Bringing Life Out of What Seems Lifeless

April 6, 2014

Periodically in Lent, Bondings 2.0 will feature reflections by two New Ways Ministry staff members:  Matthew Myers, Associate Director, and Sister Jeannine Gramick, Co-Founder. The liturgical readings for the Fifth Sunday of Lent are: Ezekiel 37:12-14; Psalm 130; 1-8; Romans 8:8-11,; John 11:1-45.

Icon of Lazarus’ Rising from the Dead

A theme throughout the Scripture readings for the Fifth Sunday of Lent is that God can bring life out of what seems lifeless. The first reading from Ezekiel clearly teaches this lesson when it says, “I will open your graves and have you rise from them.” Paul too, in his Epistle to the Romans, says that, if the Spirit dwells in us, the Spirit will give life to our mortal bodies. The Gospel is the familiar story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead. All three readings tell us that God indeed can bring life out of what seems lifeless.

I want to consider the third reading in particular because I am drawn to the character of Martha. I like Martha. She’s practical and sensible. She’s a doer, an activist. And she speaks her mind.

Jesus loved Martha and Mary and Lazarus, yet when he heard that Lazarus was ill, it took him two days to get his act together and move on down to Bethany before he raised him from the dead. Why so slow?

When she heard Jesus was coming, Martha acted. She hurried from Bethany to meet him along the road. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” You can hear the gentle rebuke in Martha’s voice. She might as well have said, “Thanks, Lord, for coming, but aren’t you a little late?”

When Jesus asked the assembled folks to take away the stone from the entrance to Lazarus’ tomb, Martha matter-of-factly cried out, “Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for four days.”

How often do we feel like Martha? “God, if you had given me a good home background when I was growing up, I wouldn’t be in this stinking mess I’m in now.” “If I had better teachers, I would have gotten better grades.” “If you hadn’t made me gay, my life would be so much easier.”

Yes, God, I feel your loving presence now that I sit comfortably in my easy chair with my cat on my lap and sipping my cup of tea, but where were you when I needed your help? Where were you when I was trying to figure out who I was and where I was meant to be? Where were you when I was in a grave of sorrow? Where were you when I felt angry or down in the dumps, or impatient or fearful?

To Martha and to us, Jesus says, “Even though you did not recognize me in the turmoil and the crises, I was there. I am with you all the time. Even when you feel down, I can pull you up to life.

“When you think I am late, I am already there, waiting for you to see me, to call me, to talk with me. I can lift you up to life, even when you have hit rock bottom with self-pity or fear. I can haul you up out of any sinfulness or cruelty or foolishness.

“Just talk with me. Come and waste some time with me. I can bring life out of what seems lifeless.”

–Jeannine Gramick, SL, New Ways Ministry


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.


Patiently Waiting for the Desert to Bloom With Abundant Flowers

December 15, 2013

For the four Sundays of Advent, Bondings 2.0 will feature reflections on the day’s Scripture readings by two New Ways Ministry staff members:  Matthew Myers, Associate Director, and Sister Jeannine Gramick, Co-Founder.  The liturgical readings for the third Sunday of Advent are Isaiah 35:1-6a, 10; Psalm 146: 6-7, 8-9, 9-10; James 5:7-10;  Matthew 11:2-11.  You can read the texts by clicking here.

Since Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium or The Joy of the Gospel, first appeared in late November, I have been reading this book-length document in small pieces. The other day, as I sat in my easy chair and continued to soak in his words of encouragement and advice, I found myself at the section about spiritual reading, particularly reading the Word of God. “Great!” I thought. “Here’s some help for the homily I need to write!”

Pope Francis writes that, after we perform a recollected reading of the text, we ask ourselves some questions about the Scripture passage. What does this text say to me? What about my life needs to change? What do I find pleasant or attractive in this text for my life? Francis says that we need to avoid the temptation to apply the passage to other people. Now, this hits home! During the Scripture readings at Sunday worship service, I sometimes find myself thinking, “I hope so-and-so heard that!”

With Francis’ advice at hand, I read and reread the Scripture texts for the Third Sunday of Advent to figure out what God was saying to me. Isaiah speaks of a joyful time when all will be made right and good: feeble hands and weak knees will be strengthened, blind eyes will be opened, and deaf ears will hear. But until this time arrives, the epistle of James cautions us to be patient, just as the farmer waits for the rains to water the precious fruit of the earth. We are not to complain about one another, but look to the prophets as examples of the patience God asks of us.

The Gospel reading gives us an example in the prophet, John the Baptist. John preached a stirring message of repentance for sin and baptism with water to cleanse the body and soul, but John waited patiently for a Messianic figure, who would baptize with the Holy Spirit. From his prison cell, John sends his disciples to ask Jesus if his waiting time is over. “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” John is an example of patience.

In my own life, I find that it’s “the little things” about which I am impatient. Why is the car in front of me going so slowly? Why do I feel exasperated when others don’t do things the way I do? Why am I annoyed when I can’t find my gloves or keys? Why do these things alter my mood from one of peace and lightheartedness to sourness and grumbling?

