New Catholic LGBT Book Is Praised by High Church Leaders

A new Catholic book on LGBT issues, whose main text is based on a talk given at a New Ways Ministry event, has been praised by the Vatican official in charge of family life, a U.S. cardinal who is close to Pope Francis, and a bishop who is leading the call for greater pastoral care for LGBT people.  Their dust jacket blurbs join one by Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL, New Ways Ministry’s co-founder

Rev. James Martin, SJ, and the cover of his new book.

Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity, by Rev. James Martin, SJ, will be published June 13, 2017, and its dust jacket contains high praise comments from Cardinal Kevin Farrell, Prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery of Laity, Family, and Life; Cardinal Joseph Tobin, picked personally by Pope Francis to lead the embattled Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey; and Bishop Robert McElroy, head of the San Diego Diocese, who has made LGBT inclusion one of his regular themes; and Sister Jeannine.

The main portion of the book is an adaptation of the talk Fr. Martin gave when he received New Ways Ministry’s Bridge Building Award at the end of October 2016.   In addition, the book, which is to be published by HarperOne, will also contain prayer aids and other pastoral material.

David Gibson, a veteran Church observer who writes for Religion News Servicebroke the news about this high praise from Church officials for a gay-friendly book.  In the course of the article, Gibson noted that the praise from church officials for a book which had its origins in a New Ways Ministry program, signaled a momentous shift:

“A co-founder of New Ways Ministry is Sister Jeannine Gramick, whose views were considered so far outside the bounds of Catholic teaching that she was barred by the Vatican and her order from speaking about homosexuality. She transferred to another order and has continued to minister and speak and write on the topic. . . . That she is endorsing the same book as senior church leaders is an indication of the sea change under Francis.”

Fr. Martin told Religion News Service that he sees the praise from these high Church officials as signaling greater sensitivity on LGBT issues:

“I was delighted that Cardinal Farrell and Cardinal Tobin found the book helpful. To me, it’s a reminder that many in the hierarchy today support a more compassionate approach to LGBT Catholics.”

The following quotations are from the comments on the book’s dust jacket:

Cardinal Kevin Farrell

Cardinal Kevin Farrell:

“A welcome and much-needed book that will help bishops, priests, pastoral associates, and all church leaders more compassionately minister to the LGBT community. It will also help LGBT Catholics feel more at home in what is, after all, their church.”

Cardinal Joseph Tobin

Cardinal Joseph Tobin:

“In too many parts of our church LGBT people have been made to feel unwelcome, excluded, and even shamed. Father Martin’s brave, prophetic, and inspiring new book marks an essential step in inviting church leaders to minister with more compassion, and in reminding LGBT Catholics that they are as much a part of our church as any other Catholic.”

Bishop Robert McElroy

Bishop Robert McElroy:

“The Gospel demands that LGBT Catholics must be genuinely loved and treasured in the life of the church. They are not. [Fr. Martin] provides us with the language, perspective, and sense of urgency to replace a culture of alienation with a culture of merciful inclusion.”

Sr. Jeannine Gramick

Sister Jeannine Gramick:

Gibson’s reporting summarized the main text of the book concisely:
“In his talk, as in the book, Martin called on church leaders and all Catholics to treat gays and lesbians with greater respect and sensitivity. . . .But he also called on gays and lesbians to be more considerate and respectful of the hierarchy, saying both sides must listen to each other and learn from each other.”
New Ways Ministry presented Fr. Martin with the Bridge Building Award last year because of his past achievements in promoting dialogue between the LGBT community and the Catholic Church.  Yet, with the publication of this book, and the praise for it from church officials, shows his bridge building gifts are continuing to grow.
Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, April 8, 2018

Sr. Jeannine Spreads Message of LGBT Equality in Poland

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.

sr-jeannine-with-sign
In Poland, Sr. Jeannine holds a sign which reads ” I support LGBT people because we are all children of God.”

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.”

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After one of her speaking appearances in Poland, Sr. Jeannine greets members of the audience.

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.pl about 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.”

z21076110ihsiostra-jeannine-gramick-fot-agata-kubis
During one of her talks, Sr. Jeannine holds up New Ways Ministry’s list of LGBT-friendly parishes in the newsletter “Bondings.”

