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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
As one of the co-founders of New Ways Ministry, I’ve had the pleasure of working for more than 20 years with Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry and editor of this blog. Many New Ways Ministry supporters and Bondings 2.0 readers have had the opportunity to meet him as he travels around the country doing workshops and talks on Catholic LGBT topics.
But, even if you know Frank personally, you will probably see a new side to him, as I have, in the recent in-depth personal interview conducted by The National Catholic Reporter’s Sister Camille D’Arienzo, RSM. The interview is this week’s installment of the popular series “Conversations with Camille” which focuses on the lived faith experiences of unique Catholics.
Of course, if you want to get the full experience, you should probably read the entire interview, which you can access by clicking here. In this blog post, I’ll provide some excerpts that may give you some insights into what motivates and sustains him in his work for LGBT equality and justice in the Catholic Church and civil society.
In the interview, Frank speaks candidly and lovingly of his early development within his family:
“I grew up in a large Italian family in Brooklyn. I was one of eight siblings. We lived in a house with members of my mother’s extended family, and Sundays and holidays were always filled with cousins, aunts, uncles and close friends getting together. Family was always a very important part of my life. . . .
“My mother died when I was 3 years old, leaving my father with six children, two of whom were newborn twins and the other four ranging in age from 3 to 10. My father remarried the following year, and our “new” family began a lifelong journey of bonding together. My new mother had two more children in the coming years, bringing my large family to 10 members. I learned early the responsibility, benefits and power of belonging to a strong family unit. . . .
“This unique family experience taught me powerfully at a very early age that love, not biological reproduction, is what makes a family. That lesson has served me well as my work at New Ways Ministry continues to place me in the midst of marriage equality debates.”
Frank relates the strange and humorous set of circumstances that brought him to New Ways Ministry:
“New Ways Ministry was only 2 miles from my house. When I wanted to start working on LGBT justice, they were the closest place for me to be involved. I started as a volunteer, and then I joined the staff part time. I had been teaching writing part time, too, but I was getting burned out from that work, and the work at New Ways Ministry was very exciting to me. It just felt natural.
“I always tell people as a joke that I started work at New Ways Ministry for the money. At the time, I had just received my first credit card, and in a few short months, I racked up what I thought was a horrible debt. I realized that I would not be able to pay off the bill unless I took a second job. Just at that time, New Ways Ministry was looking for a part-time worker, and since I had been volunteering there, I was hired.
“The funniest thing about this story is that my whopping credit card debt was $800. I’ve since learned that the average credit card debt in the U.S. is about $10,000. Since that time, I have paid off my balance in full every month.”
He speaks gratefully about what he has witnessed in his ministry with LGBT people:
“The main thing that attracted me to work at New Ways Ministry and has kept me here for 20 years has been the people that I have met as I travel. I have had the incredible opportunity to hear so many amazing stories of courage, love and faith. I’ve met a number of real saints: Catholic LGBT people who faced immense amounts of oppression, often from their church and its leaders, and who still continue to testify to the truth about themselves and to live in love the way they know that God has created them. . . .
“When I first started working at New Ways Ministry, I was reading a book called Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed by Philip P. Hallie. It is the story of the Huguenot village of Le Chambon, France, which sheltered Jewish people during World War II in open defiance of the Nazi regime. The courage of these French Protestants, who took literally the commandment “Love one another,” had a profound effect on me. And as I met LGBT Catholics, their parents, and their pastoral ministers who were speaking out for their human rights and their rights as baptized people, I saw the same courageous spirit as the people of Le Chambon.”
He describes how the challenging work of Catholic LGBT ministry brings him joy:
“People tend to think that I spend my days arguing and fighting with homophobes, and as a result, I must get really down. It’s not true. Most of the people that I come in contact with are Catholics who are seeking creative ways to ensure LGBT justice and equality. I find so much joy in my work because I see so much good happening. It’s like almost every day I get to learn about real miracles taking place. How can I not be lighthearted? I get to witness so much joy.”
And, perhaps most intimately, he reveals the inner workings of his relationship with God, including his favorite Scripture verse:
“Psalm 27: 8-9. ‘Of You my heart has spoken, seek God’s face. It is your face O God, that I seek. Hide not your face from me.’ Whenever I feel lost, this reminds me of the true direction of my life. I’ve also found it helpful when I have to deal with difficult people. It reminds me that they, too, are the face of God. . . .
“Lately, my image of God is a bed. A big, soft, comfy bed with lots of pillows and quilts and blankets where I can just relax and be myself. In that bed, I can be at peace and learn to deal with and respect my morning grumpies, my terror-filled nightmares, my most hopeful dreams, my anxious questions and challenges that keep me awake at night, and, of course, my moments of joy-filled bliss.”
In the full interview, Frank illustrates many of the turning points of his life with details and stories that are poignant and telling. I think you will find the interview enlightening, inspiring and fun. As one of the commenters on The National Catholic Reporter’s website said:
“Thank you, Sister Camille, for this is a wonderful interview, I am so inspired by it! Francis DeBernardo seems like a a man I would want for a friend; a delightful person.”
Today, Catholics in the Archdiocese of San Francisco will be visiting several parishes to ask them to sign a petition asking that city’s Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone not to speak at an anti-marriage equality rally in Washington, DC, later this month.
The petition (organized by Faithful America) is a part of a campaign to ask Cordileone to stay away from the National Organization for Marriage’s (NOM) rally on Thursday, June 19th. The event is being supported by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), and Cordileone is the chair of the conference’s Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage. The rally is co-sponsored by the anti-gay Family Research Council.
