Sister Jeannine Goes to Annapolis for Marriage Equality Law Signing Ceremony

Governor Martin O'Malley
Sister Jeannine Gramick

When Maryland’s Catholic Governor Martin O’Malley signs the state’s marriage equality bill into law on Thursday, March 1st, 2012, one of the people standing nearby him will be another Catholic who has worked tirelessly for most of her adult life to secure equality and justice for lesbian and gay people:  Sister Jeannine Gramick, New Ways Ministry’s Co-Founder.

Sister Jeannine will join with many other civic and religious leaders to witness the bill’s signing in the Maryland State House in Annapolis.  Attending the signing ceremony will cap months of efforts by Sister Jeannine, New Ways Ministry, and our Equally Blessed partners to help demonstrate Catholic support for the bill.
For several years, both Sister Jeannine and New Ways Ministry Executive Director Francis DeBernardo have testified on behalf of marriage equality in the state legislature.  Last year New Ways Ministry, hosted an educational conference day in Baltimore to explain theologically why Catholics are so supportive of marriage equality laws.  At that conference New Ways Ministry launched its publication, Marriage Equality: A Positive Catholic Approach, which has been distributed in Maryland and across the nation.  (After Sister Jeannine presented Governor O’Malley a copy of the book, the next day his secretary called New Ways Ministry to order 100 more!)
In 2012, Sister Jeannine made several trips to Annapolis on behalf of the bill: to support the governor when he announced the bill’s strengthened religious protections, to speak at a prayer breakfast with other religious leaders to demonstrate support from the faith community, and to testify in front of a legislative committee.  From these experiences, she developed a personal connection with Governor O’Malley.
In their roles as partners in the Equally Blessed Coalition, she co-authored, with DeBernardo, “A Catholic Case for Same-sex Marriage” which appeared in The Washington Post.  Equally Blessed partners also sent personal emails in support of the bill to all the members of the Maryland House of Delegates before their critical vote to pass the legislation.
While tomorrow Sister Jeannine will be going to visit Governor O’Malley in Annapolis to witness the signing, later next month, Governor O’Malley will be paying a visit to Sister Jeannine and hundreds of Catholics who will be attending New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium in Baltimore. To read details about Governor O’Malley’s participation in the Symposium, click here.  For more information on the Symposium, click here.
For a Reuters news report on the bill signing, click here.
So, say a prayer for Sister Jeannine as she goes to Annapolis to witness–and be a part of –history!
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Communion Denied to Lesbian Woman at Her Mother’s Funeral

The blogosphere has been abuzz with the news that Rev. Marcel Guarnizo, a priest at St. John Neumann parish in Gaithersburg, Maryland (Archdiocese of Washington), recently denied communion to a lesbian woman at her mother’s funeral. has posted a summary of various blog posts on the incident, including Ann Werner’s post on, which broke the story.   Werner offers the details:

“My friend Barbara [Johnson], the daughter of the deceased woman, was denied communion at her mother’s funeral. She was the first in line and Fr. Guarnizo covered the bowl containing the host and said to her,  ‘I cannot give you communion because you live with a woman and that is a sin according to the church.’  To add insult to injury, Fr. Guarnizo left the altar when she delivered her eulogy to her mother. When the funeral was finished he informed the funeral director that he could not go to the gravesite to deliver the final blessing because he was sick.”, the website for a Washington-DC TV station, reports that the Archdiocese of Washington has issued a statement denouncing the incident:

“In a written statement, the Archdiocese of Washington conceded that Father Marcel had acted improperly, saying, ‘Any issues regarding the suitability of an individual to receive communion should be addressed by the priest with that person in a private, pastoral setting.’

“Barbara Johnson says she’s satisfied with the statement, though she adds that the damage done, both to her family and to her mother’s memory, could never be repaired.”