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

 

 

In Advance of the Synod, Global Network of Rainbow Catholics Launches In Rome

This post is the third in Bondings 2.0’s reports from the Synod on Marriage and Family in Rome.  New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo will continue to send news and commentary from this meeting. Previous posts can be reached by clicking here and here

Some of the participants in the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics Assembly in Rome. New Ways Ministry’s Sister Jeannine Gramick can be found in the blue blouse , second from right in the second row from the bottom. Francis DeBernardo can be found in the green shirt, fourth from the right in the top row.

My time in Rome began last week, before the synod, as I participated in the weekend-long launch of the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics.  Close to 100 Catholic LGBT leaders from six continents and over 30 nations gathered here for meetings to discuss the substance and structure of what this newly formed international association of Catholic LGBT and ally organizations should look like.

The planning began two years ago, done mostly through Skype meetings and emails.  I was privileged to be part of this planning process, so seeing the diverse group of representatives gather together for prayer, discussion, and planning was a personally thrilling experience as well as an important step forward in the movement for LGBT equality in church and society.

One thing I learned from participating is how different Catholicism is around the globe and how different the LGBT experience is.  It helped me to see that in the United States, Catholic lay people have many opportunities to participate in the life of the church–even though we are still denied participation in many decision-making processes.  I also realized how privileged the U.S. LGBT community is.  Again, we still have work to do in terms of full equality in employment and other areas, but the level of repression, violence, and state oppression against LGBT people is much greater in many places around the globe.

Gathered under the theme of “LGBT Voices to the Synod,” the Assembly accomplished three main tasks: the establishment of an interim governing structure, the hosting of an international conference on pastoral care with LGBT people, and the development of a letter to the synod on LGBT issues.

Mary McAleese

The international conference, entitled  “Ways of Love:  Snapshots of Catholic Encounter with LGBT People and Their Families,” was keynoted by Mary McAleese, former president of Ireland and the mother of a gay son.  She strongly critiqued the church’s teaching on lesbian and gay relationships, reported The Guardian:

“Church teaching currently defines same-sex relationships as ‘intrinsically disordered’ and demands gay people live a life of chastity, but opponents argue this fails to address the reality in which the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics are living.

“Mary McAleese, former president of Ireland, which earlier this year legalised same-sex marriage, said on Saturday it was the church’s teaching itself which was intrinsically disordered.

” ‘The gravitational pull of tradition is used as a vehicle for refusing to face the growing reality, accepted by many people in this world, that the church’s teaching on homosexuality is simply wrong,’ she said to rapturous applause at a meeting of the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics in Rome.”

Bishop Raul Vera

The conference’s closing talk was given by Bishop Raul Vera, of Saltillo, Mexico, who has been a long time advocate for LGBT people.  Vera told a Crux reporter:

“. . . [T]he Church needs a ‘change in language’ when referring to the LGBT community because as it is, it ‘brings people to define a homosexual as a sinner, degenerate and promiscuous. I think we have to temper our language.’

“Asked if he was in favor of same-sex marriage, he said that’s something for the Church to decide.

“He has little faith regarding serious changes in the Church’s approach to the LGBT community as a direct result of the synod, but believes that in time, things could change.

“ ‘Francis is talking about existential peripheries, going out to meet the people who are being persecuted and damaged,’ the bishop said.”

Sister Jeannine Gramick

New Ways Ministry’s Sister Jeannine Gramick was one of the featured speakers at the conference.  She spoke about the development of LGBT-friendly parishes in the U.S., using  Baltimore’s St. Matthew’s parish is a case study. In an interview with Crux, Gramick spoke about the Vatican’s synod on the family, saying that her

” ‘highest expectations would be that gay and lesbian people would be included totally into the Church, and that would include welcome to all the sacraments, including marriage.

“She believes that even though the Catholic Church does teach about the dignity of the person, the message is sometimes muddled because of what the ‘official Church” says about sexual activity and the ethics of sexual activities.

“She wants the Church to not look at the ethics of a sexual relationship from a point of view of the acts, but of that of the person: ‘love, commitment, care; that’s what makes a relationship an ethical one.’ “

Martin Pendergast

Martin Pendergast from LGBT Catholics Westminster spoke about the history of the London Catholic diocese’s outreach to the sexual and gender minority community in that city.  The Guardian noted his opinions, stated in an interview, about how Monsignor Charasma’s coming out as gay, which occurred on the same day as (but unrelated to) the conference, may help the synod process:

“Pendergast, a British campaigner on LGBT faith issues, said he hoped Charamsa’s coming out in particular would pave the way for a more open debate at the synod. ‘It may encourage others, particularly bishops who might have been nervous about talking too radically about divorce, remarriage and same-sex relationships, to speak more openly and more honestly,’ he said at the Rainbow Catholics event.”

