“Those who came to the Chicago symposium brought with them both ‘hope and frustration,’ Massingale said: hope that more understanding and acceptance of gays and lesbians was on its way into the church and frustration because that time has not yet arrived.
“The priest, who left Marquette last year to teach theology at Fordham University, pointed to a new tone in the church toward gays, a tone he characterized as ‘cautious, tentative, tense, at times ambiguous and contradictory, and yet nevertheless real.'”
Massingale affirmed that beneath the rhetorical shifts, there is genuine doctrinal development happening. Church officials’ “hesitant, resistant and even hostile stance” to LGBT rights comes from their fear that legal protections would lead to approval of sexual behavior they deem immoral. Their deeper fear is the impact such acceptance would have on youth. NCR reported:
“The situation leaves the church in an often contradictory corridor or ‘open closet,’ Massingale said, one in which gays ‘are to be accepted sensitively and compassionately, as long as there is little or no public acknowledgment of their sexual identity, “lifestyle” or “culture.”‘. . .
“Massingale, a priest of the Milwaukee archdiocese, shared a note he had received in 2002 from Rembert Weakland, who earlier that year had resigned as archbishop of Milwaukee after a man he’d had an affair with two decades earlier and he had paid to $450,000 to keep it quiet made the relationship public. Weakland wrote: ‘On the gay issue, the level of fears is so high that the official teaching of the church skates so very close to the edge of a new ‘theology of contempt.'”
Against the “open closet” and Magisterium’s troubled approach to lesbian and gay people, Massingale said Pope Francis was focusing on LGBT people’s personhood, not their sexual conduct. Massingale added his own commentary, saying, “[LGBT people] are equally redeemed by Christ and radically loved by God.”
As an ethicist, Massingale affirmed the right LGBT people have to participate fully in society in and the church, and the necessity for the Magisterium to extend its existing support for human rights to include LGBT communities:
“To insist on private acceptance and compassion for LGBT persons – that is, saying “I love the sinner” – without a commitment to defending LGBT human rights and creating a society of equal justice for all, is not only contradictory; it is inherently incomprehensible and ultimately unsustainable.”
A vibrant question and answer period followed Massingale’s address, during which he shared a story from his own life. After the U.S. bishops released “Always Our Children,” he called his mother. She asked Massingale for his thoughts on the document, and he replied by asking her what she thought, as it was addressed to her. She answered quickly, “I don’t need permission to love my child.”
Massingale closed with a powerful call for LGBT Catholics and their families to keep working for equality:
“Refuse the refusal. Refuse to be silenced. Continue to speak our truth even when we know it’s not going to be welcome.”
Fr. Massingale has himself been increasingly outspoken for LGBT inclusion and human rights. While at Marquette University, he celebrated monthly Masses for members of the LGBTQ communities on campus because, he says, it is important they “have a Mass where they feel welcome and that God does love them.” He challenged Pax Christi USA members at their 2013 annual conference to increase the organization’s defense of LGBT rights, as both a human rights concern and a necessary part of attracting younger Catholics. Massingale alsojoined other Catholic theologiansand officials in condemning proposed anti-gay legislation in Uganda. Most recently, he has said the church cannot abandon transgender Catholics.
While most people in the United States were enjoying turkey with all the trimmings last Thanksgiving Day, New Ways Ministry’s co-founder, Sister Jeannine Gramick, was feasting instead on pierogi (dumplings), golabki (stuffed cabbage leaves), kapusta (sauerkraut), and babka (bread). Far from flouting custom, she was honoring tradition and her ancestral roots by spending Thanksgiving Day in Poland.
She was invited for a week-long speaking tour about Catholic LGBT issues, sponsored by the country’s leading LGBT equality organization, “Campaign Against Homophobia,” and its main Christian groups, “Faith and Rainbow” and “Tolerado.” She gave three public presentations, 14 interviews with radio, TV, or print journalists, a retreat for LGBT Christians, and spoke personally with countless individual Poles, including the Secretary General of Poland’s organization for nuns’ communities.
Traveling to Poland’s three leading cities–Warsaw, Krakow, and Gdansk–Sister Jeannine spread the message that she has been spreading for over 45 years: God has unconditional love for LGBT people and it is the church’s job to make that love real by working for justice and equality.
In the homeland of Pope John Paul II, journalists naturally questioned Gramick about her opinions on both the former pope and his current successor. Initially, she said, she had great enthusiasm for John Paul when he was elected. She felt great pride because of her own Polish heritage, but that quickly dissipated. While he called for justice in the secular arena, he was adamantly opposed to any discussion of injustice within the church’s walls. Moreover, she disagreed with John Paul’s views about sexuality, expressed in his talks on the “Theology of the Body,” stating that his notions about gender complementarity made no sense at all to women.
Concerning Pope Francis, she is more optimistic. In an interview with Queer.pl, she said,
“I think his emphasis is in the right place. He is emphasizing the heart, not the head. He speaks often about dialogue and getting to know LGBT people, even though he maintains that he will not change church teaching (on sexual ethics). I believe that it is most important to first talk with people and thus open people’s hearts. Change (in sexual ethics) will come after there is a change of heart.”
In an interview with Kobieta.wp.pl, Sister Jeannine described what motivated her to become involved in this ministry. She began her work in 1971 when she met a young gay man who had left the Catholic Church. After many discussions with him and his friends, she realized that Catholics needed to be educated about LGBT lives. She explained:
“I wanted to give a voice to those in the Church who could not speak for themselves. I believe LGBT people, just as any of the faithful, should have their rightful place in this institution…
“I’ve always been interested in those who are overlooked by society. If you read the Bible, you know that Jesus came to defend the outcasts. Another issue for me is conscience. Sometimes your conscience guides you to differ with the church hierarchy…the only thing that should concern us is love and helping others.”
When asked by Queer.plabout her impressions of LGBT issues in Poland, Sister Jeannine responded:
“I’m very surprised, in a positive sense, about what I’ve seen and experienced in Poland. There is more talk about LGBT people than I had anticipated. I’ve seen great acceptance among Catholics, even among priests. They are beginning to understand that this is an important issue of human rights.”
She noted that Catholic lay people in the U.S. and many other nations are much more supportive of LGBT people than the Catholic hierarchy. She felt that the “hierarchy of the Church is responsible for the administration of the community, but they should also feel a responsibility to listen to the people.”
The Campaign Against Homophobia and Faith and Rainbow, two organizations that sponsored Sr. Jeannine’s speaking tour in Poland, launched a nationwide reconciliation campaign last September. “Let’s Exchange a Sign of Peace” posted billboards all over Poland depicting a handshake in which one hand wore a rosary around the wrist and the other wore a rainbow bracelet. While Polish bishops decried the efforts, the Polish citizenry responded quite positively. Many prominent Catholics and several Catholic publications supported the effort.
Sister Jeannine’s lecture series built on so much of the enormous work already done by these organizations and their supporters—efforts that Sister Jeannine feels will bring about many blessings. When asked about the situation in the U.S. in the future, she responded that the mission may become more difficult to accomplish in the new presidential administration, but like her friends in Poland, she is ready to keep on working. To Weekend.gazeta.pl, she said:
“Good work will go forward because the hearts and minds of people who support the LGBT community have been changed. These hearts and minds were opened and are no longer shut. We will not step back. It will be much harder. But we can handle it. We have to.”
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, January 17, 2017
“This Month in Catholic LGBT History” is Bondings 2.0’s feature to educate readers of the rich history—positive and negative—that has taken place over the last four decades regarding Catholic LGBT equality issues. We hope it will show people how far our Church has come, ways that it has regressed, and how far we still have to go.
Once a month, Bondings 2.0 staff will produce a post on Catholic LGBT news events from the past 38 years. We will comb through editions ofBondings 2.0’s predecessor: Bondings, New Ways Ministry’s newsletter in paper format. We began publishing Bondings in 1978. Unfortunately, because these newsletters are only archived in hard copies, we cannot link back to the primary sources in most cases.
