For International Women’s Day, Sr. Jeannine Gramick on the Difficult Details of Church Reform

Today is International Women’s Day. Catholics believe that people are equal in dignity, and that no one should be discriminated against or harmed. These are principles on which all in the Church can agree. But how these principles are lived out concretely is a trickier issue, as the movements for equality in the church for women and LGBT communities have made clear.

Sister Jeannine Gramick
Sister Jeannine Gramick

New Ways Ministry’s Sr. Jeannine Gramick, SL, explored this challenge in a recent essay for The National Catholic Reporter’s Global Sisters Report.  She reported on her experiences at an international church reform gathering last fall in Chicago. Sr. Jeannine linked the two movements, saying lessons from efforts to ensure women’s equality can readily inform efforts for LGBT equality.

The gathering in Chicago included priests’ groups and lay organizations from about a dozen nations. She explained that the representatives have had difficulty agreeing on liturgical worship that would be consistent with the values expressed and comfortable for all attendees, The issue of women’s liturgical leadership became a sticking point. Gramick commented:

“Did [the debate about liturgy] have any implications for my particular ministry for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people? The group had easily adopted a resolution ‘to stand against violence in all its forms — physical, emotional, spiritual and temporal — toward LGBT people’ and to ‘encourage the Church’s leaders and individual members to make the same commitment.’ There were some minimal questions about this resolution but not the angst felt in discussing women’s liturgical participation.

“Was equality for women a thornier issue than equality for LGBT people? No, not really. The LGBT resolution was expressed in general terms of equality, without specific actions. The group had also called for, and agreed upon, progress on full equality for women in the church; but the proposal about women, like the one about LGBT people, was broad and did not include particular examples of equality.”

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Participants at the Chicago church reform gathering in fall 2016

Gramick acknowledged “people of good will can agree on general principles, but it is in specific applications that the rubber meets the road,” thus the challenges at the gathering of church reformers. She continued:

“At the next international conference of priests and reform organizations in 2018, when we discuss concrete actions that affirm the dignity and rights of LGBT people, I need to be prepared for similar resistance, hesitations, and concerns when these human rights and civil liberties are spelled out. . .

“I need to be patient because movement on issues requires time. Just as some who had opposed the proposition in Limerick had moved in their thinking about women’s liturgical role a year and a half later, there will be more movements in the future. I am pondering the words of Ecclesiastes 3:11: ‘God has made everything appropriate to its time.'”

It goes without saying that transforming doctrine and ecclesial practices about gender and sexuality is work that is almost immediately problematized. An event at the Vatican today for International Women’s Day illustrates this difficulty.  The Voices of Faith gathering, an annual meeting of Catholic women from across the globe, will find participants sharing their stories around the general theme of uplifting women’s dignity and human rights. But the question of women’s ordination will not be discussed, and, in previous years, speakers have explicitly rejected ordination equality. And there are no openly lesbian, queer, or trans women speaking, despite the urgent need for such voices to be heard in our church.

Equality for women and for LGBT people in the church is, to a certain extent, a unified cause. Bondings 2.0’s Editor Francis DeBernardo, explored this point in a post this past January. The participants from each movement can learn from one another, and support one another, too. Gramick concluded her piece on such lessons with these words:

“I am convinced that, as a church, we agree on the big picture. Each one of us may have specific ideas about the details in the painting: the colors to be used, the shape of objects, or the size of the canvas, but on the whole work of art we see eye-to-eye. As members of the church, we are united in our faith and belief in Christ and in our desire to follow the greatest commandment: to love God and our neighbor as ourselves.”

Let us then reflect this International Women’s Day on the ways we, as Catholic advocates for LGBT people, can be informed by and contribute to the movement for women’s equality in the church.

What do you think? Is Sr. Jeannine’s assessment correct? What lessons have you learned from other social justice movements that help LGBT equality? How can LGBT and ally communities contribute to women’s equality in the church? Leave your thoughts and suggestions in the ‘Comments’ section below. 

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, March 7, 2017

‘Known Lesbian’ Reaches Out to Cardinal Without LGBT Friends

In mid-April, Bondings 2.0 reported on a South African cardinal who claimed to know of no LGBT individuals personally, and thus rejected any claims he could be homophobic. Now, a self-ascribed “known lesbian” has written to Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier to challenge his statements, and, in between, presents a novel argument for why Catholic prelates fight so fiercely to deny LGBT equality.

Melanie Judge’s piece was published in the Mail & Guardian, a leading African paper, under the title, “Hi, Cardinal Napier. I’m lesbian.” She begins by questioning the cardinal’s involvement on issues of sexuality if he knows of no LGBT individuals:

“For someone who doesn’t know any homosexuals, you’ve spent a considerable amount of time concerning yourself with the lives of lesbian and gay people – specifically our rights to equality and protection under the law.

“If you don’t know us, and then by implication there aren’t any of us in your church, it seems queer that you would assume such an active position in denying us our right to rights.”

Ms. Judge is not content to say that Napier is simply anti-gay.   Instead, she believes his staunch opposition to South African legislation that would legalize civil unions is merely an attempt to preserve his power, and the power of the Catholic Church, that

“…entrenches a version of social relations and human sexuality based on male supremacy, the subordination of women, and the abjection of homosexuality….Perhaps your investment in the lives of sinful others is driven by an interest in protecting that power and the ideology that props it up. If so, I can understand why you’d rail against gays, lesbians and women who challenge your ideology.”

She continues by shedding light on Napier’s attempt to make LGBT people invisible, which contradicts the Church’s call to acknowledge, welcome, and include LGBT people:

“As you would know, a powerful way to neutralise nonconforming people whose very existence challenges your church’s prescription for human interaction is to make them invisible. To deny the very existence of gay and lesbian people is to render them unknowable and unseeable. Excluding people in this way sends a message to lesbian and gay people in your church (many of whom I know and see, and I’m not even Catholic) that they will be not be acknowledged by your leadership. To deny recognition is to deny human dignity, a strategy at the heart of homophobia.”

Ms. Judge’s comments examine the desperate attempts by Catholic bishops to maintain their privilege in a society structured around heterosexual relationships and male dominance, adding the unique perspective of a South African to her critique of oppression:

“Sexuality and gender were heavily regulated and constrained under apartheid and colonialism. Women and queers ‘knew their place’ and ‘suffered’ quietly and invisibly. Now we see a burgeoning of sexual and gender diversity – it’s exciting stuff, Cardinal. It’s a sign of a plural and democratising society in which ­difference is no longer synonymous with dysfunction.

“Shunning difference and enforcing conformity is how the church has asserted its control over populations for centuries. But this unchecked grip on power has been slipping in the face of democratic pressures. I feel for you, Cardinal; it’s hard to compete with the divine prospect of freedom and equality…

“Queers and women are laying claim to the resources, recognition and representations of citizenship – both inside and outside the church. It’s the stuff of democracy and of human rights. Still, none so blind as those who will not see.”

Melanie Judge respectfully confronts Cardinal Napier for both the ignorance his statement contains and the the underlying causes driving his anti-LGBT efforts.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

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

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