As this morning’s post explained, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious’ (LCWR) recent meeting focused on the important topic of how to respond to the Vatican’s directive that their important decisions be overseen by the Archbishop Peter Sartain, who was appointed to this position by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).
The LCWR leadership released a statement in which they said they will continue respectful dialogue with the Vatican concerning the directive. In that statement, they reflected beautifully on the need for dialogue and respect for differences in our Church:
“We will continue in the conversation with Archbishop Sartain as an expression of hope that new ways may be created within the church for healthy discussion of differences. We know that thousands of persons throughout the country and around the world long for places where they can raise questions and explore ideas on matters of faith in an atmosphere of freedom and respect. We believe that the ongoing conversations between CDF and LCWR may model a way of relating that only deepens and strengthens our capacity to serve a world in desperate need of our care and service.”
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.
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!
The world synod on marriage and the family, scheduled at the Vatican in October 2014, has sparked a lively debate in church circles on issues concerning sexuality, gender, and relationships, with a number of bishops acknowledging that it is time for a frank discussion on these topics to happen.
Perhaps no call for such a dialogue has hit so close to home, so to speak, than the recent statement from the head of the Italian bishops’ conference in which he said:
“My wish for the Italian Church is that it is able to listen without any taboo to the arguments in favour of married priests, the Eucharist for the divorced, and homosexuality.”
Those are the words of Bishop Nunzio Galantino, of the Cassano all’Jonio diocese in southern Italy, quoted by the Italian newspaper, La Nazione, and reported in English by The Tablet. Galantino’s words take on an added significance because he was appointed head of the Italian bishops conference by Pope Francis himself.
Echoing Pope Francis’ sentiment from a September 2014 interview that church leaders had become too “obsessed” with abortion, Bishop Galantino added to his call for dialogue with:
“In the past we have concentrated too much on abortion and euthanasia. It mustn’t be this way because in the middle there’s real life which is constantly changing.”
Galantino was optimistic that the current pope offered the possibility of change in the areas of church teaching regarding sexuality and marriage. The bishop said:
“With Pope Francis the Italian Church has an extraordinary opportunity to reposition itself on spiritual moral and cultural beliefs.”
Not all are as optimistic as this Italian prelate though. Pope Francis’ recent off-hand comments on the topics of economics and on whether a divorced and remarried woman should be able to receive communion have come under scrutiny by some commentators who note the consternation that the pope’s casually dropped provocative statements can cause.
J. Peter Nixon, a blogger at dotCommonweal, reflected on how much weight and authority certain forms of papal communication actually have:
“So it has come to this. We are now debating the doctrinal authority of papal tweets and phone calls.
“As David Gibson reports, the latest controversy in papal communication was a three-word tweet in Latin–Iniquitas radix malorum–that has been translated into English as “inequality is the root of social evil.” This followed only days after the dust up over the pope’s phone call to a divorced and remarried woman where he allegedly encouraged her to receive communion.”
Nixon makes a good point when he says that our modern world focuses too much on papal pronouncements at the expense of the rest of the church:
The question that must be asked–particularly in light of Sunday’s canonizations–is whether this increasingly obsessive focus on the opinions, theology, spirituality and personal witness of the pope is a healthy thing for the Church. The purpose of authority in the Church is to form a community that can bring forth “a great cloud of witnesses,” not to place the burden of that witness on a single individual. The primary role of those authorities is to be coaches, referees and groundskeepers. All of us, however, have the responsibility of playing the “beautiful game” that is following Jesus Christ.
While I agree with him, I also think that Pope Francis needs to be more explicit and clear in his statements. I’ve said before that the pope’s ambiguity can cause problems, and that sooner or later he will need to be more direct about where he stands. In her National Catholic Reporter column, Jamie Manson highlighted Pope Francis’ ambiguity problem in regard to both the case of the Ugandan anti-gay law and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s (CDF) censure of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR). On Uganda, Manson points out:
“He [Pope Francis] took no action when Ugandan Archbishop Cyprian Lwanga publicly lauded the president of Uganda for passing an extreme anti-homosexuality law, a law that clearly violates the Catholic church’s teaching to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination.”