Catholic Press Association Sides With New Ways Ministry
On December 12, 1981, The St. Louis Globe Democrat carried a story with the headline “St. Louis Review violated press code, Catholic group says.” The first paragraph of the story explains the controversy:
“The Catholic Press Association, a professional organization of 265 Catholic publications including the St. Louis Review [the archdiocesan newspaper] and most of the country’s diocesan newspapers, has cited the Review in violation of the association’s code for not giving a Catholic group of homosexuals “ample opportunity to defend themselves in the pages of our publications.”
The story states that New Ways Ministry filed the complaint with the Catholic Press Association (CPA) “against the Review and the Hawaii Catholic Herald . . . when the diocesan papers refused to publish New Ways’ response to an Oct. 17, 1980, column by James Hitchcock. . . a St. Louis University professor of history and a noted Catholic conservative whose weekly column is syndicated in the Review and four other Catholic diocesan papers.”
Hitchcock had written a Sept. 19, 1980, column which mentioned New Ways Ministry, saying that it did not follow church teaching. New Ways Ministry responded with a letter to the editor that was published in the Review on Oct. 3, 1980. The news article explains the next development:
“Then Hitchcock devoted his Oct. 17 column to New Ways, citing what he thought was evidence of New Ways’ not following church teaching. . . . New Ways wanted to respond to Hitchcock’s column but this was denied by Monsignor O’Donnell [the editor]. . .”
The news account states:
“Afer a 10-month study of the controversy and correspondence between New Ways Nd the diocesan papers, the association’s board approved a recommendation Oct. 15, 1981, from its three-member Fair Publishing Practices Code Committee to cite the violation against the Review and the Hawaii Catholic Herald. . . “
According to a December 11, 1981, article in The St. Louis Review that reported the CPA’s decision, the newspaper’s editor, Msgr. Edward O’Donnell, said:
“I’m disappointed the CPA doesn’t respect the judgment of an editor.
“My judgment was simply that both sides of the issue had heard enough about this particular squabble. I don’t see how any outside organization can assume the responsibility of overruling such an editorial judgment and call itself a professional journalist’s organization.”
The St. Louis Review published a letter to the editor from New Ways Ministry’s co-director, Fr. Robert Nugent, in response to Msgr. O’Donnell’s comment. It stated in part:
“As Roman Catholic ministers who have been officially assigned to this ministry by our provincial superiors we believe that much more is involved than a ‘squabble,’ as Msgr. O’Donnell terms it, when our reputations as credible ministers are impugned by a Catholic columnist and we are denied an opportunity to reply.
“Mr. Hitchcock says he requested information from us about our position on homosexuality, but neglects to mention that his request came after he made his charges. Since the burden of proof for his accusations rested with him we felt no need to provide him with information. He made the charges. Either he had some substantial and convincing proof or he was simply on a witch-hunting expedition. Apparently he had no proof.
“Contrary to Msgr. O’Donnell’s remark that “both sides of the issue had been presented” we felt they hadn’t. Thurs our course to the CPA committee who ultimately agreed with us.”
This 36-year old journalistic controversy is enlightening because it raises the question whether the Catholic press today, especially the diocesan press, gives fair attention to LGBT issues. So, dear readers, what has been your experience with the Catholic press, especially the diocesan press? Have you ever written a letter on LGBT issue? If so, was it printed? When the Catholic paper you read carries stories on LGBT issues, does it fairly represent all sides of the issue? You can offer your thoughts in the “Comments” section of this post.
Be sure to vote for the Best and Worst Catholic LGBT News of 2016. You can vote by clicking here. Voting closes at 5:00 p.m. Eastern U.S. Time on Thursday, December 29th.
—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, December 28, 2016
New Ways Ministry has launched a website with information and registration materials for its Eighth National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis,” scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago.
By going to www.Symposium2017.org, you will find all the information you will need about speakers, program, schedule, travel and hotel discounts–and even a form to register online!
Sign-up by December 31, 2016 to receive a substantial discount on the registration fee!