I seem to be somewhat patient about “the big things,” like changes in the church’s teaching on homosexuality or sexuality, in general, because history attests to the evolution of thought and understanding about sexuality. As the Christian community learned about the workings of human sexuality from the various sciences, I see how we adapted our ideas about sexual morality and ethics. We already see these changes of thought in various theological positions and in the minds and hearts of the laity. I believe that one day these sexual teachings will change on the hierarchical level, so I am a bit patient, although I sometimes ask, “How long, Lord? How long?”

Or perhaps I am learning to be patient about “the big things” of Church doctrines because I am coming to see that Church teachings are rightly fading in importance. Maybe they don’t need to change right now, but just recede into the background until they can be modified. As Pope Francis has said, “The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines.” The Church needs to focus “on the essentials, on…what makes the heart burn, … (on) the Gospel.”

Pope Francis is guiding us back to the essential message of Jesus that the Church needs to preach and we need to hear: God loves us just as we are, in all our sinfulness and messiness and impatience and is calling us to love God in return by showing love for others, ourselves, and all of creation.

So during this Third Sunday of Advent, I pray for patience in “the little things” and “the big things” until the time, as Isaiah says, when the desert will “bloom with abundant flowers.”

As I write these Advent words, I can look up from my desk to see a plaque on my office wall. On the plaque is one of my favorite excerpts from a letter of Blessed Theresa Gerhardinger, the foundress of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, to her sisters. Her words are a fitting reminder of Advent patience: “All the works of God proceed slowly and in pain; therefore, their roots are sturdier and their flowering the lovelier.”

–Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL, New Ways Ministry


Choosing Between Mercy and Judgment

December 8, 2013

For the four Sundays of Advent, Bondings 2.0 will feature reflections on the day’s Scripture readings by two New Ways Ministry staff members:  Matthew Myers, Associate Director, and Sister Jeannine Gramick, Co-Founder.  The liturgical readings for the second Sunday of Advent are Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalm 72: 1-2. 7-8, 12-13, 17; Romans 15: 4-9; Matthew 3: 1-12.  You can read the texts by clicking here.

“Slay the wicked.”  “Crush the oppressor.”  “Coming wrath.”  “Unquenchable fire.”  In today’s readings, Isaiah and John the Baptist use some strong language about God’s impending judgment and wrath.  And I like it. 

I would not mind seeing some hardcore divine judgment fall upon people who perpetrate evil in our world.  I am tired of reading in the news about hungry children, homeless families, corrupt politicians, war-torn countries, and corporate greed.  I am angry that the strong and influential exploit the weak and unknown.  How long, O Lord, until the oppressors are crushed and the wicked are slain?

However, contrary to Isaiah, John the Baptist, and my own deeply flawed heart, judgment and wrath are not the way of Jesus or the God he proclaimed.

Through Jesus, we see that “mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13).  God overwhelms all of us with love that exceeds our ability to sin – that is mercy!  It is not asked for or deserved, but freely and lavishly given.  Judgment and wrath bring only sadness and death into our world, not life – and our God is one of abundant life.  Mercy brings true justice and wholeness into our world.   

What does this mean to us?  As Catholic LGBT people and allies, we can create a more inclusive Church by welcoming God’s abundant mercy into our own hearts, and then by sharing that love with others–particularly with those fellow Catholics who may say disparaging things or create discriminatory policies against LGBT people.  It is our own experience of undeserved mercy that compels us to generously extend mercy to others. 

For example, if a bishop or pastor condemns marriage equality, I think denouncing him as a bigot who hates lesbian and gay people is not consistent with what Jesus taught.  Our culture encourages us to attack those who disagree with us, but angry words and vitriol will only magnify and perpetuate the mistrust and rancor in our Church.  Instead, perhaps we should focus on building relationships – invite the bishop or pastor to have coffee or lunch to share our stories.  Send him a Christmas card with a family photo.  If he keeps us at arm’s length, we should keep the doors open by periodically reaching out to him.  Our task is to build bridges rather than throw stones. 

Our loving witness and patient invitation to dialogue will give others the opportunity to experience God’s mercy – and possibly change their hearts about LGBT people.  We pursue justice for LGBT people by changing hearts through showing mercy in personal interactions, not through judgment and wrath.

There is power in mercy.  As we continue our Advent preparations, perhaps we can reflect on how God’s “mercy triumphs over justice” in our own lives – and how we can show mercy to others.

–Matthew Myers, New Ways Ministry


U.S. Catholic Bishops Invited to New Dialogue on LGBT Issues

November 14, 2013

Equally Blessed LogoThe U.S. Catholic bishops have been invited to open a new and more positive chapter in their relationships with LGBT Catholics and and their supporters.  The invitation came in the form of a letter from the leaders of Equally Blessed, a coalition of four national Catholic organizations (Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, New Ways Ministry) that work for justice and equality for LGBT people.

The letter, addressed to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, who have been meeting in Baltimore this week, invites the church’s leaders to put past events behind them and start a forward-thinking dialogue with LGBT people and supporters. The Equally Blessed leaders wrote:

“Now is the time for us all to adopt a new approach in dealing with issues of human sexuality, especially in dealing with LGBT people, as Pope Francis seems to be calling us to do. It will take time to rebuild trust between members of the Conference and those who have been damaged by its past policies. But, if Jesus came that we all might be one, then healing must begin. So we implore you to sit down with us, to listen to voices from the margins of the Church, and to speak with us candidly about your own concerns. We offer an outstretched hand of invitation.”

The letter writers suggested several areas of common-ground where the bishops can collaborate with them:

“The bishops and LGBT Catholics and their allies have many opportunities to show where our Church is united in its commitment to the dignity of the human person. The bishops have many opportunities to reach out to LGBT persons without violating Church teaching. The USCCB could issue an unambiguous statement declaring that bullying children because of their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity is unacceptable. Parishes and diocesan offices could be encouraged to make concerted efforts to include LGBT people in their outreach ministries and other agendas.  The Church could make an effort to create pastorally sensitive ministries that would deal with the problem of LGBT youth homelessness and suicide. Together, we are sure we can find other ways to send out positive and mercy-filled messages.”

The Equally Blessed leaders stressed that this is an opportune time for such a dialogue:

“At this pivotal moment in the life of our church, we, the leaders of the Equally Blessed coalition, invite you into a deeper relationship with LGBT Catholics, their families and their friends. We seek, first of all, simple conversation with you. Rather than speaking about LGBT people, or, worse yet, against LGBT people, we urge you to sit down and speak with LGBT people. We ask you to convene local and national conversations in which lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Catholics, their families and their friends can tell you about their faith and their commitment to the Church.  The spirit of respect and openness that these conversations could foster would be balm on the wounds of LGBT Catholics and those who love them.”

Invoking the spirit of the new papacy, the LGBT equality leaders stressed that it’s time for a different way for the bishops to approach the topic of sexuality:

“At a time when Pope Francis is urging the church to move beyond what he calls its “obsession” with sexual issues, we, faithful Catholics committed to equality and justice within the Church we love, pray that you will hear our voices and respond with mercy.”

The letter was signed by the following organizational representatives:  Call To Action: Jim FitzGerald, Executive Director; DignityUSA: Marianne Duddy-Burke, Executive Director; Fortunate Families: Casey Lopata, Co-Founder, Deb Word, President; New Ways Ministry: Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director, Sister Jeannine Gramick, Co-Founder.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 


LGBT Issues Pervade 2013 Call to Action Conference

November 4, 2013

Call To Action 2013 Plenary Session

LGBT Catholic issues pervaded Call to Action’s 2013 conference this past weekend as progressive Catholics gathered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to organize for a more justice and inclusive Church and society. Bondings 2.0 offers a round-up from the weekend to show how central acceptance, welcome, and justice for all sexual orientations and gender identities is in broader efforts for Church renewal.

On Friday, New Ways Ministry co-founder Jeannine Gramick, SL joined other prophetic voices in a daylong reflection on conscience, sponsored by the 8th Day Center for Justice. Gramick spoke about her four decades in ministry among the LGBT community and her struggles with the institutional Church that resulted from this work.

A La Familia also hosted a seminar on the same day focusing on acceptance within Latino families of LGBTQ members, which was hosted by Lisbeth Melendez Rivera and Rose Manriquez.

Jamie Manson

Jamie Manson

Saturday’s plenary session featured writer and LGBT advocate Jamie Manson, a Catholic lesbian woman whose reflections on intergenerational companionship this blog recently profiled. She joined a panel on the future of Catholic ministry, and when speaking on inclusivity, Manson said:

“It used to be prophetic to include women and LGBT people. For the new generation, it’s not prophetic. It’s just common sense.”

Manson also spoke of the many young adults who are educated in theology and ministry, but unable to answer their call to leadership in the Church because of, among other obstacles, their sexual orientations and gender identities. Roy Bourgeois, a former Maryknoll priest forced out of his community for supporting women’s ordination, echoed these sentiments, saying the Church’s many years of prayers for more vocations would be answered if only those who want to serve as priests were allowed entry.

World Youth Day participants from Equally Blessed

Saturday also featured several workshops highlighting the need for LGBT justice in Catholic and civil communities. These included:

  • “Why the Church, for its Own Salvation, Needs Our Queer Sisters and Brothers” led by Miguel De La Torre;
  • “Same-Sex Marriage and Beyond: The Catholic Imperative for LGBT Equality” led by Marianne Duddy-Burke;
  • “Sharing the Message of Equally Blessed: Stories from the Pilgrimage to World Youth Day, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil” led by members of CTA 20/30 and Dignity Young Adult Caucus;
  • “LGBT Catholics Standing Together: Intergenerational Issues” led by Jeannine Gramick, SL and Bob Shine;
  • Caucuses by Fortunate Families for parents of LGBT children and by Catholics for Marriage Equality for those in Illinois, and Equally Blessed.

Loretto Volunteers helping with marriage equality in Maryland

On Sunday morning, Call to Action’s Leadership Award was granted to the Loretto Volunteers, a program of the Loretto Community that offers a year of service for young adults in an LGBT-affirming atmosphere rooted in the Catholic tradition. New Ways Ministry is one of the host sites for the Loretto Volunteers.

Following that, Marianne Duddy-Burke of Dignity USA offered a homily during the conference’s closing liturgy. Speaking on the story of Zacchaeus, she proposed modern exclusionary labels equivalent to “taxpayer” that included gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and the parent of an LGBT child.

Marianne Duddy-Burke

Marianne Duddy-Burke

Flipping the narrative, Duddy-Burke asked attendees to place themselves in the position of Jesus, who called Zacchaeus out of the tree and into life. Jesus saw Zacchaeus as a human being with a profound need and engaged that alone, thus Catholics must do the same no matter how different or unlikable people crying out may be.  In conclusion, she envisioned a Church where the only label that makes a difference is beloved Child of God.

Given these speakers and workshops, there is not only widespread need, but also excitement around building up inclusive Catholic communities where LGBT people, their loved ones, families, friends, and allies are all welcomed. You can check out Call to Action’s website for more information on several of these programs described. For further reflections from Jeannine Gramick and Bob Shine on how diverse generations engaged around LGBT issues, check Bondings 2.0 later this week.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


7 Questions for Sister Jeannine Gramick

September 17, 2013
Michael O'Loughlin

Michael O’Loughlin

Michael O’Loughlin, who blogs at “Faith Fix” on the Religion News Service website, has recently instituted a new feature called “7 Questions,”  in which he briefly interviews a prominent person on an item of importance.

This week, O’Loughlin has featured New Ways Ministry’s co-founder, Sister Jeannine Gramick. on LGBT ministry and advocacy in the Catholic church and the greater society.  You can read the entire interview here, and I recommend that you do so.   I’ve excerpted two of the questions and answers below to give you a flavor of the interview.

By the way, Bondings 2.0 readers may already be familiar with O’Loughlin’s work.  A few months back he published a wonderful essay about LGBT issues at Catholic colleges, which we noted on this blog.

FROM “7 QUESTIONS FOR SISTER JEANNINE GRAMICK”

Sister Jeannine Gramick

Sister Jeannine Gramick

Sr. Jeannine Gramick, S.L., co-founded New Ways Ministry in 1977 to minister to gay and lesbian Catholics. Her work has been investigated by Vatican officials and was cited in the ongoing investigation of American nuns and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR). She was told by officials in Rome in 1999 to stop her work, but she refused, continuing to lead the Catholic organization and advocating for same-sex marriage and other LGBT issues in civil society and the Catholic Church.

O’LOUGHLIN: Catholic bishops in the US today are some of the most vocal opponents of same-sex marriage and other civil rights issues important to the LGBT community. Was there institutional support for your work early on?

GRAMICK: We were able at to gather institutional support from bishops. Now it was very quiet support, but let me give you some examples. The first time that the US bishops spoke about homosexuality was in their pastoral letter on moral values that they issued in 1976. There’s a paragraph on homosexuality, which was introduced by an auxiliary bishop in Baltimore whom we spoke with. We influenced him to bring this issue to the attention of the bishops. There’s a paragraph that says homosexuals, like everyone else, deserve compassion, justice, and should have active roles in the Christian community. There were some bishops who would invite us into their dioceses to give workshops, and they came to our workshops and commended us. In fact, when [New Ways Ministry’s co-founder] Fr. Robert Nugent and I were going through our inquisition with the Vatican, we had 20 bishops who wrote supportive letters. They were all bishops in the late 70s and into the 80s, but by the early 90s, the complexion of the US hierarchy began to change because of the appointments by Pope John Paul II.

_____________________________________________________________

O’LOUGHLIN: Some have said that with the leadership of Pope Francis, that the Catholic Church might be emerging from an anti-Vatican II mentally. What would this church look like?

GRAMICK:  We would have pastoral bishops who look to the people, who not just consult the people, but bring the laity into the church’s decision-making. I think these pastoral bishops would have a more modern understanding of governance, that we don’t live in monarchies anymore, or even benevolent dictatorships, that we in the twenty-first century are looking for more democratic forms of governance. If they do that, we’re going to have a very different looking church. Because the polls show us that the laity, at least in the US, are very different from the views of the hierarchy, particularly in sexual matters, financial matters. The laity has a lot of experience that the bishops don’t have, and we have to draw on that experience.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Two New Books Offer Insights Into Gay Spiritual Journeys

August 26, 2013

Two books offering first-person accounts of reconciling Catholic faith and gay identity have come out in the past year, and  Bondings 2.0 readers may find them helpful for personal reflection.

Hounded By God

Joseph Gentilini

Joseph Gentilini

Hounded by God: A Gay Man’s Journey to Self-Acceptance, Love , and Relationship, by Joseph Gentilini (who is a regular reader and frequent commenter on this blog), is based on years of journals that this spiritual gay man kept.  It chronicles his coming out experiences, dealings with family and friends,  his commitment to his partner, Leo Radel, and, most importantly, his relationship with God.

DigitalJournal.com reviewed the book, noting the authenticity on which it is based:

“Gentilini describes journaling as an integral part of his life, having kept a journal for more than 40 years. In fact, he writes that it is a part of his prayer life. Christian imagery fills the journal entries, illuminating the author’s deep faith in God. ‘I think that the cross in my images represents my homosexuality, which is the place of my deepest wound,’ he writes of his mother’s failure to talk about his orientation. His faith and guidance from a spiritual director who befriends his mother pays off years later when his parents invite his partner, Leo, to the family Christmas celebration. As he writes, ‘My prayer has been answered. For years, I have prayed for reconciliation with my family. It is grace, a total gift from God.’ Meeting Leo in 1981 answers another prayer for Gentilini, and his entries about Leo prove to be one more avenue to faith. ‘Leo has helped me to accept more deeply that I am lovable, that he loves me, and that God also loves me.’ ”

Deb Word, president of the board of Fortunate Families, reviewed the book on that organization’s blog, and noted that it would be helpful for family members of lesbian and gay people:

“The second chapter describes Joe’s family, and this chapter alone is worth the price of the book for parents. We see through a son’s eyes how difficult life was for a young gay man growing up. Without whining or blaming, Joe takes us through his family rejection…then tentative acceptance. I’ll leave it at that, you will want a tissue at times.”

You can find out more about the book, by visiting the author’s website.  It is available for purchase on amazon.com.

Maurice Monette

Maurice Monette

Confessions of a Gay Married PriestThe second book is Confessions of a Gay Married Priest: A Spiritual Journey by Maurice Monette, who was a member of a religious order for 30 years, and has been married to his partner for 24 years.  The book is an autobiography which chronicles the high points and low points of the spiritual road that Monette trod.  The book has been praised by several high-profile Catholic leaders.

On a back cover review of the book, Father Richard Rohr, OFM, author and retreat leader, wrote:

“This story illustrates one of the most counterintuitive messages of world religions: how our failings, heartbreaks and disappointments can be stepping stones to the spiritual joys of the second half of life.”

Sister Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, stated:

“Through little cameos in prose and poetry, Monette’s faith journey shows the triumph of the human spirit over religious messages to suppress sexuality. This is a story of self-discovery and self-acceptance that brings about freedom for a more authentic God-relationship.”

Father Robert Nugent, author and co-founder of New Ways Ministry, noted:

“Readers of this work will each discover and even identify with something that touches them more personally: ‘the good, little Catholic boy,’ the priest who struggles with accepting his sexual identity in the face of traditional negative evaluations by both religion and society, the gay man who embraces monogamy, the believer whose object of belief moves from the more traditional to the more ordinary and basic experiences of human life where transcendence is often located. Readers will be challenged to re-think their sometimes uncriticized positions, affirmed in trusting more in their spiritual insights and at least hearing a most unusual story of one person’s search for healing and wholeness.”

James B. Nickoloff, Associate Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts observed:

“Maurice Monette tells his own unique story but at the same time gives voice to the stories of many other gay married priests. His honesty, humility, intelligence, and wit will lead even non-gay, non-married, and non-ordained readers to reexamine their own journeys with the Spirit.”

You can find out more about this book by visiting www.gaymarriedpriest. com.  This book is available through amazon.com.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Sister Jeannine’s Debate with Bishop Thomas Paprocki on Marriage Equality

July 15, 2013
Sister Jeannine Gramick

Sister Jeannine Gramick

Bishop Thomas Paprocki

Bishop Thomas Paprocki

At the end of May,  New Ways Ministry’s Co-Founder Sister Jeannine Gramick participated in a marriage equality debate with Springfield, Illinois’ Bishop Thomas Paprocki.  The debate took place in Phoenix, Arizona, and was sponsored by the Jesuit Alumni of Arizona.  You can read the blog post and news story about the event here.

Though Sister Jeannine spoke from an outline, she has since crafted her remarks into a readable text, and we present that to you below.  The text of Bishop Paprocki’s remarks can be found on the Diocese of Springfield website.

Same-Sex Marriage and Change

By Jeannine Gramick, SL

In 1971, while I was a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania, I met a young gay man and his friends who turned my thinking around. I remember a young woman who was intelligent, socially responsible, had a healthy sense of self-esteem, and was working for her rights at the ACLU. I was impressed by a lesbian couple who cared lovingly for their two children.

I believed that I had never met a homosexual in my entire life although, of course, I unknowingly had. Some years later I remade the acquaintance of a high school friend who discovered her lesbianism when she fell in love with a woman in medical school. She then understood her feelings toward the boys at the Saturday night dances we attended at a local parish. I remember her saying, “They’re really nice guys, but I feel for them like I feel about my brother.”

My personal experiences began to clash with what I had been told—not by the Church (for I don’t remember ever hearing the word “homosexual” as I was growing up in the 1950s in Philadelphia)—but by society. Society told me that gay people were sick and perverted. But most of the homosexual people I encountered seemed as well-balanced psychologically as the heterosexual people I knew. The term “disorder” just did not fit. Except for the fact of their sexual orientation, my new friends seemed no more different from my heterosexual ones.

U.S. Catholics

Just as my personal views changed, I noticed change among Catholics in the pew regarding their attitudes about lesbian and gay people. Like me, Catholics were reading newspaper and magazine articles about research that showed that a large percentage of people have same-sex feelings. In fact, professionals told us that homosexual feelings and attractions are perfectly natural for anyone. Catholics heard about the judgments of the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association that homosexuality was not an emotional disorder. While they were learning all this new information, they were discovering that their sons or daughters, their brothers or sisters, their aunts or uncles, and their friends, were lesbian or gay. Like me, Catholics listened to the stories of the people they loved. Hearts, as well as minds, started to change.

In the 1990s, I began a more formal pastoral ministry with parents who have lesbian or gay children. During retreat weekends, I heard grief in their voices as they told me how sad they felt because their children no longer went to church. Over the years, I noticed that the sorrow and anguish were replaced by bewilderment and anger at the institutional church. They now ask me, “Why doesn’t the Church accept my child? I want the same happiness for my gay son as for my heterosexual daughter. I want them both to be able to share a life with someone they love.”

I have tracked public opinion polls on Catholic attitudes toward same-sex marriage since the early 1990s. At that time, about 20% of Catholics were in favor of same-sex marriage. By 2003, the percentage had doubled. A decade later, the percentage had risen to 59%. If same-sex marriage is specifically defined as civil marriage, the level of Catholic acceptance jumps to 71%. (These polls were commissioned by ABC News and The Washington Post.)

Catholics have indeed changed their opinions about homosexuality. In fact, 56% believe sexual relations between two people of the same gender is not a sin, according to the Public Religion Research Institute.

The Hierarchy

While the Catholic faithful now generally accept same-sex marriage, the Catholic hierarchy has not, although there is recently an openness to accept civil unions for lesbian and gay couples. Most prominent among these Church leaders, of course, is Pope Francis.

Before he became pope, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio publicly condemned a proposed same-sex marriage law in 2010 in Argentina as the work of the devil. We now know that, in heated, closed-door debates, he advocated civil unions as a compromise position. In the end, because he was President of the Bishops’ Conference, his public remarks reflected the views of the majority of the Argentine bishops, not his own views. During the political debate, a gay rights leader and theologian wrote a pointed letter to Cardinal Bergoglio. Shortly thereafter the man received a phone call and met twice with the Cardinal, who reaffirmed his support for civil unions and legal rights for lesbian and gay persons.

Six other cardinals have advocated civil unions for same-sex couples: Theodore McCarrick, retired Archbishop of Washington, DC; Carlo Martini (now deceased) of Milan; Christoph Schonborn of Vienna; Ruben Salazar of Colombia; Cardinal Godfried Danneels, Archbishop Emeritus of Brussels; and Rainer Maria Woelki of Berlin.

For example, last year at a major Church sponsored conference in Mannheim, Germany, that drew more than 50,000 Catholics, Cardinal Woelki told the assembly, “When two homosexuals take responsibility for one another, if they deal with each other in a faithful and long-term way, you have to see it in the same way as heterosexual relationships.” His statement recognizes and affirms the qualities of care, trust, commitment, and fidelity that are marks of a marriage. Of course, Cardinal Woelki did not use the word marriage. He stated that the relationship between a man and a woman was the basis for creation. Nevertheless, his words of support for civil unions amazed the crowd of assembly participants.

Also last year, a parish priest denied a gay man in a partnered relationship his elected seat on the parish council. The man asked to meet with Cardinal Schonborn, the influential Archbishop of Vienna. After inviting the man and his partner for lunch, the Cardinal stated that he was impressed by the gay couple’s commitment to living a life of faith, humility, and dedication to the Church. Commenting that the lifestyles of many parish council members do not conform to the ideals of the Church, the Cardinal reinstated the man to the parish council. This year at a lecture in London, Cardinal Schonborn reiterated that same-sex relationships need respect and civil protection.

Two national Bishops’ conferences and about a dozen bishops and archbishops throughout the world have likewise given public support to civil unions. Two of these prelates are Vatican officials. In February of this year, Archbishop Vincent Paglia, head of the Pontifical Council of the Family, said that the Church could recognize private law solutions for same-gender couples to prevent injustice. He condemned discrimination against gay and lesbian people because of their dignity as children of God. He said he would like Church officials to oppose bills that would make homosexuality a crime.

These remarks were followed by those of Archbishop Piero Marini, President of the Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses, who said, “In these discussions, it’s necessary, for instance, to recognize the union of persons of the same sex, because there are many couples that suffer because their civil rights aren’t recognized.” In his press interview, Archbishop Marini also said that the election of Francis has generated an air of freedom and a window of springtime and hope.

The most substantial challenge to official Church teaching comes from Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, a retired bishop from Australia. In his current book, For Christ’s Sake, and in a previous book, Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church, Bishop Robinson calls for a radical reexamination of the Church’s teaching on all sexual issues, which would affect both homosexual and heterosexual relationships. He believes that sexual morality should be based not on authority, but on people taking responsibility for their actions and their lives. Bishop Robinson is asking Catholics all over the world to sign a petition for a third Vatican Council to begin worldwide discussions not only among the bishops, but also among all the members of the Church. See “For Christ’s Sake! Stop Sexual Abuse for good!” or http://www.change.org/en-AU/petitions/pope-francis-the-vatican-for-christ-s-sake-stop-sexual-abuse-for-good

These actions and comments indicate that the official Church is beginning to acknowledge a need to rethink homosexual relationships and, according to some bishops, its theology of sexuality.

How can we explain these changes in attitude among Catholics? Why have Catholics’ views altered or been modified to be more accepting of lesbian and gay persons and their love relationships? I believe that part of the explanation in understanding any complex issue rests in obtaining correct information. Historians, anthropologists, biological and social scientists, and other professionals have helped us grow in our awareness of the nature of homosexuality in general, and of same-sex marriage in particular.

Marriage

The meaning and rituals of marriage have varied over time and culture. The Israelites held no belief that marriage was between one man and one woman. In that patriarchal society, a man could have more than one wife if he could afford it. The great kings David and Solomon attested to the practice of multiple wives. The story of Adam and Eve was not an endorsement of monogamy among the Hebrews; monogamy became an ideal of prophets, such as Ezekiel and Hosea.

In the early Christian church, marriage had no religious significance. Christians merely adopted the customs of the culture. Marriages were arrangements made by the civil government of Rome that defined rights and responsibilities, provided continuity in society, and facilitated the inheritance of property. Weddings were private ceremonies, with no official sanction from church or state. None of the liturgical books in the early Church mention wedding ceremonies.

In the late 4th century in some parts of the Christian East, it was considered an honor if a priest or bishop blessed the couple during the wedding feast. A century later, the priest participated in the ceremony by joining the couples’ hands or putting a garland over their hands. This ritual may be the origin of the expression, “to tie the knot.” By the 8th century, marriage ceremonies were commonly held in a church, with legal recognition. By the 11th century, church officials required that marriages at least be blessed by a priest. With the fall of the Roman Empire in the West in the 5th century and the decline of the Empire in the East from the 11th century, the institutional church exerted more and more legal control over marriage. By the 12th century, a priest was obliged to conduct the ritual.

By the late 12th and 13th centuries, marriage began to be regarded as a sacrament to be regulated by church officials. Many theologians of the time objected to this sacramental view of marriage because marriages involved financial arrangements. It thus appeared as though grace, which comes from the sacraments, could be bought and sold. Furthermore, the institution of marriage existed before Christ, but if the sacraments were instituted by Christ to give grace, how could Christ have instituted marriage? Thirdly, marriage involved sex, which was considered polluted in some way.

Same-Sex Unions

In his book, Same-Sex Unions in Pre-modern Europe, the medieval historian, John Boswell, presents numerous ceremonies that celebrate same-sex unions. Boswell found and translated more than 60 manuscripts of such ceremonies between the 8th and 16th centuries. These ceremonies had striking word and visual parallels to ceremonies of heterosexual unions. For example, both kinds of ceremonies commonly included the joining or tying of right hands with a stole. Both kinds included a binding with a stole or veil, or the imposition of crowns, or making circles around the altar.

Boswell claims that Church authorities accepted these same-sex ceremonies prior to the 13th century, after which they were considered illicit. Almost all historians agree that the late 11th and early 12th centuries were periods of openness & tolerance, and that the social and ecclesiastical climate became less tolerant in the 13th & 14th centuries, as inquisitions to investigate unorthodoxy began to appear. Scholars have generally accepted the authenticity of the manuscripts Boswell unearthed and the accuracy of his translations, but they have largely disagreed with his interpretations of the facts. Many claim these same sex unions were celebrating brotherly love, not marriage; however, the striking similarities to heterosexual marriage ceremonies cannot be denied. Many question whether Church authorities endorsed these ceremonies, but their existence indicates that they were approved in at least some parts of the Christian world where they were celebrated.

Personal Experiences

Same-sex unions are being sanctioned today in the United States by large segments of the Catholic community. I believe that another explanation for this acceptance, more important than the additional knowledge we have about marriage, is the personal experience of knowing friends, neighbors, relatives, or co-workers who are lesbian or gay. Lesbian and gay people have come out in record numbers in recent years. Their personal testimonies are affecting the hearts and minds of Catholics because our most profound beliefs are shaped by personal experience.

A number of years ago, I had a providential meeting on a plane with Benedict XVI before he was elected pope. I was making a pilgrimage to Munich and we both happened to be on the same flight from Rome. In our 20- minute discussion about lesbian and gay people, I asked him if he had ever met any gay people. “Yes, in Germany,” he said. “In Berlin, they were demonstrating against the pope.” This was his experience of gay people—in a conflict situation. Apparently, he had not heard the personal stories of lesbian or gay people and how they feel about their lives, their beliefs, and the struggles they have encountered from society and the church. I explained to him that lesbian and gay Catholics are often ridiculed by those who ask, “How can you stay with a Church that oppresses you?” “They stay,” I said, “because they love God and their Christian faith.”

Only when we meet lesbian and gay people in the ordinary circumstances of life, will we see them as the normal human beings they are. Only then will we begin to question our notions about same-sex marriage. We then ask the central question: What is the essence of marriage? What did marriage mean before the Christian era? What did it mean in pre-modern Europe? What does marriage mean today? In 2004, the board of the National Coalition of American Nuns answered the question this way: “Love, care, and commitment to another human being, not gender or procreation, form the essence or meaning of marriage.”

The Church’s Teaching

How can Catholics reconcile this new view of marriage with the traditional teachings of the Church? How can Catholics, who love the Church as their spiritual family, formulate a framework in which lesbian and gay people can live justly and wholly within the tradition of the faith community they love? Too often the application of the church’s teaching on social justice toward lesbian and gay persons seems to be thwarted or usurped by the official teaching on sexual ethics. What is needed is a continued development of sexual ethics by the Christian community.

In the first centuries of the Christian era, sexual ethics was not wedded to procreation. This came only with the early Church Fathers, particularly Augustine, who believed that procreation was the only justification for sexual pleasure and marriage. After many centuries, the official Church acknowledged that the love of the couple was a secondary purpose of sexuality and marriage. Vatican II taught that procreation and mutual love were equally important. Contemporary moral theologians have developed the teaching still further. They maintain that the procreative purpose can be broadened and described as creativity for the community. Using traditional Catholic theology based on natural law, this approach acknowledges that our appreciation of what is natural for the human person has also developed.

Change

The thread woven throughout these remarks is change: change in my personal opinions, change in the attitudes of U. S. Catholics, change in the public statements of some high ranking church officials, change in our understanding of marriage, change in our personal experiences, and change in the Church’s official teaching on sexual ethics. Too often we are frightened by change because we are comfortable with the status quo and are skeptical that one change will lead down a slippery slope of still more changes with which we cannot cope. When I fear change, I remind myself of the words of Cardinal John Henry Newman, who said in his Development of Christian Doctrine, “To live is to change and to be perfect is to have changed often.” Let us pray to Blessed John Henry Newman to help us accept the changes needed in our Church.

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Sr. Jeannine Gramick and Bishop Thomas Paprocki Present Two Different Catholic Views on Marriage Equality

June 4, 2013
Sr. Jeannine Gramick speaking with Bishop Thomas Paprocki

Sr. Jeannine Gramick speaking with Bishop Thomas Paprocki

An event last Friday that included Sr. Jeannine Gramick, the co-founder of New Ways Ministry, highlighted just how supportive Catholics are of marriage equality as the bishops play defense to support their position.

For over two hours at an event hosted by Robert Blair Kaiser and the Jesuit Alumni of Arizona, Sr. Gramick exchanged views with Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, in front of an audience.

The National Catholic Reporter reported on the event, where Bishop Paprocki attacked  the “gay activist lobby” in his opening remarks and denigrated the attention given to the murder of Matthew Shepard in 1998 as evidence of media bias. He posited that if marriage equality passes, then “everything should be OK” in regard to any sexual practice or activity.

Sister Jeannine Gramick

Sister Jeannine Gramick

Alternatively, Sr. Gramick spoke of the positive changes occurring around LGBT issues, including her personal conversion that has led to nearly four decades of ministry with gay and lesbian people. The article continues:

“Gramick reflected on changes in her own attitudes, attitudes of the public and attitudes of the church hierarchy. She said more and more church leaders are moving toward support of at least civil unions.

“Referring to Paprocki’s remark that morality cannot be based on polls, she said, ‘We may not legislate on the basis of polls, but they tell us what people are thinking.’

“She said polls show Catholics’ opinions have moved from opposition to same-sex marriage to approval in a short time because nearly everyone has a gay friend, family member or business associate.”

Indicative of these shifting views, the question period was solely aimed at Bishop Paprocki’s opposition to LGBT rights. During remarks by the bishop, a member of the audience, Anne Gray, even yelled out, “That’s insulting” and followed-up with a question:

Bishop Thomas Paprocki

Bishop Thomas Paprocki

“In response to a question from Kaiser, Paprocki said the church would love to welcome gay people but is forced into a defensive position by ‘activists pushing an agenda.’ That set off Gray, who has a gay son, again.

“‘Here I am,’ she said. ‘The big scary gay agenda…My son is a perfect human being. There is nothing intrinsically disordered about him. I know because I am his mother.’…

” ‘You need to listen to mothers,’ she said.”

Another questioner offered her personal experience of supporting lesbian family members and Paprocki made the suggestion that she leave the church to do so:

“One of the youngest people in the room said she was a devout Catholic, but when her aunt and sister told her they were gay, she was put on the spot. She asked Paprocki if she could remain a good Catholic and still support her family members in their desires to form lifelong relationships.

” ‘It is a struggle to be a good Catholic while supporting gay marriage,’ the bishop said. ‘It strains your relationship with the church.’

“He said those who oppose the church on the issue should become Protestants. ‘They do a lot of good things too,’ he said.

This is the latest instance where Catholics supportive of LGBT equality are making their voices heard to the Church’s hierarchy, including Sr. Gramick who recently confronted the famously anti-gay Cardinal Turkson of Ghana. We applaud the many people whose efforts contributed to making American Catholics the leading religious group advocating for equal marriage rights!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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