An action like this from a priest should not be tolerated.  What is still needed is a public apology from the priest and an offer of pastoral mediation between him, the woman, and her family.  These remedies are possible if Catholics contact Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the head of the Archdiocese of Washington. His contact information:

Cardinal Donald Wuerl                                                                                                                                                      Archdiocese of Washington                                                                                                                                                               P.O. Box 29260                                                                                                                                                                        Washington, DC 20017-0260

Tell Cardinal Wuerl that as a Catholic you oppose such blatant discrimination and pastoral incompetence.  Let him know that you consider the action offensive and insensitive.  Explain that you support free and equal access to communion of all Catholics, especially at such a pastorally critical moment as a funeral.  Let him know of your love and support of LGBT people.  Request that he instruct all his priests and pastoral ministers not to repeat such an action.  Call on him to provide pastoral training on LGBT issues for his priests and pastoral ministers. Ask him to call for an apology from Fr. Guarnizo, and to offer pastoral mediation between this priest, Ms. Johnson, and her family.  Speak from your heart and from your faith.

It’s important to keep in mind that Fr. Guarnizo’s action is not representative of the thousands of priests who minister daily to LGBT and heterosexual Catholics across the country.  At the same time, one incident is one too many.  As the blogosphere echoes with the reverberations of this story, this priest’s action is sending a loud negative message about the Catholic Church to LGBT people and their allies.  While we try to correct this negativity by writing to the Cardinal, we must also counter it by reminding people of our own stories of positive and affirming Catholic parishes which welcome and celebrate LGBT people.  Most importantly,we must speak out to Cardinal Wuerl to ensure that reconciliation occurs, and that an incident like this one never happens again.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Welcoming Wild Beasts and Angels As Part of Lent

Jesus in the Wilderness by Stanley Spencer

I usually get Lent wrong.  I usually think of it as a time when I’m supposed to be holier, when I’m supposed to fast, pray, give alms, do good–all as a way to prepare myself for the celebration of Easter.  All of that usually lasts for about a week or so, but that’s not the only way in which I get Lent wrong.

The reading from Mark’s gospel on the first Sunday of Lent tells how Jesus spent his own personal “Lenten” time.  Only four verses long (Mark 1:12-15), it’s probably one of the shortest gospel readings of the liturgical calendar.  The first two verses state:

“The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert,
and he remained in the desert for forty days,
tempted by Satan.
He was among wild beasts,
and the angels ministered to him.”

Jesus’ forty days of preparation were filled with two things that I rarely allow into my observation of Lent: wild beasts and angels.  Jesus went into the desert for forty days and faced wild beasts.  When I observe Lent, I usually try to escape from the wild beasts of my life: the petty jealousies, the boastful pride, the unforgiving anger, and so much more. I try to pretend they are not there.  I try to eradicate them by ignoring them.  Jesus’ way was different: He faced up to them and He went among them.  Lent, He shows us, is not about working towards being a better person, but about facing the negative aspects of our lives, acknowledging their existence, and resisting the temptation to be ruled by them.

In facing temptations, Jesus didn’t earn their purification. Instead, he allowed angels to minister to Him.  In other words, what I do is not what is important in Lent.  What’s important is being open to allow God to enter my life.  It’s not about anything that I do, but about allowing God to do things in my life.  My American sense of independence and self-reliance rebels against that kind of thinking.  Shouldn’t I be doing something to work for salvation? Well, yes, but I think this gospel is reminding us that Jesus’ way was not the path of earning salvation, but of being open to God’s presence in the world.

The second half of the gospel reading shows us why Jesus spent 40 days in the desert with wild beasts and angels:

“After John had been arrested,
Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God:
“This is the time of fulfillment.
The kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

When he returns from the desert, Jesus goes about beginning his true ministry.  It’s a resurrection of sorts, in which His new life is characterized by His ability to see and know that God’s Reign is already active in the world. He has a new perception about ordinary life:  that it is already filled with God’s justice and love. The only thing left to do is to preach this news to others with the sure hope that they will turn their lives around and begin living the reality of God’s Reign on earth.

For those of who work for LGBT justice and equality in the church and society, this gospel reading has some very good news.  We have a tendency to spend a lot of time observing what is wrong and unjust in the world. In our desire for justice, it can seem like a lot is depending on what we do as individuals to help right those wrongs.  Lent can be a good time to refocus our attention inward on facing up to our own demons and beasts, as well as allowing our eyes to be open to angels and all the ways that God wants to work in our lives.