The Eighth National Symposium is looking to be the best one ever! With Pope Francis in the Vatican, we are living in a new moment in our Church. We’ve seen the opening of a dialogue on LGBT issues, but we’ve also seen that repressive practices and policies continue, too. How to make sense of this new situation?
The program is designed for church leaders and ministers, parents, LGBT people, members of religious communities, and all who are interested in building a more welcoming and inclusive Catholic Church.
Our plenary speakers will cover some of the most pressing topics of our day:
Lisa Fullam,Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, will discuss “Sexual Ethics and Same-Sex Marriage”
Leslie Griffin, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Law School, will examine “Religious Liberty, Employment, and LGBT Issues”
Rev. Bryan Massingale, Fordham University, will speak about “Pope Francis, Social Ethics, and LGBT People”
Frank Mugisha, Sexual Minorities Uganda, will report on “The Catholic Church, Criminalization Laws and the LGBT Experience in Uganda”
In addition, the weekend includes some exciting prayer experiences:
Bishop John Stowe, OFM Conv, of Lexington, Kentucky, will offer Scriptural reflections at prayer services
Sister Simone Campbell, SSS, of NETWORK and “Nuns on the Bus” will present an optional pre-symposium retreat day
In addition to these main events, the symposium includes break-out sessions on the following topics:
transgender and intersex family issues
youth and LGBT topics
LGBT ministry in the Hispanic community
LGBT church worker justice
And, of course, there will be opportunities to network with hundreds of Catholics from many different parts of the U.S. and the globe about the challenges and joys of advocating for LGBT people.
Our website, www.Symposium2017.org, has all the information you need to plan your participation at the symposium. If you have any additional questions, please contact our office at info@NewWaysMinistry.org or (301)277-5674.
Register today to reserve a space and to get a great discount!
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, December 6, 2016
Time really does fly when you’re having fun! I can’t believe that it was five years ago today that I sat down at my computer at New Ways Ministry and typed into Google the words “how to start a blog.” I spent the day learning about platforms and scheduling, and by the time 5:00 p.m.rolled around, I had my very first post for a blog I dubbed Bondings 2.0. The Bondings part of the name was taken from New Ways Ministry’s paper newsletter, published continuously since 1978. The 2.0 part was a nod to the fact that this was a social media version of Catholic LGBT news.
I started the blog that day with the hope that I would post something three times a week. However, I so much enjoyed the work of blogging that I found myself posting every single day. And for the past five years, we have put up at least one post (sometimes two or three) every single day. This isn’t just bragging about our epistolary stamina. The fact that there is something to post every single day for five years attests to the fact that Catholic LGBT news and opinion has blossomed and is one of the main stories of our contemporary world.
One of the main joys of this work is that I get to interact with wonderful people: our readers! Your comments on individual posts have helped to open my eyes to perspectives and information that are truly enlightening. I’m grateful, too, to the many readers who send me “tips” in the form of news links to articles I might have missed.
I also have been blessed with great co-workers over the years who have kept this blog vibrant. Of course, at the top of this list is Bob Shine, a tireless writer and investigator who does the lion’s share of the work in producing posts week in and week out. And of course, my colleagues at New Ways Ministry who have written several posts over the years–Sr. Jeannine Gramick, Matt Myers, Cynde Nordone, Glen Bradley–have also added to this great conversation.
Last, but not least, are our guest contributors, too many to mention by name, but whose writings have brought new dimensions to this ongoing conversation. Our latest guest contributor debuted yesterday, in an Advent Scriptural reflection series written by young LGBTQ theologians.
Only twice a year do we come to our readers and ask for financial support for this project. Tomorrow is “Giving Tuesday,” a day set aside to make holiday donations to non-profit organizations and charities. We would be deeply honored if you could assist this blog project by making New Ways Ministry one of your charitable donations this year. You can donate by clicking here, filling out the form, and writing “blog” in the comments box at the end of the form. You don’t have to wait until Tuesday to make your donation. Do it today so that you don’t forget! Of course, your donation is tax-deductible.
If you prefer not to donate on-line, you can call our office 301-277-5674, during business hours, Eastern U.S. time, and we can take your credit card information over the phone. Or you can send a check made to “New Ways Ministry” to 4012 – 29th Street, Mount Rainier, Maryland 20712. However you decide to donate, your gift is tax-deductible.
At this anniversary time, we also like to let folks know about our criteria for approving “Comments” to individual blog posts. Some of the criteria are very common to many blogs and some are particular to ours. Here are the guidelines that we use:
Common to many blogs;
1. No obscenities or anything offensive
2. No personal attacks or name-calling
3. Be relevant to the material posted
4. Argue politely
5. Avoid sarcasm
6. Nothing that is patently self-promotional
Particular guidelines for our blog:
1. Nothing that would be pastorally harmful to our readers (e.g., “you are going to hell,” “God hates gays,” etc.)
2. No condemning people–even people who are anti-LGBT
3. No blanket calls to leave the Catholic Church, or invitations to join other churches (e.g, “All LGBT people should leave Catholicism,” “I don’t know why you all don’t become Protestant”).
Blogging has been a wonderful adventure these past five years! Each day, we learn something new. We look forward to many more adventurous years with you in the future! Thanks so much for being a part of this online community!
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, November 28, 2016
Fr. James Martin, SJ, called for greater mutual respect between the institutional church and LGBT communities during a major address he presented yesterday.
Titled “A Two-Way Bridge,” the address was framed around the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s exhortation that lesbian and gay people be treated with “respect, compassion, and sensitivity.”
Fr. Martin offered his remarks after receiving New Ways Ministry’s Bridge Building Award, which recognized his ministry of communication and the ways it has expanded dialogue on LGBT issues in the Catholic Church
In the address, Fr. Martin asked what living this exhortation out might mean for church leaders and ministers, but also for LGBT people as they relate to the institutional church. Today’s post features highlights from the address, and you can find the full text by clicking here. (The text of the talk can also be found on America magazine’s website.)
For the institutional church to respect LGBT communities would mean, at least, the acknowledgment that such persons exist, Fr. Martin said. In addition, the needs to offer pastoral responses through welcoming Masses, outreach groups, and efforts to make LGBT people known they are part of the church. Fr. Martin continued:
“Second, respect means calling a group what it asks to be called. . .Because it is respectful to call people by the name they choose. Everyone has the right to tell you their name. . .
“Names are important. . .people have a right to name themselves. Using those names is part of respect. And if Pope Francis can use the word gay, so can the rest of the church.”
Commenting on the firings of LGBT church workers, of which more than 60 have become public since 2008, Fr. Martin said:
“The problem is that this authority is applied in a highly selective way. Almost all the firings in recent years have focused on L.G.B.T. matters. Specifically, these firings have most often related to those employees who have entered into same-sex marriages, which is against church teaching, and where one or another partner has a public role in the church. . .
“Moreover, requiring church employees to adhere to church teachings means, at a more fundamental level, adhering to the Gospel. To be consistent, we should fire people for not helping the poor, for not being forgiving and for not being loving. That may sound odd, but why should it? Jesus’s teachings are the most essential ‘church teachings.’ “
When it comes to LGBT people showing respect to the institutional church, Fr. Martin said Catholics must practice ecclesial respect for church leaders and simple human respect for these leaders who are our siblings. He stated:
“This may be hard to hear for people who feel beaten down by the church. But being respectful of people with whom you disagree is not only the Christian way. Even from a human point of view, it’s good strategy. If you sincerely want to influence the church’s perspective on L.G.B.T. matters, it helps to earn the trust of the hierarchy. And one way to do that is by respecting them. So both the Christian approach and simple wisdom would say: Respect them.”
Fr. Martin also explored what it would mean for the institutional church to be compassionate towards LGBT people. He highlighted twice that compassion means “to experience with, or suffer with.” Being compassionate includes listening, expressing solidarity including through episcopal statements, and celebrating joyfully. He noted:
“The first and most essential requirement is listening. It is nearly impossible to experience a person’s life, or to be compassionate, if you do not listen to the person, or if you do not ask questions. Questions that Catholic leaders might ask their L.G.B.T. brothers and sisters are: What is your life like? What was it like growing up as a gay boy or lesbian girl or transgender person? How have you suffered? What are your joys? And: What is your experience of God? What is your experience of the church? What do you hope for, long for, pray for? For the church to exercise compassion, we need to listen.”
