Fulfilling a promise he made last summer, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco met with New Ways Ministry’s Francis DeBernardo and Sister Jeannine Gramick on Monday, December 15, 2014, to help enrich understanding of each other’s approaches to marriage equality and LGBT issues.
In June of 2015, New Ways Ministry joined a group of LGBT equality organizations in an open letter asking Cordileone, who heads the U.S. bishops’ committee on the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, not to speak at the March for Marriage rally in Washington, DC, organized by groups which oppose marriage equality, some of which were known to have a strong record of statements and actions that were harmful to LGBT people. In response, Cordileone issued an open letter explaining why he would speak, and also agreed to meet with any of the signers of the original letter as a way to better understand one another.
Two groups took Cordileone up on his offer for a personal meeting: New Ways Ministry and DignityUSA. Earlier this autumn, Cordileone met in San Francisco with representatives from Dignity. New Ways Ministry’s meeting occurred on December 15th at our offices in Mount Rainier, Maryland, while the Archbishop was in the Washington, DC area on other church business.
DeBernardo met Cordileone and drove him to our offices. Gramick introduced herself, while Matt Myers and Bob Shine, two New Ways Ministry staff members, were also on hand to greet the archbishop and serve a light lunch of sandwiches. After the archbishop opened with a prayer, Cordileone, DeBernardo, and Gramick shared some of their life stories and experiences. Both Cordileone and DeBernardo have similar backgrounds, sharing an Italian heritage, and having attended public schools while being very much involved with the Catholic Church. Gramick talked about her Polish roots as an only child in a non-practicing Catholic family, but surrounded by Catholics until graduate school when she was first introduced to the gay community.
As the conversation progressed, they discussed how Catholic groups with opposing views on marriage can better understand and speak with one another. Cordileone mentioned Pope Francis’ idea of “encounter,” of meeting people where they are and beginning a dialogue with them. Cordileone stressed the importance of breaking down stereotypes on each side of the issue. He noted that both groups sometimes say things that cause harm to the other side, and that the harm is often not intended.
New Ways Ministry asked for advice on how LGBT Catholics and their families can initiate dialogues with their local bishops. He noted that bishops often have many demands on their time and many requests for appointments. A more practical route may be for people to request meetings with directors of diocesan ministries, such as family life, or with other chancery officials.
New Ways Ministry asked how a lesbian or gay person could speak to the U.S. bishops at one of their meetings. Cordileone mentioned that a member of the Courage ministry group, which promotes celibacy for lesbian and gay Catholics, has spoken to the bishops’ conference in the past. New Ways Ministry asked if other lesbian and gay persons could speak to the bishops. He considered this and seemed receptive to hearing the perspectives of gay and lesbian parish members. Cordileone also noted that there is a great need to find ways to reach out to lesbian and gay people who are not close to the Church, including those who have been alienated from the institution.
New Ways Ministry spoke about six Catholic parents who met with Archbishop Chaput in Philadelphia in April to tell their stories about their gay and lesbian children. The parents were enthused and delighted with Archbishop Chaput’s warm reception and invitation to meet again. Cordileone was interested in learning more about the meeting from Chaput.
Gramick mentioned that, although she and Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, differed on the issue of same-sex marriage, she and Paprocki had a delightful luncheon together as they shared their common ethnic backgrounds. She asked Cordelione to give her warm regards to Paprocki when they next meet.
Cordileone expressed genuine concern for how to speak about lesbian and gay people in ways that would not compromise his concern for church teaching or would harm lesbian and gay people. New Ways Ministry suggested that he elaborate more on church teaching concerning the human dignity of LGBT people and to show interest in their lives beyond the question of sexual ethics. DeBernardo and Gramick shared a list of suggestions that were published on Bondings 2.0 in the summer of 2012.
Knowing that he often serves meals as part of the supper ministry of Most Holy Redeemer parish, a gay-friendly church in San Francisco, New Ways Ministry encouraged him to celebrate liturgy with the community, too, and he responded positively. We also discussed with him some of the other ways that gay-friendly parishes across the nation are reaching out to LGBT people.
The hour-and-a-half meeting was very warm and friendly, and personal respect for one another was very evident throughout the time together. New Ways Ministry appreciated the opportunity to dialogue with Archbishop Cordileone.
The meeting shows that dialogue can happen in our church when both sides are willing to speak with one another honestly and respectfully. We were edified by this personal encounter which revealed a man who seeks to learn how the Gospel can be proclaimed more effectively. May more bishops follow his lead in personally learning more about Catholic LGBT people and advocates.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry