Sister Jeannine Gramick Meets Cardinal Turkson at University Conference

May 31, 2013

Editor’s Note:  Sister Jeannine Gramick will take part in a public conversation on marriage equality this evening, May 31, 2013, with Bishop Thomas Paprocki, in Phoenix, Arizona.   The following is her reflection on another recent conversation that she had with Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana.  For more information on tonight’s event, click here.

Sr. Jeannine Gramick speaking with Cardinal Turkson at The Catholic University of America

Sr. Jeannine Gramick speaking with Cardinal Turkson at The Catholic University of America

BY Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL,          Co-founder, New Ways Ministry

Last month, the Catholic University of America, Washington, DC, hosted a conference entitled Peacebuilding 2013: Pacem in Terris at 50,” as a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Pope John XXIII’s landmark encyclical on peace.

With the hope that the ideas and spirit of “Good Pope John” and Vatican II were being rekindled in our church, I eagerly attended and was not disappointed. Attendees met leading representatives of co-sponsoring organizations, such as the peace and justice departments of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and several Catholic universities, Catholic Relief Services, Pax Christi International, Caritas Internationalis, the Sant’Egidio Community, and the U.S. Institute of Peace.

More than 200 attendees listened to presentations from such well-known Catholic leaders as Fr. Bryan Hehir, John Carr, Drew Christiansen SJ, and Scott Appleby. One speaker I was particularly interested in hearing was Cardinal Peter Turkson from the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

Among LGBT advocates, Cardinal Turkson is known for his anti-gay remarks. For example, in 2012 when the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on African nations to repeal laws that criminalize homosexuality, Cardinal Turkson responded, “…when you’re talking about what’s called ‘an alternative lifestyle,’ are those human rights? … there’s a subtle distinction between morality and human rights, and that’s what needs to be clarified.”

Cardinal Turkson of Ghana

Cardinal Turkson of Ghana

Cardinal Turkson did not entertain questions after his hour long presentation, so I wended my way to the front of the auditorium and, after much picture-taking of various Catholic University officials with the Cardinal, I was poised to ask him my question privately.

“Thank you, Cardinal,” I began, “for emphasizing throughout your talk that the underlying principle of Pacem in Terris is the basic dignity of the human person.

“I was pleased that you gave a few concrete examples of how you used your influence in Ghana to resolve some disputed situations by showing the parties that the basic issue involved was the dignity of the human person. In the situation of gay and lesbian people…”

I got no further with my question. The Cardinal quickly interrupted me, maintaining that the press greatly misunderstood what he meant. He was merely saying that “this” (using the pronoun, without saying the word “homosexuality” or “gay” or “lesbian”) was not acceptable in his culture. He repeated his defense a few times before someone came to whisk him off to lunch.

After lunch, Karen, another conference attendee I met, engaged him in conversation on the same topic. Once again, Cardinal Turkson defended his remarks, asserting he was misquoted. It was clear, Karen said, that he did not wish to say more about the matter. Karen later spoke with a priest from Ghana, who had worked with the Cardinal. The priest maintained that Turkson would never endorse a bill to kill homosexuals but would acknowledge that the culture viewed homosexuality as an aberration that would not be tolerated.

Whether or not Cardinal Turkson was misquoted, the fact remains that he failed to denounce a cultural norm that violates basic human dignity. Perhaps being confronted by some Catholics at a U.S. peace conference may induce him to reexamine his views about the human rights of LGBT people and to respond more thoughtfully to the press in the future. Such face-to-face encounters, coupled with the political wind-change of recent positive remarks on gay civil unions by some Vatican officials, may spur him to understand that those human rights, as Pope John XXIII told the world 50 years ago in Pacem in Terris, are based on the dignity of the human person.


Reflections on Vatican II and LGBT Issues–Part 3: Openness to the World

December 29, 2012

The third part in a three-part series reflecting on Vatican II and LGBT issues.  For the first part, click here; for the second part, click here

earthThe third dynamic that Richard Gaillardetz identified as instrumental to making Vatican II a success is “openness to the world.”  In his article in America magazine, he discusses this concept:

“The final dynamic evident in the council’s deliberations was its openness to the world. Pope John XXIII himself set the tone for this openness. . . .

“Pope John knew well the evils present in the world, but he was convinced that we must not exaggerate those evils and succumb to a dark apocalypticism. In his many addresses and homilies he evinced an attitude of respectful yet critical engagement with the world. In ‘Humanae Salutis,’ the apostolic constitution with which he formally convoked the council, the pope warned of ‘distrustful souls’ who ‘see only darkness burdening the face of the earth.’ And in his opening address at the council, he noted the advice he sometimes received from ‘prophets of gloom’ who see ‘nothing but prevarication and ruin’ in the world today.

“Pope John XXIII was convinced that Christians must be willing to read ‘the signs of the times’ and enter into a more constructive engagement with the world. . . .

“Here again the council’s conduct and attitude offer insight for our modern church, for we still hear far too many apocalyptic pronouncements regarding ‘a culture of death’ and a ‘toxic secularism.’ The council reminds us that we must not yield in the face of evil, but neither can we close our eyes to the signals of grace always present where humans seek justice and truth and ask the great questions about life’s meaning and ultimate significance.”

In regard to LGBT issues today, the current hierarchy would do well to follow this advice to be more open to the world.  Too often they sound like Pope John’s “prophets of gloom” who “see only darkness burdening the face of the earth.”   The negative attitude of the current hierarchy is doing great harm to their relationship with the world on LGBT issues and other issues as well.

Equally important, this negative attitude harms the hierarchy themselves.  In a sense, they are blinding themselves to all the good and holiness that exists in the LGBT community.  Sadly, they are missing out on the joy of life experienced by many in the Catholic LGBT community, specifically.  The gospel is being lived out in both traditional and new ways in the faith experiences of those involved in the Catholic LGBT community, but the hierarchy’s negativity and closed-mindedness prevents them from seeing this.

By being more open to the world, as the bishops at Vatican II were, the current hierarchy could learn from new advances in science and social science regarding gender and sexuality.  The world outside the church doesn’t have to be treated as the enemy.  God works there, too. Instead of building a fortress around the church to “protect” it from the world, the current hierarchy should be engaging it so that the spirit of the Gospel can inform and enlighten it.

One note of caution:  I don’t mean to imply that LGBT issues are issues of “the world” only.   LGBT people are very much part of the church and its life already and don’t necessarily need to be “reached out” to.  But by being more open to the world, the hierarchy could be establishing better forms of communication with those in the LGBT community who do not share the church’s vision of faith.  Sadly, they have too often painted themselves into a corner where they have no available tools to speak credibly or effectively with those not in the church.

You may have noticed that there is some overlap between the three dynamics which Gaillardetz has identified:  catholicity of dialogue, humble learning, and openness to the world.  These three concepts work with each other;  if one develops one of them, the other two, it seems, would be easy to develop, too.   Openness to the world includes being open to dialogue and being a humble learner, for example.

The most effective way that I see to reclaim the spirit of Vatican II for the church is for lay people to start living out these three dynamics the best ways that we are able to do so.   To paraphrase Gandhi, we must be the change we want to see in the church.  One of the greatest lessons of Vatican II is that lay people are equal partners with the hierarchy in building up the church.   We can’t expect the hierarchy to live the spirit of Vatican II if we don’t live it ourselves.  In doing so, we can help to transform our church on LGBT issues. Indeed, we can help to tranform our church. Period.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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