Moreover, Lent can be a time to prepare ourselves for a new life of seeing that God is already active in the world and that our role is not to create justice, but to witness and testify to God’s action for justice.  Our job is to refine our vision to be able to see God’s justice, to let others know it exists, and to invite them to see it, too.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

England’s Leading Catholic Archbishop Again Strikes a Moderate Note

Archbishop Vincent Nichols

Archbishop Vincent Nichols, the leader of the Catholic church in England and Wales, has made the news once again for offering a more moderate position on marriage rights for lesbian and gay couples, and issues related to the topic, than some of his more conservative religious colleagues.

Last week, in response to a speech at the Vatican by England’s Lady Warsi, a Conservative Party member in the British cabinet, in which she decried persecution of Christians by “militant secularism,” Nichols commented to The Guardian newspaper:

“”I personally don’t feel in the least bit persecuted. I don’t think Christians should use that word.”

These comments were made in the wake of a petition circulating the internet by Lord Carey, the former Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, which denounces marriage for lesbians and gays.  The Guardian article notes that

“Catholics will be encouraged to sign the petition against gay marriage as individuals, but the church as a whole will not be part of Carey’s campaign. . .”

In a post entitled “Gay Marriage, and the English Catholic Church: More Sanity From Vincent Nichols” at, blogger Terry Weldon notes:

“Archbishop Vincent Nichols has once again demonstrated sanity and moderation on the place of the Catholic Church in modern society. While there are many loud, outraged voices raised in complaint in the US and in the UK over alleged assaults on religious freedom and of perceived persecution of Christians, Nichols has correctly pointed out that what is happening is not the “persecution” of Christians, but an attempt to separate the legal and cultural life of the country from its Christian roots. He is saying in other words, that what is happening is a removal from the Church of its previously privileged position. This may be deplorable, unfortunate, or welcome – but does not amount to persecution, any more than the removal of apartheid in South Africa represented the persecution of Whites.”

The Guardian report notes a shift in favor of LGBT rights among English Catholics:

“The emergence of the Catholic church into the mainstream of national life has been accompanied by a change in character: the old working class Irish-based Catholicism has almost vanished, to be replaced by a much less traditional English middle class which largely rejects the Church’s teachings on birth control and homosexuality, while still treasuring it for its spiritual value.”

The hierarchy, led by Nichols, is also taking a more moderate approach to civil unions legislation than their counterparts in Scotland:

“The reasoned tone [of Nichols] seems a deliberate attempt to take the high ground in the national debate. The statements of the English Catholic bishops in favour of civil partnership (as an alternative to gay marriage) contrasts very noticeably with the grumbling anathemata issuing from the Scottish and Irish churches on the subject.”

A Tablet article highlights the different approach taken by the Scottish the the English/Welsh hierarchies on the issue of civil unions.  Back in December 2011, Bondings 2.0 reported on Nichols’ support and reasoning for civil unions.  You can access those two posts by clicking here and here.

While certainly not a progressive on these marriage issues, Nichols represents a moderating voice in the Church which at least holds open the possibility of discussion on these matters.  The Guardian notes that his perspective on issues of homosexuality are far more pastoral than many other prominent church leaders:

“When asked how to interpret the notorious Vatican description of homosexuality as ‘a tendency towards an objective moral evil’, Nichols gave me a carefully prepared talk on the roots of Catholic philosophy. ‘This is a philosophical construct,’ he said.

“It is all part of a careful balancing act between the demands of Catholic theology, and of conservative factions in the Vatican, and the reality of the English Roman Catholic Church, where several of the most prominent lay figures are either gay themselves, divorced, or married to divorced people. . . .

“In most countries, the Conservative wing of the Catholic church is more or less homophobic, but in England the Catholic Herald, which would be their paper, has been edited by an openly gay and partnered man (who died this month) and does not attack the bishops on that front. . . .