LGBT people showing compassion to the institutional church and its leaders would include seeing bishops “in their humanity, in their complexity and amid the great burdens of their ministries.” Fr. Martin wondered if LGBT communities could give the institutional church the “gift of time,” that is time to make sense of diverse experiences of gender and sexuality:
“Challenging as it may be to hear, and without setting aside the suffering that many L.G.B.T. people have experienced in the church, I wonder if the L.G.B.T. community could give the institutional church the gift of time. Time to get to know you. In a very real way, an open and public L.G.B.T. community is new, even in my lifetime. In a very real way the world is just getting to know you. So is the church. I know it’s a burden, but it’s perhaps not surprising. It takes time to get to know people. So perhaps the L.G.B.T. community can give the institutional church the gift of patience.”
Finally, Fr. Martin called for LGBT people and the institutional church to show greater sensitivity towards each other. For the church, this last point means responding to Pope Francis’ call for encounter and accompaniment, and Martin said one reason church leaders struggled to show sensitivity is they knew very few LGBT people:
“That lack of familiarity and friendship means it is more difficult to be sensitive. How can you be sensitive to a person’s situation if you don’t know them? So one invitation is for the hierarchy to come to know them as friends. . .
“In this, as in all things, Jesus is our model. When Jesus encountered people on the margins, he saw not a category but a person. To be clear, I am not saying that the L.G.B.T. community should be, or should feel, marginalized. Rather, I am saying that within the church many of them do find themselves marginalized. They are seen as ‘other.’ But for Jesus there was no ‘other.’ “
If sensitivity is based on”encounter, accompaniment, and friendship,” then it must be enacted by seeking to not offend. Using language like “objectively disordered” is not sensitive, Fr. Martin said, and further:
“Saying that one of the deepest parts of a person—the part that gives and receives love—is ‘disordered’ in itself is needlessly cruel. . .Part of sensitivity is understanding that.”
For LGBT people to show sensitivity to the institutional church, Fr. Martin said they should be aware of “who is speaking and how they are speaking.” This sensitivity means acknowledging the hierarchy of authoritative teaching, and what weight each teaching has, noting that not all statements, figures, and documents are not of equal weight. Authority is also possessed by holy people, and Fr. Martin continued:
“Moreover, there is an invitation to be sensitive to the fact that when someone in the Vatican speaks—whether the pope or a Vatican congregation—they are speaking to the whole world, not just the West, and certainly not just the United States. Something that seems tepid in the United States might be shocking in Latin America or Africa. . .
“Well, perhaps in the West those words seemed insufficient. But the pope is writing not simply for the West, much less simply for the United States. Imagine reading that in a country where violence against L.G.B.T. people is rampant and the church has remained silent. What is bland in the United States is incendiary in other parts of the world. What might be obvious to a bishop in one country is a clear, forceful, even threatening, challenge to another bishop. What seems arid to L.G.B.T. people in one country may be, in another country, water in a barren desert.”
Fr. Martin concluded his address by inviting the institutional church and the LGBT community to “step onto a bridge of mutual ‘respect, compassion and sensitivity,” and said:
“Some of this may be hard to hear for the L.G.B.T. community. It is hard to step onto that bridge. And some of this may be challenging for bishops to hear. Because neither lane on that bridge is smooth. On this bridge, as in life, there are tolls. It costs when you live a life of respect, compassion and sensitivity. But to trust in that bridge is to trust that eventually people will be able to cross back and forth easily, and that the hierarchy and the L.G.B.T. community will be able to encounter one another, accompany one another and love one another. It is to trust that God desires unity.
“We are all on the bridge together. Because, of course, the bridge is the church. And, ultimately, on the other side of the bridge for each group is welcome, community and love.”
