Religious Leaders, Including Catholics, Call on Obama to Oppose Religious Exemption in Upcoming Executive Order

July 9, 2014

President Barack Obama’s expected executive order barring federal contractors from employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity has sparked a controversy because some religious leaders have asked him to include a broad religious exemption in the order.

But, yesterday, Obama heard from a different group of religious leaders, this one asking him not to inscribe discrimination into his executive order by including a religious exemption.  Over 100 diverse clergy, academic, and lay leaders wrote to the president asking him to truly protect LGBT people by not providing language that would exempt religious institutions.

At least seven Catholics were among the letter’s signers:  Francis DeBernardo, executive director, New Ways Ministry; Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director, Dignity/USA; Jim FitzGerald, executive director, Call To Action; Sister Jeannine Gramick, executive coordinator, National Coalition of American Nuns; Mary Hunt, Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual; Jon O’Brien, President, Catholics for Choice; Deb Word, President, Fortunate Families.

The letter argues the case against religious exemptions from a variety of perspectives.  First, there are practical considerations:

“Requiring all federal contractors to operate according to the same set of non-discriminatory hiring practices is more than fair; it is a critical safeguard that protects all parties. If contractors were allowed to selectively follow employment or other laws according to their religious beliefs, we would quickly create an untenable morass of legal disputes. Furthermore, if selective exemptions to the executive order were permitted, the people who would suffer most would be the people who always suffer most when discrimination is allowed: the individuals and communities that are already marginalized.”

There is also the religious perspective:

“Increasing the obstacles faced by those at the margins is precisely the opposite of what public service can and should do, and is precisely the opposite of the values we stand for as people of faith.”

The letter also argued from logic:

“An executive order that allows for religious discrimination against LGBT people contradicts the order’s fundamental purpose, as well as the belief shared by more and more Americans every day, which is that LGBT people should not be treated as second-class citizens. An exception would set a terrible precedent by denying true equality for LGBT people, while simultaneously opening a Pandora’s Box inviting other forms of discrimination.”

The letter also argued from the perspective of American cultural values:

“In a nation as diverse as the United States of America, it is critical that the federal government be trusted to follow—and indeed, to role-model—equitable employment practices. We believe that our mutual commitment to the common good is best served by policies that prohibit discrimination based on factors that have no relationship whatsoever to job performance. We are better and stronger as a nation when hiring decisions are made based on professional merit   rather than personal identity.”

You can read the entire text of the letter, with a list of all signers, here.

In addition to the letter, more than 30,000 U.S. Christians have signed a grassroots petition urging President Obama to oppose those who would use their faith to justify anti-gay discrimination. The petition, organized by Faithful America, reads, in part:

“There’s nothing Christian about firing someone just because they’re gay or lesbian. Taxpayer dollars shouldn’t fund discrimination.”

The letter from faith leaders and the Faithful America petition were in part a response by last week’s Hobby Lobby decision, which many feared would become a slippery slope to expand religious exemptions.

As a person of faith, what are your thoughts about religious exemptions?  Offer your ideas in the “Comments” section of this post.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

National Catholic Reporter: “Obama’s faith-based advisers divided over religious exemption for anti-gay discrimination”

ThinkProgress.com: 100 Faith Leaders To Obama: Religious Liberty Shouldn’t Be Used To Discriminate Against LGBT People

New York Times: “Faith Groups Seek Exclusion From Bias Rule”


On Independence Day, Remembering the Global Struggle for LGBT “Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness”

July 4, 2014

In the United States, today is Independence Day, when we commemorate the establishment of our democratic nation which allows people to enjoy “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” to quote the Declaration of Independence.

Amid the celebration, we might take a moment to remember LGBT people around the globe who do not enjoy these blessings due to restrictive and oppressive laws.  As we do so, it is good to note that the United States government is trying to promote LGBT human rights around the globe.

While Catholic bishops in Uganda have supported that nation’s new law which promotes harsh punishments for homosexuality, a Catholic lay person here in the United States has recently spoken out strongly against this measure, and others like it which are springing up around the globe.

