  marriage  equality  (45  percent)  and  same-­‐sex  couples  in  a   committed  partnership  (47  percent). “

The entire report concludes with the following observation from the analyst:

There  can  be  no  conclusion  to  this  Report  because  it  is  offered  as  participation  to   the  dialogue  and  discernment  leading  up  to  the  Extraordinary  Synod  on  the  Family   to  be  held  in  the  Vatican  during  October  2014.    However,  if  we  were  to  try  to   capture  what  the  respondents  have  said  in  one  sentence,  we  turn  to  voice  of  Pope   Francis  when  he  wrote,

“ ‘The  Church  must  be  a  place  of  mercy  freely  given,  where  everyone  can  feel   welcomed,  loved,  forgiven  and  encouraged  to  live  the  good  life  of  the  Gospel.’   (Evangelii  Gaudium,  #114)

“If  there  were  one  near-­‐universal  hope  of  the  over  16,000  respondents  to  this  Survey,   it  would  be  that  this  vision  of  the  church  would  become  a  pastoral  reality.”

Organizational sponsors of the survey project from Catholic Organizations for Renewal include American Catholic Council, Call To Action, CORPUS, DignityUSA, Federation of Christian Ministries/Roman Catholic Faith Community Council, FutureChurch, New Ways Ministry, RAPPORT, Roman Catholic Womenpriests, Southeastern Pennsylvania Women’s Ordination Conference, Voice of the Faithful, and Women’s Ordination Conference.   Other supporting organizations include Catholic Church Reform, Fortunate Families, and Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER).

You can read some of the qualitative responses to the survey either in English or Spanish.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Archbishop Meets with LGBT-Friendly Pilgrim Group in Palestine

February 21, 2014
Archbishop Elias Chacour of the Galilee with New Ways Ministry pilgrims and staff

Archbishop Elias Chacour of the Galilee with New Ways Ministry pilgrims and staff

LGBT and Ally Catholics met with Archbishop Elias Chacour on Monday, as part of a pilgrimage being led by New Ways Ministry to Israel this week. The 36 pilgrims dialogued with the archbishop for nearly two hours on a breadth of issues.

Until recently retiring, Chacour was archbishop of the Galilee in Palestine for the Melkite rite, which is in communion with the Vatican. Chacour spoke with the pilgrims from his personal background to the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. The program began with an introduction from Sr. Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, and a solicitation by the archbishop of why the pilgrims had journeyed to the Holy Land.

Afterwards, Chacour spoke about what it meant to minister as a man from Galilee, sharing a common location with Jesus Christ. His wisdom comes from both historical roots in the land where Jesus lived and ministered, as well as theological education, and the archbishop told the group:

“We Palestinian Christians are not good philosophers, and even worse theologians, because we are obsessed with telling the story of our man from Galilee…

Archbishop Chacour addressing the pilgrims

Archbishop Chacour addressing the pilgrims

“Those invited to the banquet of heaven are every man and woman without exception…You are called to be the adopted children of God…Nobody is important, but nobody is replaceable…

“All I remember is God does not kill and God is love. tThe rest is commentary.”

In addition to his work as archbishop, Chacour runs educational initiatives that have blossomed into a system offering  early childhood programs to university degree programs for nearly 3,000 students based out of the village called Ibillin. Though he offered anecdotes from these work, his overarching insights focused on creating unity and respect amid diversity between Palestinians and Israelis and these lessons are familiar ones for those working for LGBT justice in the Church.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Next Week in Jerusalem!

February 14, 2014

The Wailing Wall and the Temple Mount, Jerusalem

To all Bondings 2.0 readers:

From February 14th to 23rd,  this blog’s two main contributors, Francis DeBernardo and Bob Shine, will be in Israel, as part of New Ways Ministry’s LGBT pilgrimage to the Holy Land sites, which includes meeting with contemporary peacemakers and LGBT leaders.  New Ways Ministry’s co-founder. Sister Jeannine Gramick, is the leader of the pilgrimage.