London’s Catholic Herald printed an excerpt from the letter that the Assembly participants sent to each member of the synod:

” ‘We come from over thirty countries, both as individuals and as representatives of groups, who have been involved with the flourishing of people like ourselves in the lives of our local churches, (as well as with many other tasks),’ the letter said.

” ‘The last years have not been an easy ride! Many in our Church thought that they were serving God by hating us, and some still do, especially among the hierarchy; but we can tell you with joy, that we have kept alive our Confession of the Catholic faith! We have kept the faith under persecution, and are ready to join with you in the joyful announcement of the Gospel to which Pope Francis has called us.’

“It added: ‘Because God is wonderful, we have found that through this life as dregs among the people of God, the Holy Spirit has given us a surprising (at least to us) capacity to stand up and be counted, not to be frightened of those who fear us, not to be resentful of the incapacity for approval, and the bureaucratic meanness of spirit and dishonesty to which we have regularly been subjected. We have learned that it is not what the Church can do for us, but what we can do for the Church that matters.’ “

As the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics grows and develops, Bondings 2.0 will keep you informed of its activities.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

The Washington Blade:  “LGBT Catholic groups meet in Rome”

Agence-France Presse:  “First global Catholic LGBT network hopes to build bridges”

Pink News: “Rainbow Catholic network launches as Pope condemns same-sex marriage”

Gay Star News: “Read the defiant message from gay Catholics to the Pope and his bishops”

Now’s the Time to Reflect on “What Makes a Family?”

With marriage equality now legal across the United States, but yet with so many debates and controversies, particularly Catholic ones, still raging about the issue, it might be good to step back a second and reflect on the question “What makes a family?”

New Ways Ministry’s Sister Jeannine Gramick, co-founder, did exactly just that recently in a National Catholic Reporter essay with a title that is the very question  “What Makes A Family?”

Honour Maddock and Kathleen Kane

Sister Jeannine reflects on this question by examining the lives of a Catholic lesbian couple that she encountered this year, Honour Maddock and Kathleen Kane.  In one sense, the essay begins on the note of what does not make a family, exemplified by Kathleen’s marriage to an emotionally possessive man:

“Kathleen loved being a mother, but her husband wanted her entire attention and resented the time she spent with their children. Their relationship grew strained, and they became increasingly quarrelsome with each other. . . .”

After her husband left the family, without letting anyone know he was doing so, Kathleen met Honour, who became an emotional support to her and her three children after divorce.  They eventually come to recognize a new dimension in their lives:

“Throughout this time, Honour was her lifeblood. Kathleen felt joy whenever Honour was around and missed her when they were apart. After some time they both came to realize that their companionship had blossomed into something deeper.

“ ‘Our wonderful friendship evolved into the beautiful love we’ve now shared for over 30 years,’ Kathleen told me. Although neither Kathleen nor Honour had ever been in a lesbian relationship, they wanted to be committed to each other.”

Because of concern for how people would treat their children if the two women moved in together, they waited until the last went off to college to do so.  But when they did, their home became

“not an exclusive one; [it] was always open to others in need.”

They took in a teenage granddaughter who had been sexually abused and helped her recovery and adjustment to adult life.  They took in Kathleen’s mother for ten years when she had become unable to live on her own.

And at the heart of their relationship is their faith:

“ ‘I’ve always had a deep, visceral connection with my Catholic faith,’ Kathleen said. ‘I’m not sure that the church will ever change its views about lesbian and gay people, but I firmly believe my relationship with Honour is a blessing God bestowed on me. All the opposition we encountered from society and church teachings could never shatter my trust that our love is a gift from God.’ “

For Sister Jeannine,  reflecting on the life of Kathleen and Honour helped her understand what is at the essence of family:

“I think about [Kathleen’s] life with Honour and their time with Kathleen’s mother and granddaughter. For most of their years together, Kathleen and Honour had no marriage license and they had no biological children from their union. What they did have was the deepest kind of love I have encountered — the love of sacrifice for each other, for those they care about, and for those in need, the love of putting the other’s happiness and welfare first, the love of common spiritual values, the love of feeling uniquely blessed by God because of the other.”

