Father Martin’s Viral Facebook Post on ‘So Much Hatred From So Many Catholics’

July 1, 2015

Perhaps the biggest Catholic post-Supreme Court decision news is not what Catholic bishops have been saying, but a social media controversy that has focused on Jesuit Father James Martin’s Facebook page.

Father James Martin, SJ

David Gibson, on his blog at Religion News Service, reported on the issue which is causing millions–yes, millions–of people to flock to the Facebook page of the popular Jesuit author and speaker.

The “offending” post which is causing the controversy, was put up by Fr. Martin just before 3:00 pm on June 26th, the day that the U.S. Supreme Court legalized marriage equality nationwide. In the post, Fr. Martin said:

“No issue brings out so much hatred from so many Catholics as homosexuality.”

“Even after over 25 years as a Jesuit, the level of hatred around homosexuality is nearly unbelievable to me, especially when I think of all of the wonderful LGBT friends I have.”

Earlier in the day, Martin had made three posts about the Supreme Court ruling.  The first was a post announcing the decision.  The second was the response to the decision from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).  The third was the response of New Ways Ministry.   For each of the posts, he added the following prefatory guidelines to his followers who would want to comment on them:

“No ad hominem. No uncharitable remarks. No homophobic remarks. Mo more than one or two posts per person. And Catholics who disagree with the Supreme Court decision must treat gays with ‘respect, compassion and sensitivity,’ as the Catechism asks.”

In both the USCCB post and the New Ways Ministry post, he provided links so that his readers could, if they wanted, easily see both points of view.

Later in the day, probably due to many negative comments he received, Fr. Martin posted the message, quoted above, about how homosexuality brings out an immense amount of hatred.

The statistics for each of these posts tell an interesting story:

  • Announcing court’s decision: 9.603 Likes; 746 Shares; 1,088 Comments
  • USCCB reaction: 1,662 Likes; 215 Shares; 535 Comments
  • New Ways Ministry reaction: 6,635 Likes; 881 Shares; 879 Comments
  • Martin’s 3:00 pm post on negativity: 402,328 Likes; 141,108; Shares; 18,229 Comments

[Facebook statistics are from late in the evening on June 30, 2015]

Gibson reports that the result of all that sharing of the 3:00 pm post, already over 28 million people have viewed it.

The rest of Martin’s 3:00 pm post reads like a sermon:

“The Catholic church must do a much better job of teaching what the Catechism says: that we should treat our LGBT brothers and sisters with ‘respect, sensitivity and compassion.’

“But God wants more. God wants us to love. And not a twisted, crabbed, narrow tolerance, which often comes in the guise of condemnations, instructions and admonitions that try to masquerade as love, but actual love.

“Love means: getting to know LGBT men and women, spending time with them, listening to them, being challenged by them, hoping the best for them, and wanting them to be a part of your lives, every bit as much as straight friends are part of your lives.

“Love first. Everything else later. In fact, everything else is meaningless without love.”

Fr. Martin has taken the venom spewed towards him in stride, it seems.  At about 10:00 pm on the same day, he posted his reaction to the immense negative response he received.  He offered screen shots of three of the attacks on him, and then humorously commented:

“Dear erstwhile ‘friends,’

“If you are currently composing a Facebook message to describe how much you disapprove of me–like these from three separate Catholics–wouldn’t it be better simply to hit the ‘Unfollow’ key? Not that I don’t enjoy such notes, including the frequently amusing misspellings and delightfully creative grammatical mistakes. But it would save us both a lot of time.

“Many thanks!

“Your pal,
James Martin, SJ,
or as one of you styled me,
‘Father’ James Martin, SJ”

Martin, who posts on a wide variety of church, social, and cultural issues, was not daunted by the criticism.  Since this controversy, he has already posted twice more on the Supreme Court decision. Martin is one of the most popular Catholic commentators on Facebook, with over 277,000 followers.

I think there are three lessons in this story.  The first lesson is that this Facebook incident illustrates both how passionate Catholics–on both sides of the issue–are about the Supreme Court’s decision. While the strong majority of U.S. Catholics support marriage equality, there are still many who are equally strongly opposed to it. These groups need to be reconciled to one another.

The second lesson is the need for civil discourse as Catholics continue to discuss this topic.  The Supreme Court decision resolved the legal and political questions of same-gender marriage.  The moral and religious questions will continue.  It will be imperative for both sides of the debate to treat one another respectfully, as a number of U.S. bishops have pointed out in their reaction statements.

The third lesson is that the negative reaction to Father Martin’s post shows how poorly educated Catholics are on the basics of church teaching about accepting gay and lesbian people with “respect, compassion, and sensitivity.”  Connected with this teaching, and equally as poorly taught by bishops and leaders, is honoring the human dignity of gay and lesbian people. Father Martin pointed out the reality of this deficiency in his post.   Much more teaching about how the Catholic social justice tradition applies to gender and sexual minorities is greatly needed.  Now, more than ever.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related post:

Queering The Church: “Catholic Responses to Homosexuality:  Hatred or Simple Disagreement?”


Reflecting on the Papal Audience with LGBT Catholics

February 27, 2015

Now that New Ways Ministry pilgrims are back in the United States, and now that the dust is settling from our exciting journey to Italy which included prime reserved seating at the papal audience in St. Peter’s Square on Ash Wednesday, it seems a good time to reflect on the the experience.  And while we’re reflecting, you might want to see a clip of our group singing the hymn “All Are Welcome” to the pope on that day.  Just click on the following video:

As for relfection, I think I can speak for my fellow pilgrims when I say that the trip and the Pope Francis experience can be summed up in one word:


The news stories of our special seats went literally around the globe, appearing in news outlets in Poland, Argentina, Germany, United Kingdom, Malaysia, Ireland, Australia, Spain. And those are only the stories that we have been able to track.

I think our pilgrimage participants were more surprised than anyone that the story received so much attention.  We certainly didn’t feel special, and we certainly didn’t feel we deserved such attention. While it was certainly an honor to be seated so close to Pope Francis, in seats reserved for VIPs, we hadn’t realized that this would be the case until the very moment when we were ushered to our section. We didn’t really have much time to anticipate and prepare for the experience.

We knew that Archbishop Georg Ganswein, prefect of the papal household, had reserved seats for us, but the letter that he sent to Sister Jeannine Gramick gave no indication that these were special seats, or even where they were located.

Indeed, our first interpretation of Ganswein’s response to Sister Jeannine’s letter seemed to be something of a “consolation prize.”   She had not requested special seating:  she had requested that Pope Francis meet with our pilgrimage group of LGBT Catholics and supporters.  We assumed that Ganswein was giving us a polite dismissal, not a place of distinction.

Ganswein had met Sister Jeannine back in 2003 when she visited the Vatican, and gave him a copy of the Italian edition of her book, Building Bridges: Gay and Lesbian Reality and the Catholic Church, in order to present it to Cardinal Ratzinger.  The English edition had been a major focus of the Vatican’s investigation of Sister Jeannine and her co-author, Father Robert Nugent, which had taken place in the 1990s.  Ganswein is well aware of the controversy, and knows of the history that New Ways Ministry has had with the Vatican.  These past events did not prevent him from welcoming our group to the preferred seating section.  It is like the cloud of suspicion surrounding Sister Jeannine and New Ways Ministry is not as thick or as suffocating as it used to be.

One wrinkle in this experience was the way our group was named among those attending the audience.   The list did not mention that we were from the LGBT community, though Sr. Jeannine had made that explicit in her letter.   There was some disappointment about this fact, but most of the pilgrims took it in stride.

Part of their willingness to forgive this error arose from the treatment we received on our past two pilgrimages to Rome. Under the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, our presence was not acknowledged at all.  While our LGBT status was not recognized publicly, this LGBT group was not shunned.  Indeed, it was given a place of honor.

Still, I think that this incident of not being named is in a way symbolic of the way that Pope Francis is approaching LGBT issues.  He is willing to go to a certain point, but he is not yet willing to go all the way.  For some people that approach is cowardly.  For others, it might seem political.  I tend to view it as a step forward.

Part of the step forward means that it is a great improvement over the previous two papacies.  Their approach to LGBT issues seemed to be avoidance, opposition, and silencing.  Pope Francis’ approach seems to be engagement, welcome, and discussion.   Those are important changes.

But Pope Francis, for all his welcome, has not fully embraced LGBT issues.  He has opposed marriage equality and adoption rights for lesbian and gay couples.  He has promoted the concept of  gender complementarity as a requisite for marriage.  Most recently, he attacked “gender theory,” a term to describe anything that does not fit traditional gender roles, as being akin to nuclear war.

On the other hand, it seems he may be open to civil unions.  He has opened wide the discussion in the Church on marriage and family issues by his management of the synod process and his call for bishops to consult the laity on these matters.  He has called for church leaders to seek out the marginalized and to provide a welcome to all, especially those the Church has traditionally ignored.

In other words, his record, so far, is a mixed bag.

As Sister Jeannine and I told many reporters after the audience, Pope Francis has taken some very important steps in the right direction, but the church hierarchy still needs to take many more steps in order to achieve justice and equality for LGBT people.  It must speak out against repressive laws around the globe against LGBT people.  It must condemn violence directed towards them.  It must stop firing LGBT church workers and volunteers.  It must speak out for equal treatment before the law.

When we were asked, “What more could Pope Francis be doing?” our answer was simple:  there must be more dialogue with LGBT people and family members.  We suggested that the upcoming synod and World Meeting of Families would be excellent opportunities for such dialogue, and we recommended that the pope and his team invite members of the LGBT Catholic community to speak publicly at those events about their lives, faith, and love.

Recognition of our group at this papal audience was another step in the process of LGBT inclusion in the Church.  Our hope is that the Vatican’s action will inspire national and local church leaders to follow their example.

The papal audience is all about gestures and symbols. While it was an honor for New Ways Ministry’s pilgrimage group to be recognized at the audience, we are keenly aware that this honor was not for the 49 of us alone.  It was a welcome and recognition that extends to all LGBT Catholics and allies who have worked so hard for so long for some kind of official acknowledgment.  As we prayed while sitting near the doors of St. Peter’s Basilica and just a few yards from Pope Francis, we prayed in thanksgiving for all of you who have been transforming our Church, and which helped bring it to this moment.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Will Pope Francis Meet With Sister Jeannine Gramick and LGBT Catholics?

January 26, 2015
Pope Francis

Pope Francis

Since becoming pope in March 2013, one of Pope Francis’ most endearing habits has been making phone calls or writing notes to ordinary people, and even sometimes meeting with them in a personal encounter.

Sister Jeannine Gramick

Sister Jeannine Gramick

So, is it too much to hope that he might meet with friends of New Ways Ministry when Sister Jeannine Gramick, co-founder, leads a pilgrimage of LGBT and ally Catholics to Rome in February?

Well,  knowing from first-hand experience that stranger things have definitely happened,  and that God truly does move in mysterious ways, Sister Jeannine has written to Pope Francis asking him if he had some time in his busy papal schedule to meet with these 50 people who are traveling to Italy to visit shrines, churches, and monuments in not only the Eternal City, but Florence, and Assisi, as well.

In her December 23, 2014, letter to the pontiff, Sr. Jeannine wrote, in part:

“I am one of your multi-billion+ fans! On my computer is a round decal with your picture and the words, ‘This Pope gives me hope!’  On my car is a bumper sticker that says, ‘I ♥ Pope Francis.’ . . .

“In February, I will be leading a pilgrimage to Rome, Assisi, and Florence for 50 Catholics, who are lesbian/gay or are parents, family members or friends of lesbian/gay Catholics. They are so very heartened by your words of mercy and welcome. They believe, as you say, that receiving the Body and Blood of Christ is spiritual nourishment that we need to grow in our love-relationship with God, not a prize to be awarded those who are worthy.

“We will be in Rome from February 17 to February 20 and plan to attend your general audience on Ash Wednesday. The pilgrims would like to meet personally with you for a few minutes, either after your general audience, or at another time at your convenience.

“Would it be possible for you to meet personally with these faith-filled Catholics who have felt too long excluded from their Church?”

Back in the 1990s, when on a flight from Rome to Munich to pray at the tomb of her religious congregation’s foundress, Sister Jeannine serendipitously ended up on the same flight as then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI), who at the time was directing an investigation of Sister Jeannine’s ministry with lesbian and gay people. The two shared a delightful conversation, and Sister Jeannine has stated that it helped her see the human side of a man whom many considered to be her greatest adversary.  Indeed, on his part, Cardinal Ratzinger acknowledged several times during their talk that this chance meeting had to be the work of Providence.

So, who knows how Pope Francis will respond?  As everyone knows, he has already made several important statements and gestures in regard to greater Catholic openness towards LGBT people, including writing a personal note to Kairos, a Catholic LGBT group in Florence, Italy.

And just yesterday, a Spanish-language news report announced that it seems Pope Francis recently met with a transgender man and his fiancee from Spain in a private audience at the Vatican. The story reports that Diego Neria Lejárraga wrote to the pontiff a month ago describing the ill-treatment he received from fellow parishioners. Bondings 2.0 will provide more details as the story emerges.

The members of Sister Jeannine’s pilgrimage will be meeting with members of Kairos when they visit that beautiful Renaissance city.  Five years ago, she brought another group of pilgrims to Florence and established a friendly relationship with the Kairos leaders and members.

This year, the American group will also be meeting with members of Nuova Proposta, a Catholic LGBT group in Rome, and Sister Jeannine will be giving a talk to the Italian members.

The 10-day pilgrimage coincides with a similar journey being made by LGBT Catholics from Westminister in London, England, under the leadership of longtime pastoral advocate, Martin Pendergast.  The British pilgrims and American pilgrims will meet several times for liturgy and socializing.

Because Sister Jeannine’s pilgrimage group is visiting both Rome and Assisi, and since the present pope has often alluded to St. Francis of Assisi, the pilgrimage is entitled “Rebuild My Church:  St. Francis and Pope Francis.”  In addition to visiting and praying at holy sites and meeting with Catholic LGBT Italians, the pilgrims will also reflect on the ways that they can rebuild the church in their local communities.

Please keep Sister Jeannine and all the pilgrims in your prayers during February.  Bondings 2.0  will update you on any special events that happen during the trip.  And, if Pope Francis does grant the pilgrims a private audience, you will read it here first!  Stay tuned!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry





SURVEY 2014: Who Are You? What Do You Like?

December 4, 2014

It has become our tradition here at Bondings 2.0 to mark our blog’s annual anniversary in three different ways.  First, we note the changes and successes for the blog that we have witnessed in our anniversary day blog post. Second, we invite you to consider making a financial contribution to the blog’s viability.   Third, we like to gather from you, our readers, some information about who you are, what you like and don’t like about the blog, and how we can improve this medium as a source of information, opinion, advocacy, and community.

Today, we ask you to consider taking a moment to help us with this last task by filling out a very short survey form which you can access by clicking here. The survey should take less than five minutes to complete, and it is anonymous and confidential.

The survey will give us a better idea of how you access and use the blog, what you like about it, and what you would like to see us do differently.Your answers will help us as we plan and prepare posts for the coming weeks, months, and year ahead.

Thank you for your interest and support of this Catholic LGBT blog, and thank you in advance for providing us with information to make reading the blog a better experience for you.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Ten Years Later: Sister Jeannine and Her Documentary Keep Marching On

November 12, 2014

It’s hard to believe that it has been over ten years since In Good Conscience:  Sister Jeannine Gramick’s Journey of Faith, a documentary chronicling the life and ministry of New Ways Ministry’s co-founder, was released and met with applause, ovations, and awards at film festivals around the world.   And what a decade it has been!  Marriage equality is rapidly becoming the norm in the United States and in many parts of the globe, a new pope is in the Vatican, and Catholics in growing numbers are standing up for justice and equality for LGBT people.

TEN YEARS AGO: Sister Jeannine Gramick and Barbara Rick

To mark this anniversary, there will be a special screening of the inspiring film on Saturday, November 15th in New York City, as part of Believe Out Loud’s Level Ground film festival. (You can purchase tickets by clicking here.)  Both Sister Jeannine and Barbara Rick of Out of The Blue Films, who produced and directed the documentary, will be available for a Q and A session after the film.

Another way that the anniversary is being observed is that Out of The Blue Films is releasing a special tenth anniversary edition which brings viewers up to date with some of the remarkable things that have been happening in the church and the world.  And most importantly, the new version shows that Sister Jeannine is still actively ministering with LGBT people, continuing to resist the Vatican’s 15-year old order that she end such work.

The National Catholic Reporter’s  Jamie Manson interviewed Rick recently to discuss the impact of the film and a need for an update of it.  Rick explained what motivated her to undertake the project in the first place:

“I stumbled across something in The New York Times about an American nun who was refusing to be silent over her ministry to gay and lesbian Catholics. I remember just sitting up as straight as can be in my chair. I was like, ‘Oh my God, she is really doing something powerful.’

“This is a woman who is doing something revolutionary by refusing to be silenced by the patriarchal hierarchy of the Vatican. That just resonated very deeply with me: a woman standing up without fear (or in spite of fear) and saying, ‘I refuse to collaborate on my own oppression.’ That just hit such a deep chord in me.”

Rick reflects on what she learned about Sister Jeannine as she made the film:

“Her ability to speak truth to power and to deal with her enemies who outrank her really sets her apart. I’m so impressed by her persistence and her humor, her love for humanity, her dogged nature. She’s just determined. She just doesn’t give up. I really think she is a prophet. She has been fighting the way forward many decades. She was inspired by her friend Dominic, who asked, ‘Sister, what is the Catholic church doing for my gay brothers and sisters?’ That is the question that has hounded her for whole life.”

The filmmaker also commented on why she thinks Sister Jeannine’s story is so compelling:

“I think she was a part of this transformation that has happened in the treatment of gay and lesbian Catholics and gay and lesbian people throughout the world. She is part of the realization that all people are deserving of love, rights, respect and marriage. There was no talk of same-sex marriage 10 years ago. It’s very powerful to see how much the world has changed. I like to think that this film had a very tiny part to play in all that. The world was in the process in of changing, and we were documenting a little piece of that change. It’s one of the reasons that we wanted to revisit the film.”

Rick says the new film will be shorter and more effective, while also updating some of the content to reflect the changes that have occurred in the world and the church.  The producer is still trying to raise funds to finish the new edition.  To find out more about the new version and to make a donation to its production, visit the film’s website by clicking here.

If you would like to order a copy of the original film, you can do so by visiting New Ways Ministry’s online bookstore, and clicking on the button below the In Good Conscience icon.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


“If Nuns Ruled the World”–And Ran the Catholic Church

September 3, 2014

The title of a new book posits a hypothetical that would be intriguing to answer: If Nuns Ruled the World.  Even most of us who may may have feared nuns as youngsters have since grown to respect, admire, and love the dedication and commitment that these woman have made to the church and the world.  Even though they don’t “rule the world,” they have done so much good and changed so many lives and communities for the much better.

Sister Jeannine Gramick

Sister Jeannine Gramick

Author Jo Piazza interviewed ten Sisters for the book and devoted a chapter to each one’s life and ministry.  On The Huffington Post, she excerpted one chapter of that book into a a brief essay, and fortunately for Bondings 2.0 readers, that chapter was the one about New Ways Ministry’s co-founder, Sister Jeannine Gramick.

I’ll give a brief synopsis of that essay in this post, but if you want to read it in its entirety, you can click here.   Of course, if you want to read the whole chapter and the whole book, you can buy If Nuns Ruled the World:  Ten Sisters on a Mission (Open Road, September 2014) from your favorite bookseller.

The essay, entitled “A Catholic Nun Spent Her Life Fighting for LGBT Rights, Even Against Vatican Wishes” starts at the very beginning of Sister Jeannine’s ministry, back in 1971:

“How could Sister Jeannine Gramick have known that meeting a handsome gay stranger named Dominic at a house party on Spruce Street in West Philadelphia would completely change the course of her life?

“Dominic strode up to her. He was a baptized gay man who had left the Catholic Church because a priest told him that he was going to hell. He wasn’t alone. Most of his circle of gay friends hadn’t set foot in a church for years for the same reason.

“Dominic’s story made the young nun squirm. She knew there was a profound stigma against homosexuality, especially in conservative Philadelphia, but she despised the idea that the Church would exclude anyone for something so inconsequential. Dominic asked Sister Jeannine if she would be willing to host a home liturgy for him and his buddies, telling her he missed his faith and the Church. Anxious to help, to do something to heal his wounds, she agreed. . . .

“That was the beginning of Sister Jeannine’s fight for equality for gays and lesbians within the Catholic Church. Since 1977 she has been running New Ways Ministry, an organization that fights for equal rights.”

Sister Jeannine recognizes that she was encouraged in this ministry because other nuns, her community superiors, were forward-thinking women who saw this work as the work of God:

” ‘When we first began, my role was tenuous,’ Sister Jeannine told me. ‘No one in the Catholic community had been assigned to gay ministry before. It wasn’t even a thing. People were anxious about any sexual issues, much less homosexual ones. Those superiors were women of vision. They stood by me.’ “

As many know, however, not all church leaders approved of Sister Jeannine’s outreach.  Several investigations began, culminating in one led by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.  The result of that investigation would bind Sister Jeannine even more closely to the LGBT community:

“In May of 1988 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), then headed by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, who would later become Pope Benedict XVI, ordered the nun to sign a “Profession of Faith,” declaring that she agreed with the Church’s official stance on homosexuality.

“Her community stood strong in support of her and her work, but they could not go against the Vatican’s final decree.

” ‘I felt that what was being asked of me was unjust … that lesbian and gay people are so marginalized in the Church that they need an advocate,’ Sister Jeannine said. ‘They need someone connected to the Church institution to speak on their behalf, and I felt that God was telling me, “There is still work that you need to do here.” ‘

“Sister Jeannine didn’t want to cause them needless pain or to draw more of the Vatican’s ire toward them, so she left them and moved to a new order — the Sisters of Loretto.

“Being an outcast of the Church hierarchy has helped Sister Jeannine relate even more to the people she serves.”

So despite attempts to silence her, Sister Jeannine continues her ministry of building bridges of justice and reconciliation between the LGBT community and the Catholic Church.  Of the Vatican’s attempt to end her ministry, she states:

“I don’t like people to say I was silenced. The Vatican tried to silence me and it just didn’t work.”

What Sister Jeannine knew is that fear and intimidation only work when people agree to submit to those tactics.  We give thanks to God that Jeannine stood firm.

Of course, as Sister Jeannine would say, the work of LGBT equality is the work of everyone, not just one person.  Who knows what happenstance conversations are occurring today like the one she and Dominic had over 40 years ago which changed her life and changed the direction of LGBT issues in the Catholic Church.  It’s up to everyone to take seriously the small calls from God that happen in our lives, and respond to them passionately and whole-heartedly.  Like Sister Jeannine did.  Like all nuns continue to do.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

Bondings 2.0: Under the Vatican’s Dark Cloud, Nuns Continue to Suppport LGBT People

New York Times: “Sister Acts”

Time: The Great Nunquisition: Why the Vatican Is Cracking Down on Sisters”



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


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