While we are excited about the journey, we did want you to know that we may not be as regular in posting to this blog as we have been.  The differences in time zones, the rigors of travel, and the access to Wi-Fi may all alter our regular schedule of researching, writing, and posting.  Additionally, moderation of comments may also be a bit delayed for the same reasons.  So, don’t be alarmed if things are not as regular as they have been.

We will have our computers with us, and it is our intention to try to keep up with our traditional schedule, but we did want to inform you that such may not be the case.   If we are able to, we will occasionally post about any interesting parts of our journey there.  On some days, we may be in “light mode,” perhaps only posting links to stories, rather than summaries and commentary. We are going to be “playing it by ear,”  trying to figure out what we can do, given our limitations.  We appreciate your indulgence.

Our regular schedule will return after February 24th.

As we visit the holy places where Jesus and other Biblical figures lived, we will keep you all in prayer.

–Francis DeBernardo and Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Valentine’s Day Message of Love and Equality from Ohio and Kentucky Catholics

February 14, 2014

On Valentine’s Day, we have two stories about how U.S. Catholics are showing their love for LGBT people by taking their message of equality and justice to the streets this week.  One event has already occurred and one is scheduled for this coming weekend.

Protesting Bishop Paprocki’s talk against marriage equality.

In Cincinnati, Ohio, on Wednesday evening, February 12th,  Catholics gathered outside the Athenaeum, a Catholic seminary in that city, to protest a talk against marriage equality being given there by Springfield, Illinois’ Bishop Thomas Paprocki.  This bishop made headlines last year when he staged a prayer service that included prayers of exorcism in his cathedral on the day that marriage equality was signed into law in Illinois.

The protest, organized by Dignity/Dayton and Dignity/USA, demonstrated Catholic support for  marriage equality.  WCPO-TV reported that while inside the building Bishop Paprocki offered arguments against marriage equality, outside, the demonstrators told a different story:

“The protestors strongly disagree [with the bishop], saying his theory clashes with the Pope’s beliefs. According to protestor Bob Butts, the Pope’s bigger concern is poverty.

” ‘My partner and I have been together for 26 years,’ he said. ‘This stuff is mean, hateful, does a lot of harm, especially to young LGBT youth.’

“Protesting along with Butts was Peggy Hanna.

” ‘I believe those of us who are not in the LGBT community, we need to come out and support them,’ she said. ‘This is the right thing to do. I am wishing the church would open its mind and heart.’ “

You can watch the video of the news report on this protest by clicking here.

In May of 2013, Bishop Paprocki debated New Ways Ministry’s Sister Jeannine Gramick on the topic of marriage equality.

Father Joseph Fowler

On Sunday, February 16th, Catholics for Fairness, a pr0-LGBT group in Louisville, Kentucky, will march to the cathedral in that city to ask Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, the ordinary of the city and also the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, to “acknowledge the inherent dignity of all human beings, including LGBT people,” according to Father Joseph Fowler, an archdiocesan priest who has organized this demonstration for the last three years.

Fr. Fowler explained the purpose of the demonstration in an essay in Louisville’s Courier-Journal newspaper:

“While Pope Francis appears to be moving the church forward on LGBT acceptance, it seems Archbishop Kurtz is resisting. More than three years ago, Archbishop Kurtz made a promise — since unfulfilled — that he would review and consider support for a simple LGBT-inclusive anti-discrimination Fairness law in Kentucky.

“House Bill 171, introduced by Rep. Mary Lou Marzian and co-sponsored by Rep. Jim Wayne and 15 other state legislators, would extend discrimination protections in employment, housing and public accommodations to LGBT people. It’s a law that says everyone deserves a fair shake at earning a living, putting a roof over their heads, and eating at their favorite restaurants without the fear of being turned away just because of who they are.

“And it’s the type of law the vast majority of Catholics support nationwide — 73 percent according to a recent Public Policy Research Institute poll. This same poll showed Catholics to be the most progressive Christian denomination in America on LGBT issues.

“With so much support among Catholics, and Pope Francis’ obvious overtures of LGBT acceptance, it remains an enigma why Archbishop Kurtz continues to avoid the issue.”

