Under the Vatican’s Dark Cloud, Nuns Continue to Suppport LGBT People

August 19, 2014

Last week, I attended the Leadership Conference of Women Religious’ (LCWR) meeting in Nashville, Tennessee.  Over 800 nuns were there for their annual gathering, and this year, the number one item on the agenda was the discussion of how to respond to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which has required that the LCWR be overseen by Archbishop Peter Sartain.    The CDF’s directive comes after a doctrinal investigation of the LCWR, and their support for lesbian and gay ministry (and their support for New Ways Ministry was singled out as one of the problems), was cited as a problem.

The Sisters were undaunted.  Although understandably concerned about the Vatican’s judgment (at stake is whether LCWR will be canonically recognized, i.e., have an official relationship with the Holy See), this did not stop them from expressing their support for LGBT people, and New Ways Ministry.

Sister Jeannine Gramick, New Ways Ministry’s co-founder, and I staffed an exhibit table at the conference, as we have done for over 20 years.  Scores of nuns stopped by our table and encouraged us in our ministry and expressing gratitude that we were there at the conference.  Many told stories of attending New Ways Ministry programs over the years, and how the attitudes of the women in their communities have grown more positive.  Some told us stories of the personal struggle of LGBT family members who have been hurt by the church, and of the sisters’ efforts to maintain some connection with these alienated individuals.

“Keep going!” they told us,  “Our church needs this kind of outreach!”

So, despite being under a dark cloud of Vatican suspicion, the nuns were standing firm in regards to LGBT issues.  For them this is not a question of sexual ethics, but a question of justice, and, even more so, a question of relationship.  It is their relationships and dialogues with LGBT people that have opened their hearts and minds.  It is their long-standing relationship and support of New Ways Ministry that keeps them welcoming us to their conference every year, even when they are dealing with their own troubles.

Sister Jeannine Gramick

Sister Jeannine Gramick

On Sunday, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, published an essay entitled “Sister Acts” in which he praised nuns for their courage, resilience, humility, and forthrightness in proclaiming the gospel through their actions. One of the nuns he cited is New Ways Ministry’s own Sister Jeannine Gramick, of whom he writes:

“Another remarkable nun is Sister Jeannine Gramick, who, while working toward a doctorate in mathematics, met a gay Catholic man who asked for religious help. She organized a home service for him that grew into a regular liturgy for gay Catholics in private homes.

“In 1977, she helped found New Ways Ministry to support gay and lesbian Catholics. The Vatican tried to suppress her, and her order, the Loretto Sisters, was instructed at least nine times to dismiss her. It passively resisted.

“ ‘The Vatican tried to silence me,’ Sister Jeannine told Piazza, ‘and it just didn’t work.’

“At a time when much of Christianity denounced gays and lesbians, Sister Jeannine was a beacon of compassion and struggled to educate the church she loved.

“ ‘People always emphasize sex, sex, sex,’ Sister Jeannine told Piazza. ‘And it isn’t about sex. It is about love. It is who you fall in love with that makes you lesbian and gay. Love is the important thing here, not sex.’ ”

Sister Jeannine’s story and opinion reflects the ideas of the majority of American nuns.  As I mentioned above, relationship with people is what is important for these women, and Sister Jeannine’s ministry began with the friendship she developed with a gay man.  And for her, like for so many nuns, love, not sex, is the important quality of a romantic relationship.

Kristof praises the nuns, saying:

“. . . in a world of narcissism and cynicism, they constitute an inspiring contingent of moral leaders who actually walk the walk.”

The sisters’ example of “walking the walk” with LGBT people is an exercise that many bishops should emulate.  If bishops would open their hearts–and their ears–the way nuns have, the Church’s inequality for LGBT people could dissolve overnight.

I am always very fond of telling people that New Ways Ministry has been able to thrive for over 37 years because we have always had the support of the sisters in our church.  They have hosted most of our educational programs, and they have continually supported with us with prayers, financial contributions, and hospitality, not to mention the frequent messages of support that I described above.

When the LCWR meeting ended, Sister Jeannine and I traveled to Knoxville, Tennessee, with the hope of meeting with priests there to advise and encourage them to develop LGBT ministry and outreach there.  As it turned out, no priests materialized, but, not surprisingly, a community of Sisters of Mercy, the youngest of whom was in her 60s, welcomed us, offered us hospitality, and were open to doing what they can to support the LGBT community in eastern Tennessee.

The nuns continue to lead the way for an inclusive and welcoming church!  Let’s pray in gratitude for their lives and love!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related post:

May 19, 2014: “U.S. Catholics Stand with Nuns As Vatican Crackdown Re-Emerges


March on Washington Can Teach Catholic Church About Equality

August 30, 2013

Bayard Rustin with Martin Luther King, Jr.

Millions of Americans marked the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington on Wednesday, an historic event where Civil Rights leaders demanded equality before the law and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. Behind the March’s success was Bayard Rustin, a gay man who brilliantly lead organizing efforts, and who, according to Jamie Manson, in The National Catholic Reporter, offers insights for the Catholic Church today.

The March was an unprecedented protest with over 250,000 people participating.  It influenced policymakers to pass civil rights legislation just months afterwards. Bayard Rustin’s pivotal role was nearly forgotten, partly because he was an openly gay man, but is being raised up now by LGBT advocacy groups and others during current commemorations.

Manson explains  that it was Rustin who introduced Rev. King to nonviolent resistance. Rustin had begun advocating for civil rights as early as the 1940s, developed the first Freedom Ride, and first thought up the March on Washington. Yet, as influential and respected as Rustin was within the Civil Rights movement’s leadership, being gay meant discrimination of a different kind:

“Fearing that the demonstrations [outside the 1960 Democratic National Convention planned by Rev. King and Rustin] would undermine his own power, Adam Clayton Powell Jr., an African-American congressman from Harlem, N.Y., insisted they cancel the protest. If they refused, Powell threatened to claim Rustin and King were having an affair.

“Of course, there was no affair, but King surrendered to Powell’s demands, and Rustin was forced to resign and remove himself from the movement he helped shape…

“A month before the [1963] march, news of Rustin’s sexuality resurfaced. FBI director J. Edgar Hoover reported Rustin’s morals charge to segregationist Sen. Strom Thurmond. Taking to the Senate floor, Thurmond declared Rustin a “Communist, draft-dodger, and homosexual…”

Fortunately, Strom Thurmond’s antics were repelled by civil rights leaders who supported Rustin in that moment and, Manson points out, it is unlikely that a person’s sexual orientation would cause them censure among contemporary activists. However, Manson wonders about the situation in the Catholic Church and American religious institutions:

“Our churches are home to many LGBT people who make outstanding contributions to the life of the church as lay ministers, teachers, hospital workers, women religious and priests. Many are forced to be silent, however, because some in the church believe their sexual identities discredit or taint their work.

“Anyone who believes that prejudice in our church is passing away is either unaware of or in denial about the hundreds of exceptional LGBT Catholics who, every year, are fired from jobs, uninvited from speaking in churches, or denied participation in church ministry because of their honesty about their sexual orientations or gender identities.

“Rustin’s life reminds us that, not too long ago, most of our culture believed a person’s sexual identity could somehow taint or discredit the knowledge, talent and gifts he or she brings to a community. His story invites us to recognize and challenge the ways in which this toxic and often subconscious belief is still playing out in our churches, communities and families.”

Frequent readers of Bondings 2.0 know experiences of discrimination and exclusion for LGBT Catholics and their allies are all too common in parishes, schools, and social service agencies. Employees with years of job experience are fired for supporting equal rights, couples committed to each other for decades are denied Communion, and priests face expulsion for attempting to offer pastorally-sensitive approaches.

The harm done against these devoted church members is terrible, but just as troubling is the loss of their gifts within our communities and it leaves one thinking: What if the Church is expelling a contemporary Bayard Rustin because she or he is gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender? With so much work to be done on behalf of a more just, equitable world, the Church cannot afford this.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Support LCWR with a Christmas Card to the Nuncio and the Bishops!

December 5, 2012

The Nun Justice Project, a coalition of Catholic church reform and social justice organizations including New Ways Ministry, is urging Catholics to send Christmas cards to leading prelates in support of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR).

Launched after a harsh Vatican critique of LCWR in early 2012, the Nun Justice Project asks the nuns’ supporters to write with gratitude for the prophetic ministry of the American sisters and to request a withdrawal of the Vatican-imposed mandate against LCWR.

The Project is targeting the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganó, and the three bishops charged with implementing Vatican-mandated reforms to LCWR, Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle, Bishop Leonard Blair of Toledo, and Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, IL. You can add your support through this link.

As reported previously on Bondings 2.0, with links provided below, the Vatican’s critique of the nuns partially emerged out of their support for LGBT persons and organizations. Specifically named by the Vatican was New Ways Ministry, which has benefited greatly in its 35 years from the unequivocal and sustained support of communities of women religious.

The women religious of LCWR were one of those things the staff of New Ways Ministry was most thankful for this year and we stand with the sisters in these challenging times. New Ways Ministry strongly encourages Catholics and LGBT advocates to write to the bishops and express your support for the nuns who have adamantly struggled for equality within the Church and society.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Previous posts relating to LCWR:

August 11, 2012: LCWR Will Continue to Work Towards Dialogue With Vatican Officials

July 22, 2012: LCWR President Offers “Fresh Air” on Vatican Challenge to Nuns

June 21, 2012: Support the Sisters by Re-Directing Peter’s Pence Donations

June 12, 2012: Report on LCWR Meeting With the CDF at the Vatican

June 1, 2012: LCWR Responds to the Vatican with a Vision of Equality, Hope, and Dialogue

May 28, 2012: Support Our Sisters: Pray at a Vigil!

May 11, 2012: Sister Jeannine, Cardinal Ratzinger, New Ways Ministry, and Solidarity with LCWR

May 1, 2012: Round-up of Actions and Commentary on LCWR

April 23, 2012: Message to Nuns: ‘Be Not Afraid’

April 22, 2012: Comments on LCWR Action from National Catholic LGBT Organizations

April 21, 2012: Support for U.S. Nuns Spreads Quickly Among Catholics and Others

April 20, 2012: Can There Really Be “Collaboration” Between the Vatican and LCWR?

April 19, 2012: Sister Joan Chittister & Sister Simone Campbell Respond to Vatican Action Against U.S. Nuns

April 18, 2012: Vatican Action Against U.S. Nuns; New Ways Ministry’s Response


Round-up of Actions and Commentary on LCWR

May 1, 2012

Over the past week, actions and commentary on the Vatican’s attempt to control the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), the largest association of Catholic nuns in the U.S., have been abundant.  Because of the high volume of material, it has been difficult for Bondings 2.0 to post everything about it, while at the same trying to provide news and commentary on other Catholic LGBT stories.

To familiarize readers with actions and opinions on the LCWR case, we are providing lists of ACTIONS and COMMENTARY that may be of interest to readers.  Bondings 2.0 has a particular interest in the LCWR story because the nuns’ support of LGBT issues was a significant factor in the Vatican’s investigation of them.  Background on this story can be found in previous Bondings 2.0 articles (listed at end of this post) which include links to earlier news and commentary.

To keep up with the coverage of the LCWR case, The National Catholic Reporter (NCR) webpage has set up a special section on their site entitled “Sisters Under Scrutiny” to gather all of the newspaper’s news stories, opinion pieces, and blog posts about the controversy.  It is a very good resource.

ACTIONS

The following is a list of actions being promoted to support the Sisters:

NCR has set up a Facebook page,  Support Our Catholic Sisters,  where people can post messages of testimony, hope, and encouragement.

A group of Catholics concerned about the religious sisters have organized an online petition at Change.org.

Share-El Salvador is coordinating a signature-ad in the NCR in suppport of the nuns.  Information can be found by clicking here.