Vice President Joseph Biden

United States Vice-President Joseph Biden, a practicing Catholic, did not mince words recently when he addressed a “Forum on Global LGBT Human Rights” which he hosted at his residence.   Huffington Post reported:

“Seeking to mobilize a global front against anti-gay violence and discrimination, Vice President Joe Biden declared Tuesday that protecting gay rights is a defining mark of a civilized nation and must trump national cultures and social traditions.

“Biden told a gathering of U.S. and international gay rights advocates that President Barack Obama has directed that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender men and women around the world

” ‘I don’t care what your culture is,’ Biden told about 100 guests at the Naval Observatory’s vice presidential mansion. ‘Inhumanity is inhumanity is inhumanity. Prejudice is prejudice is prejudice.’ “

Vice President Biden is largely credited with moving the Obama administration to much more progressive policies in regard to marriage equality and LGBT rights.

Marianne Duddy-Burke at the forum.

In attendance at the forum was Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of Dignity/USA, a national organization of LGBT Catholics.

Buzzfeed reported that days before the Vice President’s statements, President Obama instituted new directives towards Uganda because of the anti-gay law:

“The White House announced . . . that it would cancel a U.S.-funded aviation exercise with Uganda and impose a visa ban on officials involved in human rights abuses and corruption as part of a package of steps in response to enactment of the Anti-Homosexuality Act in February.

“ ‘As President Obama has stated, the Government of Uganda’s enactment of the Anti-Homosexuality Act (AHA) runs counter to universal human rights and complicates our bilateral relationship,’ said the NSC Spokesperson Caitlin Hayden in a statement.

“In addition to the travel ban and the cancellation of the aviation exercise, the White House also announced that it is ‘redirecting funds for certain additional programs involving the Ugandan Police Force, Ministry of Health, and National Public Health Institute.’ ”

MSNBC.com has reported on the deteriorating quality of life that lesbian and gay Ugandans have experienced since the law as enacted:

“Some gays and lesbians have decided to flee; others are choosing to stay, trapped indoors and inside a prison of fear.

“ ‘Before, we were an underground community, but at the same time we were vibrant, we were engaged,’ photographer Aldo Soligno recalls a woman telling him while shooting in Kampala.

“ ‘Since the law passed, everything has changed,’ she said to him. ‘Now we are scared to go out from our homes.’

“The situation is far worse for lower-income gays and lesbians, Soligno told MSNBC. Wealthier people can take cabs and spend their weekends at country clubs, free from the threat of violence and police raids that often accompany public transportation trips. ‘But if they don’t have this money,’ Soligno said, ‘they can’t go outside.’ ”

Uganda, a heavily Catholic nation, has very strong anti-gay cultural values.  The Catholic heritage is, in some ways, responsible for this reality.  Kittredge Cherry, who blogs at Jesus In Love Blog, has written about how the nation’s religious heritage influenced its homophobia:

“Forty-five Ugandan male pages refused to have sex with their king after they converted to Christianity — so he executed them. Many were burned to death on June 3, 1886. These boys and young men were canonized by the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches, leaving some truths hidden by their halos.”

But Cherry refuses to buy into the traditional anti-gay spin that this story often carries.  She asks the following questions:

“Does the experience of the Ugandan martyrs illustrate a gay king being oppressed and demonized by conservative Christians? Or does it exemplify Christians heroically trying to rescue boys from sexual abuse by a pedophile king? Did Christians teach young African men shame about their own same-gender-loving desires? Or did Christians give the pages a way to refuse rape by a ruler with absolute authority? Maybe the truth lies somewhere in between? How can the story be interpreted so that LGBT Ugandans have equal access to justice… and to God? “

Cherry’s answers to these questions are too expansive to reproduce here.  I recommend reading her entire blog post on the subject for a very interesting analysis.  (A “hat tip” to highly respected Catholic gay blogger Michael Bayly for alerting me to Cherry’s post.”)

New Ways Ministry continues to encourage Catholics and others to tweet to Pope Francis to denounce anti-gay laws such as the one in Uganda.  For information on the #PopeSpeakOut campaign, click here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Religious and Political Leaders Ask Archbishop to Stay Away from NOM

June 15, 2014

Today, Catholics in the Archdiocese of San Francisco will be visiting several parishes to ask them to sign a petition asking that city’s Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone not to speak at an anti-marriage equality rally in Washington, DC, later this month.

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone

The petition (organized by Faithful America) is a part of a campaign to ask Cordileone to stay away from the National Organization for Marriage’s (NOM) rally on Thursday, June 19th.  The event is being supported by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), and Cordileone is the chair of the conference’s Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.  The rally is co-sponsored by the anti-gay Family Research Council.

A separate part of the campaign was a letter sent to the Cordileone signed by over 80 California politicians and national religious and community leaders, asking him to refrain from participating in the event.  The Los Angeles Times reported on some of the substance of the letter:

“If he attends as scheduled, they [the letter signers] noted, he will be ‘marching and sharing the podium’ with individuals who ‘have repeatedly denigrated lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.’ . . .

“By standing alongside those participants and organizers, ‘you appear to be endorsing their troubling words and deeds, which directly contradict the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ pastoral teaching that “God does not love someone any less simply because he or she is homosexual. God’s love is always and everywhere offered to those who are open to receiving it,” ‘  they wrote.”

Among the Catholic signers of the letter are Francis DeBernardo, executive director, New Ways Ministry; Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director, DignityUSA, Jim FitzGerald, executive director, Call To Action; Sister Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry and coordinator for the National Coalition of American Nuns; Jody Huckaby, Executive Director, PFLAG National; Mary E. Hunt, Co-Founder/Director, Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER).

The entire text of the letter can be read here.

At the USCCB’s national meeting this week, Cordileone re-affirmed his commitment to anti-marriage equality work and to participation in the conference.  According to The National Catholic Reporter:

“Pointing to the recent string of state same-sex marriage bans struck down by federal judges, Cordileone said the country was at a ‘critical point.’

” ‘An amendment to the U.S. Constitution is the only remedy in law against judicial activism,’ he said.

“The San Francisco archbishop also announced he would be attend the second annual March for Marriage in Washington, D.C., June 19. The march is organized by the National Organization for Marriage, a group advocating for legal recognition for marriage as only between one man and one woman.”

The letter to Cordileone also appeals to the example of Pope Francis:

“While not all of us agree with official Catholic teaching on marriage and family, we appreciate the many statements from Catholic leaders defending the human dignity of all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, especially the recent words of Pope Francis: ‘If someone is gay, who searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?’

“Pope Francis words echo the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which states that lesbian and gay people ‘must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.’ “

If Archbishop Cordileone does decide to speak at this event, he would do well to distance himself from the negative rhetoric of NOM by speaking up for the Catholic principles of “respect, compassion, and sensitivity” for lesbian and gay people.  While it might be best if he avoided the event, if he speaks forthrightly for the human dignity and equality of lesbian and gay people, he can turn this potentially negative event into a positive one.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles

LGBTQ Nation: “Calif. officials, community leaders urge Archbishop not to attend anti-gay rally.”

Sister Maureen Fiedler, National Catholic Reporter blog: “San Francisco archbishop under fire for plan to speak at March for Marriage”

Huffington Post: “San Francisco Archbishop Outrages Community With Plans To Join Anti-Gay Rally”

San Diego Gay and Lesbian News: “Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone petitioned to not march with anti-gay hate groups”


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

May 11, 2014

Happy Mothers Day!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


How Can Ordinary Catholics Respond to the Firing of LGBT Church Employees?

April 5, 2014

Responding  to the terrible trend of LGBT church employees being fired from their jobs has been a difficult challenge.  What are ways that Catholic people in the pews can help to stave off these unjust actions?

Marianne Duddy-Burke

Marianne Duddy-Burke

DignityUSA‘s Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke offered some alternatives in an op-ed recently in The National Catholic Reporter .   She begins her essay by pointing out a poignant twist:

“About a century ago, Catholic job-seekers were routinely confronted with signs reading, ‘No Catholics need apply.’ Now, it seems administrators in some Catholic schools are prepared to post signs that say, ‘No gay people need apply.’ “

Sparked by the recent developments, particularly those in the diocese of Honolulu and the archdiocese of Cincinnati, where bishops have made orthodoxy pledges which explicitly disparage lesbian and gay relationships a requirement for working in Catholic schools, Duddy-Burke proposed the following actions that ordinary Catholics can take:

  1. “Write or email Archbishop Dennis Schnurr of Cincinnati and Bishop Clarence Silva of Honolulu to demand these ill-conceived contracts not be implemented. Tell them how you believe these documents violate the very soul of our faith.
  2. Send a similar letter to Archbishop George Lucas of Omaha, Neb., chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Catholic Education about why LGBT people should not be banned from teaching in our schools.
  3. Catholics whose children or grandchildren attend Catholic schools can speak with their administrators to insist they not adopt this type of contract. Talk about the values of respect and inclusion that you believe are central to our faith and how important it is that these values are part of your children’s education. Work with other parents to ensure the school’s leadership knows this matters to lots of tuition-payers. Alumni of these institutions also have an important voice. You can reflect on the values that you carry with you as a result of your education and your sense of how these contracts violate them.”

Duddy-Burke notes that the firings teach a terrible lesson to students and families who attend Catholic schools:

Catholic schools and other institutions do embody central values of our faith, and I believe all of us understand the important role they play in our communities. However, having them be models of exclusion, intimidation and oppression radically lessens their effectiveness.

New Ways Ministry strongly supports DignityUSA’s call to action.  Bishops and other church leaders need to hear from the majority of Catholics who support LGBT equality in church and society.  Without hearing from us,  church leaders will not be able to discern the voice of the Spirit active in our church.

New Ways Ministry also encourages Catholics to help prevent future firings by working to establish non-discrimination policies in Catholic institutions.  You can read more about how to start discussions to establish such policies by clicking on our blog post entitled  “How to Establish LGBT Employment Non-Discrimination Policies in Catholic Institutions.”     Even if your parish or school is ultimately unsuccessful in getting such a policy adopted, the discussion of these issues will help to let Catholic leaders know that the laity do not want this terrible firing trend to continue.

Several other voices have recently expressed their opinions about the Cincinnati situation.

Tom Sauter

Cincinnati.com published  an op-ed by Tom Sauter, an attorney and the advocacy chair of the Greater Cincinnati Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network, which notes that the archdiocese of Cincinnati should be more concerned with the safety of their LGBT students than with the lives of their teachers.  He states:

“The language of the pledge creates unsafe spaces for youth who are or are perceived to be gay.

“How could a teacher who has signed the pledge be reasonably expected to intervene in the bullying of an LGBTQ student? . . .

“The archdiocese should focus on providing a safe space for a world class Catholic education rather than policing the personal lives of its teachers.”

ABC-News reported on the new, stricter policies in Cincinnati and Honolulu, noting the opposition of a national Catholic schoolteachers’ union:

“The president of the Philadelphia-based National Association of Catholic School Teachers says some educators in the archdiocese have contacted the union with contract concerns, even though the union doesn’t represent them.

” ‘This contract is way over the top and very oppressive,’ said union president Rita Schwartz.”

Peg Hanna

Cincinnati.com also published an op-ed from Peg Hanna, a Catholic mother of nine and grandmother of 16 who finds the archdiocese of Cincinnati’s new policy totally unacceptable:

“Of course, I want our children’s teachers to be people of integrity and good will. But according to this language, a teacher could be fired for attending her lesbian daughter’s wedding, for having intimate relations with a fiancée, being seen buying birth control at a local pharmacy, standing along the route at a gay pride parade, or dealing with infertility through medical means. It wouldn’t matter how good a teacher she or he is, that she or he opted to follow a call to serve people in the church rather than teaching in a public school for higher pay, or how involved in the social justice mandates of our Gospel that teacher is.

“The so-called morality clause has nothing to do with morals at all. It ignores the fact that married Catholic couples use artificial contraception; that a strong majority of Catholics support equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people; and that many young couples are delaying marriage for financial and other reasons. Many of these are still good, conscientious, faith-filled people.

“It is tragic that the Archdiocese of Cincinnati is forcing parents to make a difficult choice. Do they want their children taught by people who are so rigid they have no understanding of the situations most Catholics find themselves in, or who have to lie about their lives to maintain employment? To do so would be a mockery of the faith we hold so dear.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Denial of Anointing of the Sick Needs More Explanation by Archdiocese

February 20, 2014

A Washington Blade story this week reported that a Catholic gay man in the District of Columbia was refused the anointing by a Catholic hospital chaplain after the patient experienced a heart attack.  This story is made more complex, though, by the fact that the priest and the Archdiocese of Washington who supervises him are refusing to make any comment on the story.