The Louisville marchers will meet on Sunday, February 16, 4:00 p.m., at  4 p.m. at the Volunteers of America of Kentucky headquarters, 570 South Fourth St.  They will walk to the Cathedral of the Assumption, 433 South Fifth Street.

Kudos to these Catholics in Cincinnati and Louisville for demonstrating their faith in such powerful ways!  What a wonderful present for St. Valentine’s Day!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Praying for All Marriages During National Marriage Week

February 9, 2014

LoveIsLoveToday is “National Marriage Day,” part of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ National Marriage Week which spans from last Friday through next Friday, St. Valentine’s Day.

While the bishops have asked Catholics to participate in support of their anti-marriage equality campaign, other Catholics are affirming the goodness of marriage — and that means all marriages, which deserve equal recognition and dignity.

The Equally Blessed coalition, which consists of  Call to ActionFortunate FamiliesDignityUSA, and New Ways Ministry, has released a statement further explaining these events:

“The National Marriage Week campaign’s limited scope creates an unwelcoming Church for the thousands of US Catholics in same-sex marriages who live their lives as shining examples of love in the face of discrimination. By encouraging local parishes to observe ‘National Marriage Day’ during Sunday mass, the bishops are once again using the liturgy as a weapon to further alienate LGBT Catholics and their supporters.

“This campaign only serves to show how out of touch the bishops are with the values of everyday Catholics. While the bishops continue to abuse their power by pouring money and effort into thinly veiled anti-equality campaigns like National Marriage Week, the majority of US Catholics continue to support equality for LGBT families. Catholics know that all marriages based on love and respect are sacred and we implore the bishops to follow the laity’s lead and cease this attack on LGBT families.”

Equally Blessed, has prepared a “Prayer for All Marriages” which LGBT-affirming Catholics are being asked to pray today and throughout the week with their family, parishes, and local communities. You’re encouraged to show your support through stories and photos of how you have prayed and emailing these to coordinator@equally-blessed.org. You can find more resources by clicking here and the prayer is provided below:

Loving God, 
You who created each of us in Your own image 
and who called us together in community, 
 
We give You thanks for the gift of marriage 
and for the many couples 
whose love and commitment to each other reminds us 
of Your never-ending love for humanity. 
 
We thank You for all the different types of marriages in our world: 
young couples beginning a life together, 
 as well as couples celebrating decades of love, 
re-married couples and those who found each other later in life, 
couples whose marriages are recognized by our state and our Church, 
and same-sex couples who are denied that recognition 
but who continue to bravely model love and commitment in the face of discrimination. 
 
We thank You for the many kinds of families 
 that are strengthened by these marriages: 
families of biological children and adopted children, 
blended families and families of choice, 
as well as couples without children who work together 
 to nurture communities of love and justice. 
 
This week, as many are observing National Marriage Week, 
we ask You to pour Your blessings onto every marriage 
regardless of gender or sexual orientation. 
Make each marriage one of love, respect and peace. 
Guide each couple as they strive to be an example of your love in the world 
and surround them with family and friends 
 who honor and celebrate their commitment. 
 
Help us support marriage and family in all of its diversity 
and guide us as we speak out against oppression in our Church. 
Lead us toward the day when all loving unions will be seen as sacred 
and all couples will have the support and recognition of their faith communities. 
 
We pray this in the name of Jesus, who called us to love one another as we love You, 
Amen

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Tweet the Pope to Save LGBT People Around the World!

January 23, 2014

Pope Francis

A world of humanity is mobilizing around the #PopeSpeakOut Twitter campaign to persuade Pope Francis to speak out against the growing tide of anti-LGBT laws around the globe.  The campaign is launching today! Bondings 2.0 encourages all of its readers who use Twitter to participate.

The campaign organizers are New Ways Ministry,The Fellowship Global, and a growing number of co-sponsors. It offers a positive action that people can take to respond to the dangerous new wave of anti-LGBT laws and policies in countries such as Nigeria, Russia, Uganda, India, and Jamaica.