There is a lot more to this lovely story, and so I recommend reading the entire essay, which can be found by clicking here.

I pray that our Catholic leaders will open their minds, hearts, eyes, and ears to receive stories like this one–especially as they prepare for the fall’s World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia and the Synod on Family in Rome.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

Celebrate U.S. & Irish Marriage Equality with a Pilgrimage to the Emerald Isle!

As people here in the U.S. continue to bask in the exhilaration of the new reality of marriage equality across the nation, there have been many exciting ways that people have been celebrating this past week.

Here’s an idea for your consideration if you are looking for new ways to celebrate:  go on a Catholic LGBT-friendly pilgrimage to Ireland, the first nation to enact marriage equality by popular vote!

Jeannine Malta
Sister Jeannine Gramick

New Ways Ministry’s Co-Founder, Sister Jeannine Gramick, has just announced that she will be leading an eight-day pilgrimage to the Emerald Isle in April 2016.  Entitled “Ireland: Land of Rainbows and Wedding Bells,” this journey is a perfect way for Catholics in both countries to celebrate together their two historic marriage equality victories that occurred just about one month apart from each other.

In addition to visiting historic and sacred sights connected to Ireland’s Catholic heritage, the pilgrims will be meeting with members of Gay Catholic Voice Ireland, the national Catholic LGBT ministry, and will participate in a monthly Mass and social in a Catholic parish in Dublin which has been established for LGBT people and their families.

News of the pilgrimage was heralded on Yahoo yesterday, with an article by Jo Piazza, who wrote If Nuns Ruled the World: 10 Sisters on a Missionwhich included a chapter on Sister Jeannine’s ministry with the LGBT community.  Piazza described the trip:

Jeannine, a Sister of Loretto, is a big world traveler. This was just the most recent in nearly two decades of gay and lesbian pilgrimages that she has led around the world. Hers is a highly specialized group tour. It’s targeted to gay and lesbian Catholics and their families and is led by a Catholic sister.

A sister? Yup.

She’s a spitfire of a woman, and I can imagine that she is a ton of fun to travel with.

Piazza interviewed Sister Jeannine about her 20 years of leading Catholic LGBT pilgrimages.  They discussed the February 2015 Italy trip, in which Sister Jeannine’s pilgrimage group were provided with VIP seating at the papal audience in St. Peter’s Square on Ash Wednesday.  Sister Jeannine commented on what that welcome meant to her then and now:

“Of course, there is special significance to this particular pilgrimage we took to Italy. Our 50 pilgrims, that included 7 same-sex couples, were invited to special seats within 25 yards of Pope Francis at the papal audience on Ash Wednesday. Just as LGBT people, their families, and friends were welcomed to the Vatican, the SCOTUS decision on June 26 welcomes lesbian and gay couples into the civil family.”

An image of the rainbow which appeared in the sky over Dublin on the day Ireland voted in marriage equality.

Included in the upcoming pilgrimage to Ireland will be visits to places of Catholic and LGBT importance, as well as those of ancient and contemporary Irish history, including:   Our Lady of Knock Shrine,  Oscar Wilde’s home, sites important to both St. Brigid and St. Patrick, the Book of Kells at Trinity College, the Convent where Catherine McAuley founded the Sisters of Mercy and where she is buried, murals in Belfast commemorating victims of modern religious conflicts, and a museum dedicated to the S.S. Titanic, built in Ireland.

The Ireland pilgrimage will take place on April 11-18, 2016.  The cost, including round-trip airfare from Newark, N.J., is $2,599, which also covers breakfast and supper every day, all admissions, hotel accommodations, and all transfers.   For more information, please visit the New Ways Ministry website to view and download a PDF brochure for the trip, including registration form.   Or contact New Ways Ministry in one of three ways to request a brochure: email: info@NewWaysMinistry.org; phone: 301-277-5674; postal mail:  New Ways Ministry, 4012 29th Street, Mount Rainier, MD 20712.