Her analysis of the many ways that his statements agree with the CDF about their charges against LCWR is too rich with detail to summarize here, and I recommend that you read her entire column.
During the synod this fall, many opinions are going to be bandied about by church leaders, theologians, pundits, and laity. Some reports have already shown that bishops seem open to the idea of debating church teaching on a number of topics, based on what they have learned from surveying their laity. Whether he tweets, makes a phone call, or gives an interview to the press, Pope Francis is going to have to be clear about what direction he wants to take our church on these important issues. I hope and pray that Bishop Galantino’s optimism about the possibility for change under Pope Francis is well-founded.
Michael O’Loughlin, who blogs at “Faith Fix” on the Religion News Service website, has recently instituted a new feature called “7 Questions,” in which he briefly interviews a prominent person on an item of importance.
This week, O’Loughlin has featured New Ways Ministry’s co-founder, Sister Jeannine Gramick. on LGBT ministry and advocacy in the Catholic church and the greater society. You can read the entire interview here, and I recommend that you do so. I’ve excerpted two of the questions and answers below to give you a flavor of the interview.
Sr. Jeannine Gramick, S.L., co-founded New Ways Ministry in 1977 to minister to gay and lesbian Catholics. Her work has been investigated by Vatican officials and was cited in the ongoing investigation of American nuns and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR). She was told by officials in Rome in 1999 to stop her work, but she refused, continuing to lead the Catholic organization and advocating for same-sex marriage and other LGBT issues in civil society and the Catholic Church.
O’LOUGHLIN: Catholic bishops in the US today are some of the most vocal opponents of same-sex marriage and other civil rights issues important to the LGBT community. Was there institutional support for your work early on?
GRAMICK: We were able at to gather institutional support from bishops. Now it was very quiet support, but let me give you some examples. The first time that the US bishops spoke about homosexuality was in their pastoral letter on moral values that they issued in 1976. There’s a paragraph on homosexuality, which was introduced by an auxiliary bishop in Baltimore whom we spoke with. We influenced him to bring this issue to the attention of the bishops. There’s a paragraph that says homosexuals, like everyone else, deserve compassion, justice, and should have active roles in the Christian community. There were some bishops who would invite us into their dioceses to give workshops, and they came to our workshops and commended us. In fact, when [New Ways Ministry’s co-founder] Fr. Robert Nugent and I were going through our inquisition with the Vatican, we had 20 bishops who wrote supportive letters. They were all bishops in the late 70s and into the 80s, but by the early 90s, the complexion of the US hierarchy began to change because of the appointments by Pope John Paul II.
O’LOUGHLIN: Some have said that with the leadership of Pope Francis, that the Catholic Church might be emerging from an anti-Vatican II mentally. What would this church look like?
GRAMICK: We would have pastoral bishops who look to the people, who not just consult the people, but bring the laity into the church’s decision-making. I think these pastoral bishops would have a more modern understanding of governance, that we don’t live in monarchies anymore, or even benevolent dictatorships, that we in the twenty-first century are looking for more democratic forms of governance. If they do that, we’re going to have a very different looking church. Because the polls show us that the laity, at least in the US, are very different from the views of the hierarchy, particularly in sexual matters, financial matters. The laity has a lot of experience that the bishops don’t have, and we have to draw on that experience.
“Pope Francis has backed a doctrinal report drawn up under his predecessor Benedict XVI that accuses the largest group of nuns in the United States of holding “radical feminist” views, the Vatican says.
“The new Pope has ‘reaffirmed the findings of the assessment and the program of reform’ for the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), which represents around 45,000 US nuns and is known for its social work, the Vatican said.
“The statement said the head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Ludwig Mueller, met with representatives of the LCWR in the Vatican on Monday in an attempt to smooth over differences.”
The National Catholic Reporter has a full story which gives the background of the case and more details about this latest development.
As we reported last year, the investigation focused on three topics: support for women’s ordination, support for LGBT issues, and questioning whether salvation exists outside the church. As far as LGBT issues goes, support for New Ways Ministry was specifically identified as a problem in the “Notification” document that was issued last April.
LCWR today issued the following statement in response to this news:
“On April 15, 2013 Sister Florence Deacon, OSF, LCWR president; Sister Carol Zinn, SSJ, LCWR president-elect; and Sister Janet Mock, CSJ, LCWR executive director; met with Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF); Archbishop Luis Ladaria, secretary of CDF; and other members of the CDF dicastery. Archbishop J. Peter Sartain was also present.
“The LCWR officers reviewed the activities of this past year since receiving the report of CDF’s doctrinal assessment of LCWR in April 2012.
“In his opening remarks, Archbishop Müller informed the group the he had met with Pope Francis who ‘reaffirmed the findings of the assessment and the program of reform for this Conference of Major Superiors.’ ”
“The conversation was open and frank. We pray that these conversations may bear fruit for the good of the Church.”
Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle had been appointed by the Vatican to oversee LCWR’s activities, but because of negotiations during the past year, no such oversight had begun.
New Ways Ministry asks you to join us in prayer for women religious in the United States and for the LCWR which is the national association for the leaders of women’s communities. We pray in gratitude for their service and witness, and we pray that they will be allowed to continue their ministry unimpeded.
A list of Bondings 2.0 blog posts about the history of the LCWR case can be found by clicking here.
Bondings 2.0 has reached a milestone today: this post is our 500th post!!!!!
To celebrate this little landmark, we thought we would provide a break from our usual serious material, and provide some humorous (though relevant) content.
Last week, on January 1st, The Washington Post‘s “Style” section printed it’s annual list of what is “Out” and what is “In,” an annual inventory of what is hot and what is not in American culture. Listed among the various fads, TV characters, celebrities, and the latest political lingo was this one little item of Catholic interest:
This note obviously refers to the many stories during 2012, when it was proven time and again that Catholic respect for nuns has been on the increase. This respect is due in no small part to the fact that many nuns view LGBT issues primarily as justice issues. In 2012, nuns’ support of LGBT issues contributed to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious’ (LCWR) run-in with the Vatican. Back in April and May of 2012, when the LCWR story was front-page news, the following cartoon ran in many papers and was circulated widely on Facebook and the internet:
We hope these items lightened your day a bit!
–Francis DeBernardo and Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry
As the year 2012 winds to a close, it’s time to review the news of the Catholic LGBT world of the past 12 months. In today’s post, we will look at the stories of the worst happenings of the past year, and in tomorrow’s post, we will look at the best stories. Bondings 2.0 asked you for your feedback on what the worst and best news stories of the past year were, so the ranking of these stories is based on your responses. The percentage following each story is the percentage of people who chose this item as one of their top five. Thank you to all 311 of you who participated.
The Top Ten
1. The Parliament in Uganda, a pre-dominantly Catholic nation, re-introduces a bill to make the death penalty a possible sentence for lesbian and gay people. 16.34%
3. Pope Benedict opens the year by stating that new models of family are a threat to “human dignity and the future of humanity.” 14.05%
4. The Knights of Columbus have contributed $6.5 million to oppose marriage equality over the past seven years, according to an Equally Blessed report. 12.09%
5. A Catholic lesbian woman in Maryland is denied communion at her mother’s funeral Mass. 10.13%
6. The Vatican censures Sister Margaret Farley, a theologian who has supported the moral goodness of gay and lesbian relationships. 6.86%
7. U.S. bishops attempt to make religious liberty an issue as a way to defeat marriage equality initiatives. 6.54%
8. Minnesota teen is denied confirmation for supporting marriage equality. 4.9%
9 & 10. TIE: The Catholic University of America again denies a request for recognition of a gay-straight alliance on campus. 2.29% Several Catholic church employees are fired because of their support of marriage equality. 2.29%