In a special appeal to LGBT Catholics, who struggle with the church and are hurt by its ministers, Martin stated:
“The Holy Spirit is supporting the church and is supporting you. . .For you are beloved children of God who, by virtue of your baptism, have as much right to be in the church as the pope, your local bishop or me. . .In short, you are not alone. Millions of your Catholic brothers and sisters accompany you, as do your bishops, as we journey imperfectly together on this bridge. More important, we are accompanied by God, the reconciler of all men and women of good will, as well as the architect, the builder and the foundation of that bridge.”
To read the full text of Fr. Martin’s address, “A Two-Way Bridge,” click here. Further information about the Bridge Building Award ceremony, including a video of the address and comments made by one of the attendees, Yayo Grassi, a gay man and former student of Pope Francis, will be posted later this week.
–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 31, 2016
Sr. Jeannine Gramick, Co-Founder of New Ways Ministry, was featured by the Catholic reform organization FutureChurch as their Woman Witness of Mercy for October. The following reflection by Bondings 2.0’s Associate Editor Bob Shine was included in a resource packet on Jeannine. For more information, and to purchase the packet, click here.
After fifty -plus years in religious life, Sr. Jeannine Gramick, SL has encountered numerous people and touched many lives in her ministry of justice and reconciliation for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in the Catholic Church. I first met Jeannine a few months after college and in this reflection, I share a little of how she has impacted my own life and what I know younger Catholics can learn from this holy and humble person.
I began at New Ways Ministry during a service year with the Loretto Volunteers. The first evening at the Volunteers’ opening retreat, held at the Sisters of Loretto’s motherhouse in Kentucky, we watched a documentary about Jeannine’s life and ministry. I lay in bed that evening and, quite overwhelmed, questioned myself on how I had jumped into such deep waters. Sisters had shared their stories with us over meals and in side conversations. Theirs were stories of integrating schools and accompanying communities, of artistry and feminist witnesses, of poetry and anti-war protests. Theirs was a mission, to paraphrase their famed former superior Sr. Mary Luke Tobin, of going out to the ends of the branches of our world because that is where the fruit resides. And I had committed to wandering out an ecclesial branch with a sister who was taking on the Catholic Church.
Events that fall would not, at first, quiet the questions from that opening retreat. Within a few weeks, I had spent a Saturday witnessing at various sites in Washington, D.C. to celebrate the Loretto Community’s 200th anniversary and helped organize Catholic events for the marriage equality campaign in Maryland. I had discovered that even the enthusiasm and energy I had at 22 could not keep pace with Jeannine and the other sisters.
With time, working alongside Jeannine and Francis DeBernardo, the executive director of New Ways Ministry, I have learned much. Four years on, Jeannine and I now teach one another. It is not quite equal – I help her navigate Facebook and she helps me navigate the complexities of being a disciple of Christ – but it is a friendship I cherish. The following are four lessons Jeannine has taught me, lessons which can aid younger Catholics like myself as we find our way in the troubled church we love.
“What is the Catholic Church doing for gays and lesbians?” A young gay man named Dominic posed this question to Jeannine in 1971, and it would be this question that radically transformed her life. Jeannine began organizing home liturgies for gay people in the Philadelphia area, educating herself on homosexuality, offering some workshops, and, in just a few years, launched New Ways Ministry with Fr. Robert Nugent. Being open to Dominic’s question and tender to the pain of gay people excluded from the church led Jeannine down a path she never expected, but which came to define her life. I was not there, but I believe it was the Spirit speaking through Dominic when he asked that question. This story is a reminder that we, as Christians, must be ever present to the people around us, ever listening to voices at the margins, and ever willing to let the Other make claims on our life that may have profound consequences.