Here’s the facts of the story, according to the Washington Blade:

“D.C. resident Ronald Plishka, 63, a retired travel agent and lifelong Catholic, said he asked a nurse to arrange for a priest to see him on Feb. 7, one day after he was admitted by ambulance to the hospital emergency room for a heart attack. He said that at the time he wasn’t sure he would survive.

“A short time later, Plishka said, Father Brian Coelho, a priest assigned to the hospital’s Department of Spiritual Care, arrived at his bedside. He said Coelho offered to take his confession before proceeding with communion and last rites, which the church now calls the sacrament of anointing of the sick.

“ ‘We started talking and I told him I was so happy with this new Pope because of his comments about the gays and his accepting the gays,’ Plishka said. ‘And I mentioned that I was gay. I said it and then I asked him does that bother you? And he said, “Oh, no, that does not bother me,’” said Plishka.

“ ‘But then he would not proceed with administering the last rites or communion. He couldn’t do it.’

According to Plishka, Coelho, who brought a supply of holy water to his hospital room, never said in so many words that he was refusing to administer communion and last rites.

“Asked what Coelho told him, Plishka said, ‘Well, I mean he stopped. He would not do it. By him not doing it I assumed he would not do it because why was he getting ready to do it and all of a sudden when I say I’m gay he stops?’

“Plishka said Coelho gave no reason for not giving him the sacraments he requested but offered instead to pray with him.

“ ‘He said what he wanted to do,’ said Plishka. ‘He wanted to pray. That’s what he wanted to do. He said well I could pray with you.”

Plishka refused the offer of prayer, angry at what he felt was discrimination.  

The news story reports that both Coelho and the Archdiocese of Washington have refused to comment on the story.  This silence is very unfortunate.  If Coelho had a legitimate pastoral reason not to administer the anointing of the sick, he should state what it was.  Without such a statement, his actions can easily be interpreted as homophobic.  Their silence opens the way for great speculation.

A person with pastoral experience was quoted in the Blade story, commenting on the unusual reaction by the priest:

“Henry Huot, a retired Catholic priest who serves as chair of Dignity Washington’s Pastoral Ministry Committee, said longstanding Catholic practice calls for priests to provide the sacraments to people in situations similar to Plishka.

“ ‘Any baptized Christian ought not to be denied the sacraments at his or her request,’ Huot said. ‘And that is a cardinal rule of pastoral care. So I don’t know what was going through the mind of this hospital chaplain to deny this man the sacraments,’ he said. ‘It violates this cardinal rule.’ “

DignityUSA also commented on the strange pastoral response:

“ ‘The fact that conditions existed for a priest to make this call is upsetting,’ said Dignity USA Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke. ‘There should be very clear standards. You minister to the person in need without judgment and without conditions,” she said. “It is not the role of the priest to cause the person in distress additional hardship.’

‘Duddy-Burke said it’s the responsibility of the Archdiocese to set pastoral care standards for priests under its jurisdiction.

“ ‘And I would hope that if this case is brought to the attention of Archdiocesan officials, as it should be, that they would respond appropriately and discipline this priest and make it known to every priest and every person that’s providing pastoral care in the Archdiocese that people should be treated as children of God first.’ “

The Archdiocese of Washington already has had one terrible occasion of pastoral care violation directed toward an LGBT person when in 2012, Barbara Johnson, a lesbian woman was denied communion at her mother’s funeral.  In that case, the Archdiocese apologized, the priest involved was disciplined and eventually removed from pastoral work.  The Archdiocese should move swiftly to explain this situation more fully, and if the priest involved had committed a homophobic error, some public correction should be made.

There is no reason that an LGBT person should be denied pastoral care, especially in a city with as many LGBT Catholics as Washington, DC. This whole episode illustrates why so much education of priests and pastoral staff in regards to LGBT people is still sorely needed.  And the Archdiocese needs to be swift in making some public statement either that an error was committed by the priest or that the Archdiocese is committed to fairness and equality in administering the sacraments.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article

Washington Post:  Gay patient says Catholic chaplain refused him last rites


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″


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