So if you are looking for special and unique way to celebrate marriage equality here in the U.S., consider joining with Catholic LGBT people, friends, family members, supporters, and pastoral ministers in making a pilgrimage to Ireland where your joy will surely be doubled!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

Reflecting on the Papal Audience with LGBT Catholics

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:

“Wow!”

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

New Ways Ministry’s LGBT Catholic Pilgrims Get VIP Seats at Papal Audience

NWM Rome 2015
New Ways Ministry pilgrims pose in St. Peter’s Square following the papal audience with Pope Francis.

In what is surely the most official welcome from Church officials that New Ways Ministry has received in its 38-year history, a pilgrimage group of 48 LGBT Catholics and supporters led by our co-founder, Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL, received VIP seating at the papal audience in St. Peter’s Square, Vatican City, on Ash Wednesday, February 18, 2015.

Sister Jeannine had written to Pope Francis in December 2014, asking him to meet personally with the group when they visited Rome as part of their ten-day pilgrimage to Florence, Assisi, and the Eternal City.

Two weeks before departure on February 12th, she received a letter from Archbishop Georg Ganswein, Prefect of the Papal Household, letting her know that he had reserved tickets for the group for the Ash Wednesday audience.  She assumed that these were the general seating tickets. On the night of February 17th, when the group picked up the tickets at St. Peter’s, they learned that they were VIP seating.

When the group arrived at St. Peter’s Square in the morning, we were guided by papal ushers to the level of the Square where the pope sits.  All were astonished!    While we were not able to shake the pope’s hand personally, it is very significant that the Vatican responded so positively to an LGBT group by giving us such a prominent place at the audience.
When the pope passed by our group, we all sang “All Are Welcome,” a popular hymn which calls for an inclusive church.  We also called out several times that “We are LGBT Catholics!”
Pope Francis greets pilgrims at the Ash Wednesday audience.
Pope Francis greets pilgrims at the Ash Wednesday audience.

Although Sister Jeannine Gramick has led two other pilgrimages to Rome under the two previous popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, their presence was ignored at the papal audiences.

A Religion News Service story in The Washington Post noted that it was not just Vatican recognition that was significant, but that several other Church leaders helped the process along the way:

“. . . Archbishop Georg Ganswein, head of the papal household and the top aide to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, responded to New Ways’ request for a papal meet-and-greet by reserving tickets for the group at Francis’ weekly public audience in St. Peter’s Square. It’s not a private meeting — which is tough for anyone to get — but it’s not nothing.

“The pope’s ambassador to Washington forwarded a similar request to Rome. Even San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone — point man for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ battle against gay marriage — had written a letter to the Vatican on their behalf.

“Last December, Cordileone had a constructive meeting with Frank DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways, and Sister Jeannine Gramick, a co-founder of New Ways and a longtime advocate for LGBT inclusion in the church. But they were still surprised by the archbishop’s willingness to write a letter for them.”

Sister Jeannine Gramick and Francis DeBernardo in St. Peter's Square following the Ash Wednesday audience.
Sister Jeannine Gramick and Francis DeBernardo in St. Peter’s Square following the Ash Wednesday audience.

Gibson also noted that a British cardinal has given similar prestigious recognition to an LGBT Catholic pilgrimage which is also in Rome this week:

” . . . British Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster sent a warm blessing to a group of LGBT Catholics from London who are joining up with New Ways in Rome. ‘Be assured of my prayers for each and every one of you,’ Nichols wrote. ‘Have a wonderful pilgrimage. God bless you all.’ “

Reuters story published on Huffington Post captured the response of New Ways Ministry’s leaders just after they left the papal audience:

” ‘What this says is that there is movement in our Church, movement to welcome people from the outside closer to the inside,’ Gramick said in St. Peter’s Square. . . . “DeBernardo said Catholic gay and lesbian couples and other non-traditional families should be invited to the meeting, known as a synod, to speak to the bishops about their faith and their sexuality.”

An Associated Press video also reported their reactions: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xhM3UMRl830 Several of the LGBT pilgrims were visibly moved by the welcome they received and by the experience of seeing the pope in person.  Several noted that they felt this was one more step in the progress–albeit, slow–that LGBT Catholics have been making in the Church for several decades.  All agreed that this day will never be forgotten.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

Associated Press: “Gay Catholics Get Vatican Welcome, but No Papal Shout-Out”

New York Daily News:  “American gay Catholic group welcomed to Vatican”