Don’t say the church when you mean the hierarchy. Jeannine lives committed to Vatican II’s teaching that the church is fundamentally the People of God, and that community is essential for Christian life. Before I knew Jeannine well, I thought she was a rogue figure who alone had challenged the Vatican, yet this narrative is not accurate. Her decades of ministry would not be possible without the people and communities that support her and work with her – the congregations to which she has belonged, other women religious, LGBT Catholics and their families, supporters of New Ways Ministry, theologians and scholars, and more. And Jeannine is not only supported by, but actively contributes to the communities she is in. For younger Catholics in the United States, we cannot forget how essential community will be for our journeys even if parish pews are thinning out and the hair of fellow believers’ greys. Enacting the church’s evangelical mission is not possible unless we live as the People of God: baptized as priests, called to holiness, and supporting one another whatever may come.
The envelopes need stuffing. On Tuesday evenings, you will find Jeannine with the New Ways Ministry volunteers who prepare the organization’s bulk mailings and then gather for pizza and camaraderie. Jeannine models what it means to be a leader who serves. Even though she is quite busy, she attends to people with kind notes and small loving acts. She willingly does the tedious but necessary tasks with everyone else. She works long hours to ensure every detail is correct, and exhibits a persistence in ministry possessed by few (and the teacher in her never wastes an opportunity to teach me a grammar lesson). Jeannine teaches younger Catholics that seeking ecclesial reform and renewal means hard work that is hardly glamorous. We must resolve each morning to seeking a just church, steadily running the race Christ has set before us that is not even a marathon but an ultramarathon.
“I choose not to collaborate in my own oppression.” These words, with which Jeannine responded to the Vatican’s attempt at silencing her, are a haunting reminder to me of what being Christian entails. Being part of the church means calling the church to live more fully the Gospel that we proclaim, but people will resist this threatening call. Jeannine endured two decades of degrading investigations and punitive sanctions by church leaders because she refused to believe LGBT people are anything less than wonderfully made by God. She challenges even today the church she loves and the communities to which she belongs, exercising the prophetic office which we all share through baptism as she invites all people to be reconciled. To be Christian is to prioritize Christ against all else, and there will be times when following the decisions we make in conscience leaves us isolated, rejected, and deeply pained. But we should never collaborate in our own oppression or the oppression of others, especially when it is the church for which we are responsible that is inflicting wounds.
The widespread acceptance of LGBT people among Catholics in the United States and growing acceptance internationally can largely be attributed to Jeannine’s tireless labors. She is an incarnation of these words from Blessed Theresa of Jesus Gerhardinger, foundress of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, words which Jeannine introduced me to (they hang in a frame over her desk) and which are so powerful for Catholics who seek a reformed and renewed church:
“All the works of God proceed slowly and in pain; but then their roots are the sturdier and their flowering the lovelier.”
Holy people are holy not because of their greatest flowering acts, but because of their quietest habits which create sturdy and deep roots. Jeannine Gramick has acted greatly in listening to Dominic’s voice and being faithful to her response even when the Vatican bore down. Yet, the person I know Jeannine to be is a person whose quietest habits in daily life are what have most catalyzed the reception of Vatican II and renewal of the Catholic Church on matters of gender and sexuality. Honored to know Jeannine as a colleague and as a friend, I conclude with this prayer:
Radiant colors stretched across the sky,
the rainbow is your sign of loving covenant,
after flood waters bathed the earth, O Divine Creator.
From You, creation is breathed into being,
from chaotic waters, infinite diversity rises,
every person reflecting You, wonderfully made,
every creature beloved by You, wonderfully made.
Arms stretched to the ends of the Cross’ beam,
Jesus is your sign of lasting covenant,
after we forget how to love, O Divine Redeemer.
Slowly, creation seeks Your embrace by
our daily labors and our bread broken,
yet imperfect lives keep restrained the love
You poured into our beings, love to pour out.
With lives stretched outward from within,
we are your sign of liberating covenant,
after we encounter the Other, O Divine Healer.
Pierced by the Other’s inquiry of “Will you love?”
our reconciling hopes foundations for new bridges,
creating a church where God’s queer people
from margins to center come, radiant people,
lives echoing Jesus’ prayer to be One.
We are the People of God, invoking your creative breath,
as a sacrament in the world, as an outstretched rainbow
proclaiming anew in our renewing witness,
Your loving, lasting, liberating covenant.
May this be so; may we be one. Amen.