“By sending tweets to the pope, we want to move him to speak out against these laws, many of which have been supported by Catholic leaders and people in these nations,” said Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director of New Ways Ministry.  “We were amazed and gratified when Pope Francis said ‘Who am I to judge.’ Now we need a powerful, faith-based statement from Pope Francis to support the freedom and lives of our LGBT sisters and brothers.”

Pastor Joseph Tolton, Executive Director of The Fellowship Global said, “People of faith and hope from all traditions will tweet the Pope to urge him to make a pronouncement to the world to ‘Do no harm!’ The rising tide of draconian laws to criminalize LGBT people and their supporters allow vigilantes to rape, beat and kill people who are suspected of being LGBT with impunity. This must stop!”

It will be incumbent on all of us, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, to help spread the word about the campaign so that the pontiff hears from people from all over.  We are heartened by the fact that the papal nuncio in Uganda was pre-disposed to reject that nation’s anti-gay bill and that Cardinal Oswald Gracias, the archbishop of Mumbai who is one of the pope’s closest advisors, has spoken out strongly against India’s anti-LGBT action.  These signs indicate that there is a good chance the pope will, with the right encouragement, speak out, too.

The campaign has established a website, NoMoreTriangleNations.com, as a resource and headquarters for the campaign.  “Triangle Nations” is a reference to the pink triangle assigned to gay men in Nazi concentration camps during the Holocaust.

New Ways Ministry is a 37-year old national Catholic ministry of justice and reconciliation for LGBT people and the wider church community and civil society.

The Fellowship Global is a partnership with circles of Christian clergy and LGBTI people in the African Diaspora to express a faith perspective supporing the social, legal, and moral inclusion of all people regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Bondings 2.0 will keep you updated on the campaign, the pope’s response, and on Catholic influence in “triangle nations” as they develop.

Here are some sample tweets that can be used:

First Russia, then Uganda, last week Nigeria, now ask @pontifex to say “No More Triangle Nations!” http://ow.ly/sSuiY #PopeSpeakOut

Ask @pontifex to call on Christians to love LGBTQ individuals, not legislate their extinction. #nomoretrianglenations

.@Pontifex Urge heads of state to respect human dignity. NO MORE TRIANGLE NATIONS! #PopeSpeakOut

In the wake of anti-gay legislative measures made in #Nigeria & #Uganda, we urge @pontifex to speak out against such unchristian prejudice

As Catholics, we are saddened by our fellow Christians who attack the global #LGBT community. We will speak out, join us and share.

.@Pontifex As a voice for the voiceless please publicly condemn anti-gay laws! #PopeSpeakOut

.@Pontifex Please condemn Uganda’s anti-gay bill as you defend human rights for all! #PopeSpeakOut

.@Pontifex Please urge Nigeria to stop arresting gay and trans people! Please save lives! #PopeSpeakOut

.@Pontifex Stop the unjust legal discrimination of gay/lesbian/trans people. Speak out against anti-gay laws around the world #PopeSpeakOut

.@Pontifex Call Christians around the world to love gay people not legislate their extinction #PopeSpeakOut

–Bob Shine , New Ways Ministry


Memorial Mass for Father Bob Nugent Scheduled

January 23, 2014

Father Robert Nugent, SDS

As many of you know, New Ways Ministry’s co-founder, Father Robert Nugent, SDS, passed away at the beginning of this month.  His funeral was held at St. John the Baptist Parish, New Freedom, Pennsylvania, where he spent more than 25 years of his priestly life, ministering with the community there until his retirement in June 2013.  He was buried in the parish cemetery.

New Ways Ministry will host a Memorial Mass for Fr. Bob, to which all are invited.  The details:

Sunday, February 2, 2014
1:00 p.m.
Whitefriars Hall Chapel
1600 Webster Street, NE
Washington, DC 20017

A light reception will follow the liturgy until 4:00 p.m.  All are welcome. Please RSVP by Wednesday, January 29th.  Phone: (301) 277-5674. Email: info@NewWaysMinistry.org.

On January 17th, Fr. Bob’s community, the Salvatorians, held a memorial Mass for him in Milwaukee, where their U.S. headquarters are located, and where Fr. Bob passed away.  Because he was not buried in the Salvatorian Cemetery in Milwaukee, his name will appear on a stone pillar there which stands next to a statue of their founder, Fr. Francis Jordan, SDS.

The following are a list of  links to obituaries of Fr. Bob that appeared in the press around the nation:

Bondings 2.0, Francis DeBernardo, Jan. 2, 2014: “Father Robert Nugent, New Ways Ministry’s Co-Founder, Passes Into Eternal Life

Religion News Service, Kevin Eckstrom, Jan. 2, 2014:  “The Rev. Bob Nugent, Silenced for his work with Gay Catholics, dies at 76″

National Catholic Reporter, Tom C. Fox, Jan. 2, 2014: “New Ways Ministry Co-Founder Passes” 

Washington Blade, Lou Chibbaro, Jan. 2, 2014: “Robert Nugent,Co-Founder of LGBT Catholic Ministry, Dead at 76″

York Daily Record, John Hilton, Jan. 3, 2014: “The Rev. Robert Nugent, former New Freedom priest silenced for working with gay Catholics, dies at 76″ 

Religion Dispatches, Peter Montgomery, Jan. 3, 2014: RIP: Bishop Otis Charles and Rev. Robert Nugent” 

Los Angeles Times, Elaine Woo, Jan. 4, 2014: Father Robert Nugent dies at 76; priest who supported gays, lesbians”

New York Times, Paul Vitello, Jan. 9 2014:  “Rev. Robert Nugent, Priest Who Counseled Gay Catholics, Dies at 76″

National Catholic Reporter, Megan Fincher, Jan. 10, 2014:New Ways co-founder ‘was the archetype of a priest’ “

Washington Post, Emily Langer, Jan. 10, 2014: “The Rev. Robert Nugent, priest who ministered to gay Catholics, dies at 76 

Human Rights Campaign, Diane Martin, Jan. 14, 2014: HRC Honors Life, Legacy of Father Nugent”

May he rest in peace.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Pope Francis Calls For Church to Find New Ways to Proclaim Christ to Families Headed by Same-Gender Couples

January 6, 2014

Pope Francis

In a talk from the autumn of 2013 which was made public this past weekend in the Italian magazine La Civilita Cattolica, Pope Francis described families headed by same-gender couples as one of the new educational challenges facing the Church.

Gulf-Times.com reports:

“ ‘On an educational level, gay unions raise challenges for us today which for us are sometimes difficult to understand,’ Francis said in a speech to the Catholic Union of Superiors General in November, extracts of which were published on Italian media websites yesterday [Saturday, January 4, 2014].

“ ‘The number of children in schools whose parents have separated is very high,’ he said, adding that family make-ups were also changing.

“ ‘I remember a case in which a sad little girl confessed to her teacher: “my mother’s girlfriend doesn’t love me’,” he was quoted as saying.

“The Pontiff said educational leaders should ask themselves ‘how can we proclaim Christ to a generation that is changing?’

“ ‘We must be careful not to administer a vaccine against faith to them,’ the 77-year-old Pontiff added.”

It’s difficult to know what to make of the pope’s attitude toward gay couples based on this small amount of information.  On one hand, it is unsettling that he used a negative example of a child’s experience of same-sex guardians.  On the other hand, his comment about not giving them “a vaccine against faith”  seems to indicate that he realizes that a humanitarian approach is needed.

One definite positive insight is the pope’s awareness that the church needs to examine ‘how we proclaim Christ to a generation that is changing.”    That insight is way overdue in the Catholic world.  Social attitudes and practices regarding gender, sexuality, marriage, and family have been changing for decades now, and yet church leaders, for too long, have chosen to either ignore these changes or to staunchly oppose them to the point of alienating whole swaths of the population.

Yes, Pope Francis is right:  a generation is changing.  But, not all those changes are bad.  Indeed, some are very good.  Catholic leaders do need to be aware of these changes and to adjust the way they present the gospel.  What worked in 1954 will not work in 2014.   The gospel message of unconditional love is the same; the audience, however, is vastly different.  People need to hear the gospel message in a way that speaks to their lives and their new realities.

If the pope is serious about developing a new way to proclaim Christ to a new generation, the best thing that he can do is to listen humbly to the voices of the people who experience these new realities:  women,  separated and divorced people,  single parents, same-gender couples, parents of LGBT people, and single LGBT people.  His move last year to encourage bishops to seek input from the laity on marriage and family issues in anticipation of the 2014 Synod on those topics is a good first start, but more has to be done, too.

New ways of proclaiming the gospel to our contemporary world are long overdue.  Pope Francis’ call for change is a good beginning.  He needs to make sure that this new call is truly new and that he does not inherit the old, negative attitudes toward gender, sexuality, marriage, and family, which have done so much harm for so long.

Bishop Francis Mugavero

Pope Francis’ call has a precedent from over 35 years ago, when Brooklyn’s Bishop Francis Mugavero wrote his pastoral letter, Sexuality:  God’s Gift.    In that document, which was the first ecclesiastical document in which a bishop spoke directly to lesbian and gay people, he told them;

“we pledge our willingness …to try to find new ways to communicate the truth of Christ because we believe it will make you free.”

It is from that direct statement that, in 1977, Sister Jeannine Gramick and Father Robert Nugent borrowed the term “new ways” to identify their newly established educational ministry for the church and lesbian/gay community:  New Ways Ministry.

Pope Francis would do well to mirror Bishop Mugavero’s spirit of openness and innovation, which, unfortunately, was not promoted by the Vatican over the past 30-plus years.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Reflecting on the Life and Ministry of Father Robert Nugent

January 4, 2014

Father Robert Nugent, SDS

News of the death of New Ways Ministry’s co-founder, Father Robert Nugent, SDS, has circled the globe in the last few days, and news reports and reflections on his life and ministry have proliferated.  Different stories focused on different aspects of Fr. Nugent’s life and ministry.

Thomas C. Fox, publisher of the National Catholic Reporter reflected on how Nugent’s pioneering spirit of inclusiveness is now being recognized by the highest level of the Church:

“Nugent will be remembered in Catholic history  for his  early efforts to minister to gays and lesbians at a time when few, in any, other clergy and religious would do so publicly.

“In some ways, gay and lesbian ministries have made great strides since the Nugent first reached out to that marginalized segment of our church. In other ways, those ministerial efforts have made only small gains. Gay and lesbian ministries are still not the norm in Catholic parishes and New Ways Ministry is seldom welcomed into parishes.

“Pope Francis, as if taking the lead from the now deceased Nugent, when asked how he views gay clergy, responded: ‘Whom am I to judge?’

“That was precisely Nugent’s attitude — and he lived as Francis now preaches.”

Father James Martin, SJ, editor-at-large of America  magazine was quoted in The Huffington Post’s  news story of Fr. Nugent’s death, praising him for the integrity with which he navigated difficult situations:

“I always admired Father Nugent’s pioneering work with gay and lesbian Catholics; along with Sister Jeannine Gramick he helped many thousands of people feel more welcome in their church. But I admired just as much his fidelity to his vow of obedience. In a complicated time, Father Nugent navigated a course between justice and fidelity with enormous grace and trust in God. All Catholics–not just gays and lesbians –owe him a debt of gratitude. May he rest in peace.”

In talking about “justice and fidelity,” Fr. Martin is likely referring to Fr. Nugent’s response to the Vatican censure of the ministry that he shared with Sister Jeannine Gramick.  The Catholic News Service story in The Catholic Review recounts that challenging time of his life:

“New Ways Ministry was subject to repeated investigations and inquiries at the diocesan, religious-order and Vatican levels, including one ordered in 1994 by the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1994, then headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, later to become Pope Benedict XVI.
“As a result of the investigation, Father Nugent and Sister Jeannine Gramick, then a member of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, were ordered to stop pastoral ministry to gays, saying they advanced ‘doctrinally unacceptable’ positions ‘regarding the intrinsic evil of homosexual acts and the objective disorder of the homosexual inclination.’
“After a year of speaking and writing about homosexuality, Father Nugent and Sister Gramick were directed to stop talking about the topic and the Vatican investigation itself. Father Nugent complied, but Sister Gramick ultimately decided to defy the ban and left her order to join the Sisters of Loretto.”
In addition, the same news story (which includes a comprehensive biography of the priest) notes an important high point in Fr. Nugent’s ministry:
“The Paulist Center Community in Boston gave its 1995 Isaac Hecker Award for Social Justice, named after the Paulists’ founder, to Sister Gramick and Father Nugent. ‘This is the first time we have received an award as a team from a mainstream, nongay organization,’ Father Nugent said at the award ceremony. “
Previous recipients of the Isaac Hecker Award for Social Justice include Dorothy Day and Cesar Chavez.
The Washington Blade story noted another award that Fr. Nugent received:

“. . . Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of the LGBT Catholic group Dignity USA, said Nugent’s more than 20 years as a leader of New Ways Ministry continues to have an impact on LGBT Catholics and Catholic clergy despite his absence from direct work on LGBT issues in recent years.

“ ‘Dignity USA gave Bob a lifetime achievement award in 2001 to recognize just how important he was as a ground-breaking figure in lesbian and gay ministry throughout the 70s and 80s,’ Duddy-Burke said. ‘I continue to meet people who say Bob’s writings, workshops, and personal ministry were the thing that gave them hope as they were coming out in the 70s and the 80s,’ she said.”

On The Billerico Report blog, John Becker hailed Fr. Nugent as a “Catholic LGBT Rights Hero,” noting that even after he was censured, he continued to do what he could for lesbian and gay people:

“Although Fr. Nugent stopped leading public workshops and retreats about LGBT issues, he continued ministering one-on-one and with small groups. He maintained his pro-equality beliefs until the end of his life.

“The LGBT community has lost one of our heroes, one who stood up and spoke out against the Catholic Church’s institutional homophobia when few others within that church would.

“Well done, good and faithful servant.”

In addition to these public testimonies, New Ways Ministry has been receiving email from all over the nation and the globe attesting to the many ways that Fr. Nugent’s ministry touched people’s lives.   We are so grateful for the many prayers and expressions of support that we have received from so many. Such support is so strengthening for our hearts and souls.

Brother John Gleason, CSC,  sent us an email which contained a poignant story which very accurately captures the essence of Father Nugent.  Brother Gleason wrote:

“For many years, when I was Provincial and later as Vicar General of my community, I supported Sr. Jeannine and Fr. Nugent.  In fact, I was presnote and on it was printed the followent in Rome the day they were ‘silenced’ by the institution and had supper with them that very night!  I was profoundly struck by Fr. Nugent’s calm throughout the entire ordeal.  Later, he sent me a note,  and on it was printed the following word by Fr. Bernard Haring, CSsR, from his book, My Witness for the Church:
” ‘I love the Church because Christ loved it, loved it to the utmost extreme. I love it even when I discover painful attitudes and structures which I do not find in harmony with the Gospel.  I love it as it is because Christ also loved me with all my imperfections, with all my shadows and constantly gives me the first fruits of his Kingdom so that my love may correspond to his eternal plan.  I experience the Church in the celebration of the Eucharist:  Christ and the Church with him remind me of all the limitless evidence of love, grace and mercy. In this the Church helps me to form a grateful memory. lf we open ourselves to this and gratefully remember all the good which has flowed to us in the Church and constantly flows to us, then we can and will all succeed in giving even the suffering from the Church its place in the heart of Jesus.’
“Although these were Fr. Haring’s words, they struck me as utterly true of Fr. Nugent and deeply affected me.  I have them framed for all to see and read and ponder, for it is really our love for Jesus that allows us to continue this, albeit at times painful, journey.
“I am blessed to have known him and grateful there is now such a wonderful intercessor!”

A brief biography of Father Nugent appears on New Ways Ministry’s website.

We will continue to update you with any further reflections on Fr. Nugent’s life, as well as letting you know about details about his funeral, memorial services, and any memorial opportunities.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry.

Related articles

Associated Press: “Catholic priest once condemned by Vatican for his ministry to gays dies”

Edge Miami: “Gay-Friendly Father Robert Nugent Dies on New Year’s Day”

The Holy Irritant: “Fr. Bob Nugent, RIP”

Religion News Service:  “The Rev. Bob Nugent, silenced for his work with gay Catholics, dies at 76″


Father Robert Nugent, New Ways Ministry’s Co-Founder, Passes Into Eternal Life

January 2, 2014

Father Robert Nugent, SDS

With confidence in the promise of the Resurrection, but also with hearts heavy with sorrow, New Ways Ministry reports the passing into eternal life of our co-founder, Father Robert Nugent, SDS.  Fr. Nugent’s three-month battle with cancer ended on Wednesday, January 1, 2014, at 2:10 pm, Central Time, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Present at his side at the time of his death were New Ways Ministry’s co-founder, Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL, and Brother John Hauenstein, SDS, a member of his religious congregation, the Salvatorians.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director, reflected on the impact of Father Nugent’s life:

“When few priests would do more than whisper about homosexuality, Father Nugent was meeting with lesbian and gay people and encouraging them to claim their rightful place in the Catholic Church.  During a time of intense homophobia in both church and society, he exhibited uncommon courage and foresight in welcoming and affirming the goodness of God’s lesbian and gay children.

“But his ministry was more than a welcome.  He had the wisdom to know that the real moral problem in the church was not the lives of lesbian and gay people, but the ignorance and fear out of which many church leaders and officials operated.  An uncommon prophet, instead of railing against this ignorance and fear, he and Sister Jeannine set out to educate people about the reality and holiness of lesbian and gay lives.  Instead of battling the institution, he attempted to build bridges of education and dialogue, helping to enlighten Catholic leaders who were sometimes reluctant to break free from their traditional ways.  A loyal son of the Church, he attempted to help the institution live up to its most cherished ideals of human dignity, equality, and respect.

“In founding New Ways Ministry with Sister Jeannine, he helped establish an institutional resource for the Catholic Church on lesbian and gay issues.  Their dream was for New Ways Ministry to be a resource and advocacy center to which pastoral leaders, lesbian and gay Catholics, and family members could turn.  For decades the duo crisscrossed the nation providing support and guidance to those Catholics who were willing to open up to their more inclusive model of church.  He bravely withstood the disapproval of many Church leaders, often experiencing the alienation and marginalization of the lesbian and gay people that he served.

“It is impossible to overestimate the impact and value of Father Nugent’s lesbian and gay ministry.  He educated a generation of pastoral leaders who began to put into practice the inclusive ideals that he taught.  A tireless researcher and writer, he produced a number of important works on pastoral care that helped to shape the movement in Catholicism of gay-friendly parishes.  In the mid-1990s, he served as a consultant to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Marriage and Family Life as they produced their landmark pastoral document, Always Our Children. A sensitive counselor, he supported scores of gay priests and brothers as they worked at reconciling their spirituality with their sexuality.

“When New Ways Ministry informed its supporters of Fr. Nugent’s illness, hundreds of cards and notes expressing gratitude and encouragement flooded his hospice room.  At the end, he knew he was loved and cared for by so, so many on his final journey.

“While we at New Ways Ministry are sad that we will no longer experience his sharp mind, his warm heart, and his delightful wit, we are comforted by the fact that his impact will live on in the lives of those he touched and in the Catholic Church’s continued renewal of its welcome and commitment to its lesbian and gay members–a renewal that he played such a large role in effecting.  We now have another saint to whom we can pray for LGBT equality and justice.”

Bondings 2.0 will continue to update its readers with information about funeral arrangements for Fr. Nugent, as well as any further reflection on Father Nugent’s life and ministry.


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