New Ways Ministry has instituted a letter-writing campaign can be found on our previous blog post, “Message to Nuns: ‘Be Not Afraid.”

COMMENTARY

The following is a list of note-worthy commentary on the case:

Mollie Wilson O’Reilly, “Moving Beyond the Church? The CDF and the LCWR,” , dotCommonweal Blog, April 19, 2012.

VIDEO INTERVIEW WITH Scott Appleby, University of Notre Dame Catholic Historian, WSBT.com“Notre Dame historian says Vatican crackdown on nuns ‘inappropriate and humiliating’ “ , April 21, 2012.

Francis X. Clooney, SJ, “Sister Laurie Brink OP and the CDF,” America “In All Things” Blog, April 22, 2012.

Jamie Manson, “LCWR: A radical obedience to the voice of God in our time,”National Catholic Reporter, April 23, 2012.

Michele Somerville, “Gunning for the Nuns,”  HuffingtonPost.com, April 23, 2012.

Benedictine Sisters of Erie, “Benedictine Sisters of Erie Support LCWR,”  http://www.ErieBenedictines.org, April 24, 2012.

David Gibson, “LCWR and the Beguines,”dotCommonweal Blog, April 24, 2012

Mary C. Johnson, “American Nuns Will Not Be Bullied,”HuffingtonPost.com, April 24, 2012.

Tom Roberts, “LCWR earthquake snaps tension present since Vatican II,” National Catholic Reporter, April 24, 2012.

Garry Wills, “Bullying the Nuns,New York Review of Books, April 24, 2012.

Carol Lee Campbell, “Our Sisters in Health Care, Then and Now,”EmpowerHer.com, April 25, 2012.

Mary E. Hunt, “We Are All Nuns,ReligionDispatches.org, April 25, 2012.

James Martin, SJ, “LCWR to ‘Move Slowly’ “America “In All Things” Blog, April 25, 2012.

Ivone Gebara “La inquisición actual y las religiosas norteamericanas”Adital.com.br.   English Translation: “The current inquisition and the North American nuns,”  http://www.iglesiadescalza.blogspot.com, April 26, 2012

James Martin, SJ, “What Sisters Mean to Me,”WashingtonPost.com “OnFaith” Blog, April 26, 3012.

Joshua J. McElwee, “LCWR annual assembly to go forward,National Catholic Reporter, April 26, 2012.

Nicole Sotelo, “Resurrection, the sisters and the power of people,”National Catholic Reporter, April 26, 2012.

Maureen Dowd, “Bishops Play Church Queens as Pawns,”New York Times, April 29, 2012.

Nicholas D. Kristof, “We Are All Nuns,”New York Times, April 29, 2012.

Marian Ronan, “Rome vs. the Nuns,” ReligionDispatches.org, April 29, 2012.

Previous Bondings 2.0 posts on the CDF-LCWR story (with some of the links each post contains):

April 18:  Vatican Action Against U.S. Nuns; New Ways Ministry’s Response
Links: Associated Press article; CDF document.

April 19:  Sister Joan Chittister & Sister Simone Campbell Respond to Vatican Action Against U.S. Nuns“
Links: National Catholic Reporter (NCR) article; Religion News Service article by David Gibson; New York Times article.

April 20:  Can There Really Be “Collaboration” Between the Vatican and LCWR?“
Links:  Cardinal Levada’s letter; NCR article on how LCWR learned of the Vatican’s action; NCR article on canon law relevant to the case.

April 21:  Support for U.S. Nuns Spreads Quickly Among Catholics and Others”                                                                                           Links:  Online petition in support of nuns; New York Times editorial supporting nuns; U.S. Catholic magazine analysis of CDF document.

April 22: Comments on LCWR Action from National Catholic LGBT Organizations“
Links:  MSNBC interviews with New Ways Ministry’s Sister Jeannine Gramick and DignityUSA’s Jeff Stone; Washington Post article.

April 23, “Message to Nuns: ‘Be Not Afraid’ ”    Link: NCR article on canon law germane to LCWR.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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