A separate part of the campaign was a letter sent to the Cordileone signed by over 80 California politicians and national religious and community leaders, asking him to refrain from participating in the event. The Los Angeles Timesreported on some of the substance of the letter:
“If he attends as scheduled, they [the letter signers] noted, he will be ‘marching and sharing the podium’ with individuals who ‘have repeatedly denigrated lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.’ . . .
“By standing alongside those participants and organizers, ‘you appear to be endorsing their troubling words and deeds, which directly contradict the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ pastoral teaching that “God does not love someone any less simply because he or she is homosexual. God’s love is always and everywhere offered to those who are open to receiving it,” ‘ they wrote.”
At the USCCB’s national meeting this week, Cordileone re-affirmed his commitment to anti-marriage equality work and to participation in the conference. According to The National Catholic Reporter:
“Pointing to the recent string of state same-sex marriage bans struck down by federal judges, Cordileone said the country was at a ‘critical point.’
” ‘An amendment to the U.S. Constitution is the only remedy in law against judicial activism,’ he said.
“The San Francisco archbishop also announced he would be attend the second annual March for Marriage in Washington, D.C., June 19. The march is organized by the National Organization for Marriage, a group advocating for legal recognition for marriage as only between one man and one woman.”
The letter to Cordileone also appeals to the example of Pope Francis:
“While not all of us agree with official Catholic teaching on marriage and family, we appreciate the many statements from Catholic leaders defending the human dignity of all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, especially the recent words of Pope Francis: ‘If someone is gay, who searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?’
“Pope Francis’ words echo the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which states that lesbian and gay people ‘must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.’ “
If Archbishop Cordileone does decide to speak at this event, he would do well to distance himself from the negative rhetoric of NOM by speaking up for the Catholic principles of “respect, compassion, and sensitivity” for lesbian and gay people. While it might be best if he avoided the event, if he speaks forthrightly for the human dignity and equality of lesbian and gay people, he can turn this potentially negative event into a positive one.
When the history of the Catholic LGBT movement is written, a major chapter of it must be devoted to Mary Ellen and Casey Lopata, a pair of Catholic parents of a gay son, whose journey of understanding and acceptance led them to ministry with other parents, and eventually the founding of a national network called Fortunate Families. Last weekend, Catholics from around the country gathered in the Lopatas’ hometown of Rochester, New York, for a dinner celebrating their retirement from leadership in Fortunate Families, as well as the 10th anniversary of this network of Catholic parents of LGBT people.
During the event, the history of the Lopatas’ ministry was recounted, going back to 1992 when they attended New Ways Ministry’s Third National Symposium on Lesbian/Gay Issues and Catholicism, in Chicago. The couple attended the meeting with six other pastorally involved people from Rochester, and they returned home fired with enthusiasm to start pastoral outreach to LGBT people, and particularly, their parents. Their efforts eventually led to the establishment of the Diocese of Rochester’s Catholic Gay and Lesbian Family Ministry.
A few years later, the Lopatas were instrumental in helping to establish the National Association of Catholic Diocesan Lesbian/Gay Ministries (NACDLGM), and in 1998 they organized and hosted the group’s national conference in Rochester, one of the most successful meetings the organization has ever had. (NACDGLM is now known as the Catholic Association for Lesbian and Gay Ministry.) Throughout the 1990s, the Lopatas were tireless in their education, support, and advocacy ministry for families. They served as consultants on the U.S. bishops’ 1997 pastoral letter, Always Our Children.
They published several resources including a book, Fortunate Families: Catholic Families with Lesbian Daughters and Gay Sons, and a manual entitled Seeds of Hope: Compassionate Ministry with Gay and Lesbian Catholics and Their Families. In 2004, they established Fortunate Families as a nationwide resource and networking ministry to, for, and with Catholic parents of LGBT people. In the following year, New Ways Ministry presented them with its Bridge Building Award, “for compassionate ministry, personal witness, and national leadership to promote justice for lesbian/gay Catholics, their parents, and families.”
Fortunate Families is a member of the Equally Blessed Coalition, which also includes Call To Action, DignityUSA, and New Ways Ministry. Representatives from each of these three other coalition partners were on hand in Rochester to praise and thank the Lopatas at their retirement party. Jim FitzGerald, executive director, represented Call To Action; Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director, represented DignityUSA; Francis DeBernardo, executive director, represented New Ways Ministry. Sister Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, and Father James Schexnayder, founder of NACDLGM were unable to attend in person, but they each sent video testimonials about the Lopatas’ contributions to the Catholic LGBT movement. You can view Sr. Jeannine’s video here:
Emails and letters from parents and pastoral ministers, as well as testimonies from Fortunate Families board members, were also part of the evening’s festivities. Fortunate Families Board President Deb Word presented the Lopatas with a memory book, and New York State Assemblyman Harry Bronson gave them a resolution from the legislature in honor of their contributions.
The Lopatas are leaving an indelible mark on our church because they have helped to affirm and empower so many parents, and LGBT people, as well. Catholic parents are among the most passionate and persuasive advocates for LGBT people in the church. Their natural love for their LGBT children motivates them to work to make sure that they are treated in the same way as their heterosexual children are treated.
For some parents, it takes some time to adjust to the new information that their children are LGBT. Support from other parents who have gone through the same experience is often the biggest help for those who are just learning about a child’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
Parents of LGBT children are a true gift to the church. The journey of love and acceptance that Catholic parents go on is the same journey that the entire church eventually will need to go experience. So, all in the church, particularly pastoral ministers and bishops, can learn a lot from these people that God has made so fortunate.