“Phrases like ‘abstract moral evil’, [Nichols] said, are not aimed at any individual. ‘One talks about objective moral evil, you might say today, that’s racism. No matter what’s intended or understood, that, objectively, is wrong. In a similar way, you can say, in every sphere of life there is objective moral evil.  But that does not imply subjective moral guilt.  That does not imply guilt on an individual.’ “

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Fortunate Families Focus & LGBT Timeline Round Out U.S. Catholic Coverage

As mentioned on this blog the other day, the March issue of U.S. Catholic magazine has an excellent article, “Pride and Prejudice: The uneasy relationship between gays and lesbians and their church,” surveying the landscape of LGBT issues in Catholicism.

Two sidebar pieces that accompanied this article are also worthy of note.  The first, “The mamas and the papas: What it’s like for Catholic parents of GLBT children,” explains exactly what it’s title describes.  To accomplish this task, writer Kristen Hannum went to the leading national experts on this topic, Fortunate Families, a network of Catholic parents with LGBT sons and daughters.

Fortunate Families co-founder Mary Ellen Lopata talks about the need for outreach ministry to parents in an ever-increasing rigid Catholic atmosphere:

“The church has lost so much in not welcoming our gay and lesbian children. They have left the church in droves because they are not welcomed. They can stay if they’re silent, suppressing a big part of who they are. Now the church is starting to lose their parents as well.”

Fortunate Families board member Deb Word highlights the importance of being clear and unconditional in expressing the church’s welcome:

“We have to start by acknowledging that there are GLBT kids in the pews, and that God loves them. . . . ‘God loves you, but . . .’ is different from ‘God loves you.’ ”

(Fortunate Families co-founders, Mary Ellen and Casey Lopata, wrote a Bondings 2.0 blog post last month on the importance of welcoming parents of LGBT people in Catholic settings.  You can access it by clicking here.)

The main article’s other sidebar is “A history of the relationship between gay and lesbian Catholics and their church.”   The piece is a historical timeline, mapping the ups and downs of the Catholic LGBT movement from the late 1960s to the current day.  It is inspiring to see how far this movement has matured, how many struggles it has faced, and how many accomplishments it has achieved!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

NEWS NOTES: February 24, 2012

Here are links to some items you might find of interest:

1) Sister Maureen Fiedler, who blogs for the National Catholic Reporter, comments on the passage of the Maryland marriage equality bill by suggesting that “Catholic bishops should read the writing on the wall for same-sex marriage.”

2) In a essay, Marianne Duddy-Burke, Executive Director of DignityUSA, observes that “Same-Sex Marriage IS Dangerous — to Church Workers .”  She is commenting on the recent firing of a Catholic parish’s music director, which Bondings 2.0 reported on here.

3) North Carolina’s two Catholic bishops are among the supporters of a proposed state constitutional amendment to define marriage heterosexually, according to “Both sides gear up in N.C. gay marriage fight,” which appeared on The Washington Post website.

4) Maryland’s Martin O’Malley and New Jersey’s Chris Christie, two Catholic governors who have opposing views about marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples, will square off on TV’s “Face the Nation,” Sunday, February 26, 2012, on CBS.  While the topic for their segment is the 2012 presidential race, since both governors have been so visible about marriage equality, it will likely come up as a topic of discussion.  For more details, check out The Washington Post’s article  “O’Malley, adversary Chris Christie booked on ‘Face the Nation.’ “

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Maryland Moves One Step Closer to Marriage Equality Law with Senate Approval; DC Catholic Pastor Responds to Gramick and DeBernardo

Marriage equality is one step closer to becoming the law of the land in Maryland, as the state Senate approved the bill last night by a vote of 25-22.  The bill now goes to the desk of Catholic Governor Martin O’Malley, who has pledged to sign it into law. (And Governor O’Malley will be speaking at New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium, March 15-17, Baltimore, Maryland.  For info, click here.)

The Baltimore Sun report on the Senate vote carries a good summary of the floor debate, as well as reactions to the vote, but also notes the strong likelihood that the issue will go to referendum in the November election.

As readers of this blog already know, New Ways Ministry had a small role in facilitating the bill’s passage by sending representatives to testify at legislative hearings, by writing, publishing, and distributing the book Marriage Equality:  A Positive Catholic Approach, and a Washington Post op-ed essay “A Catholic Case for Same-Sex Marriage” by New Ways Ministry’s Sister Jeannine Gramick and Francis DeBernardo.

