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.”
” ‘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
New York Times: “Sister Acts”