The op-ed essay by Gramick and DeBernardo has provoked a response from a pastor of the Archdiocese of Washington.  The Washington Post has printed an essay by Msgr. Charles Pope, pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian parish in DC, who opposes the Catholic case for marriage equality presented by the two New Ways Ministry leaders.

Two of his points deserve comment because of their inaccuracy and incorrect logic:

The Catholic Church is apostolic in nature, that is, it derives its faith, not from polls or a simplistic read of Church history, but from Jesus Christ himself.  Jesus established the Church with the structure of apostles and their successors, bishops, who have as their solemn obligation preserving the unity of the Church and teaching the faith. The sensus fidelium or faith understood by the whole Church is authentically expressed when it is in union with the bishops.

First, while Jesus did call apostles, he did not establish the office of bishop, which is a church structure .  Second, the it is the bishops’ role to determine the sensus fidelium, not to dictate it.  If the bishops were to dictate it, it would be the “sense of the bishops,” not the “sense of the faithful.”  In any case, it is clear to any observer that there is great disagreement between the bishops and the majority of the Catholic faithful on the issue of marriage equality.

Some of the notes from commenters on the Post website are worth noting:

From BDVienna: “With all due respect, Msgr. Pope, you simply have neither addressed nor refuted the theological issues raised in the essay to which you reply. The Scriptures are not so clear. The apostolic tradition, for which I have the utmost respect, is subject to human error that has been demonstrated by scholars (both historians and theologians) over the years. Your argument here boils down to ‘because we said so.’ And I don’t think that’s a good enough reason to deny part of the reality God has created when we were made in his image.”

From edallan: “There are umpteen examples in the Old Testament documenting, with approval, that marriage is between one man and a minimum of one woman. Although self-declared Christians often proclaim it, I am not aware of any passage that asserts that marriage is between only one man and one woman at a time. And, from the tenor of Rev. Pope’s article, he is fully in agreement with the view of the cafeteria Catholic bishops, all of whom have rejected any form of marriage for themselves, that in their view there are only two acceptable motivations for sex. One is treating women likely dairy cows. The other apparently acceptable motivation is sadly documented by the massive numbers of claims against dioceses after diocese in country after country, not infrequently involving the same clergymen. Perhaps when/if Cardinal Law returns to the U.S. from his promotion and impending honorable retirement, a more illuminating discussion can take place. ”

From jdavis115: “And yet the catholic church makes no effort to outlaw pre-marital sex, adultery or divorce, all strongly prohibited in the Bible. Their fidelity to the Bible appears to blossom only when same-sex couples are involved! Instead of making only gay people conform to biblical marriage instructions, why not make straight people conform, too?

” Or maybe it’s just easier to attack an already disliked minority. In insisting that people vote on this issue, the Catholics and Mormons (especially) have thrown in their lot with the homophobes and straight supremacists to create an unholy alliance of a voting block bent on marginalizing gays and lesbians. It would be impossible to pass all these state marriage amendments without appealing to homophobia and straight supremacy. I can’t begin to imagine what God in Heaven thinks of this particular hatefest extravaganza!”

From marshalphilips: “It’s quite a stretch, in my view, that Jesus would endorse bishops and cardinals and popes and all that pomp, gold, worldly glory, princely titles, funny hats, and eye-glazing theological gobbledygook.  Contrast and compare the simple humble Jesus in his carpenters clothes with the jewelry, the royal purple and scarlet and the Vatican’s high and mighty temple to its organization. . . .”

From vypergts: “It’s completely laughable to argue that opposing same sex marriage is in the same spirit of Jesus’ message. Most all Christian faiths hold that Jesus’ message was one of love and inclusion. To suggest that some types of love should be recognized over others in the name of Jesus is intellectually dishonest at best and blasphemous at worse. The Catholic church is selectively using a narrow interpretation of scripture over the broader message of the New Testament and THAT is why they are out of touch and wrong on this issue and many others, particularly those concerning treatment of women.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry