Rejection of LGBT Student Group Raises Problems at Catholic H.S.

Following a Missouri Catholic high school’s rejection of a proposed LGBT student group, community members are asking questions about how and why this decision was made. So far there are few clear answers.

kuzp-ldkAt Nerinx Hall Catholic High School, in Webster Groves, near St. Louis, School President John Gabriel said the Archdiocese of St. Louis directed him to reject a request from students for an LGBT club, reported the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

In a response to concerned alumna, Jill Allen, Gabriel explained that the archdiocese mandated any student LGBT group at the all-girls school follow “a carefully charted course of action that includes conversion therapy.” He would later say he misread this archdiocesan directive.  He also told Allen:

“Nerinx Hall believes that we can best minister to our LGBT students through our Loretto charism and the Loretto school values of faith, community, justice, and respect.”

But, Allen wrote in her initial letter to the school president, that rejecting an LGBT group “doesn’t reflect my experience of Nerinx,” and is not consistent with Loretto values. And Allen is not alone. Within a day, more than 600 people joined a Facebook group protesting the rejection. Beth Schumacher, class of 2001, told the Post-Dispatch:

“‘There are a lot of alumnae out there who are really, really disappointed both with the decision and with the direction it might be going in right now. . .There are young people at risk. If someone is asking for a club of that nature, then there are definitely individuals who can use that level of support.'”

The school was founded and is currently sponsored by the Sisters of Loretto.  It an independent institution not formally affiliated with the Archdiocese.  On the school’s website, the statement of philosophy says that the school believes “educated, caring, and empowered young women are essential to our world.” It shares in the Loretto School Values, which include:

“Community: Building relationships that are affirming, inclusive, empowering, and compassionate

“Justice: Promoting changes to eliminate oppression, and creating systems and relationships in which people, especially women, are treated fairly and impartially

“Respect: Being open to differences, and believing in each person’s potential. Promoting the dignity of individuals and protecting the sacredness of all creation.”

Sister Jeannine Gramick, New Ways Ministry’s co-founder and lifelong Catholic advocate for LGBT people provided the following comment to Bondings 2.0 about this decision made at a school that is sponsored by her religious community:

“As a Sister of Loretto, I am embarrassed and ashamed by the stance taken by Mr. John Gabriel. Such a posture does not reflect the Loretto values of inclusion, diversity, and care for all. The students and alumnae of Nerinx deserve leadership that displays these Gospel-based values.”

The story of the school’s decision became even more complex when later in the day, in a letter to parents after news of the rejection broke, Gabriel retracted his claim about “conversion” therapy, writing:

“Today, a Post-Dispatch reporter reached out to Nerinx Hall and the Archdiocese. In preparing my response to the reporter, I also spoke with Archdiocesan Superintendent Dr. Kurt Nelson. It was during my conversation with him that I realized I had misunderstood the Archdiocesan position on conversion therapy within school LGBTQ+ groups.”

Responding to the Post-Dispatch, Gabriel simply “sent a reporter a list of Nerinx Hall’s initiatives to promote diversity and inclusion, which include training for teachers on ministry to LGBT individuals and diversity forums for students.” He commented only that Nerinx Hall would be consulting with the Archdiocese on next steps.

Unfortunately, it is not merely Gabriel and Nerinx Hall administrators who are involved, as they may be more willing to listen to alumnae. Gabe Jones, an archdiocesan spokesperson, said Archbishop Robert Carlson is responsible for all Catholics, and “[w]hen it comes to Catholic teaching, the archdiocese is the arbiter of what is Catholic and what is not.”

At issue in this debate are guidelines on LGBT ministry published by the Archdiocese last year. Titled “Hope and Holiness: Pastoral Care for Those with Same-Sex Attraction,” these guidelines include a “triage checklist” for dealing with LGBT people, and discourage people from publicly coming out. The guidelines also mandate that the Archdiocese be consulted if an LGBT group is being considered at a school or parish.  The guidelines express concern about how adolescents are considered in such groups:

“[T]he boundaries between transitory same-sex attraction and more deep-seated tendencies are not always clear. It is not unusual for a young person to experience attraction to a person of the same sex. It is important not to assume that such experiences are the result of a deep-seated tendency.”

Perhaps this is what confused President Gabriel into citing conversion therapy as a reason for the rejection. It is troubling that a lack of clarity still exists about how, why, and by whom the decision was made. This haze is similar to other LGBT controversies at Catholic institutions where culpability for unpopular decisions is treated as hot potato, passed around by church officials.

But this is a prime moment in which a Catholic high school can assert its independence and take a firm stand for its LGBTQ students. As a former Loretto Volunteer and friend of some Sisters of Loretto, I have come to know well the values of the Loretto Community, with which Nerinx Hall is affiliated. The Sisters “work for justice and act for peace because the Gospel urges us,” and have done so with a pioneer mentality for over two centuries. President Gabriel and Nerinx Hall administrators should tap into the Community’s rich Catholic roots to find a way forward consistent with this history and these values.

What would be best at this moment is for administrators at Nerinx Hall and Archbishop Carlson to share transparently what happened: Did the Archdiocese demand the group be rejected? Are Nerinx Hall administrators hiding their decision under the Archdiocese’s umbrella? Was conversion therapy a relevant aspect in the rejection? And what happens now? Nerinx Hall students, alumnae, teachers, parents, and Catholics in St. Louis generally deserve nothing less than honest and clear answers to these questions.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, February 16, 2017

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Sr. Jeannine Gramick Celebrated Good News in 2015

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Sr. Jeannine Gramick, left, with Francis DeBernardo of New Ways Ministry

Sr. Jeannine Gramick, New Ways Ministry’s Co-Founder, has worked more than four decades to bring LGBT equality to the Catholic Church. Few years have been as positive for this ministry as 2015 despite remaining challenges in the church.  The following is a re-cap of some of the highlights of her year’s activities, including many which this blog had not yet covered.

In February, Gramick accompanied 50 LGBT and Ally Catholic pilgrims to a papal audience in Rome where the New Ways Ministry group was given VIP seating. In September, she attended the White House’s welcoming reception for Pope Francis alongside other prominent LGBT advocates. In between, there were many positive Catholic LGBT developments around the world including Ireland’s marriage referendum, for which she campaigned when she visited the Emerald Isle.  (And she’ll be returning to Ireland in April 2016 with another group of LGBT and Ally pilgrims.  It’s not too late to sign up!  You can read more information and find a registration form by clicking here.)

In Good Conscience, the 2005 documentary about Gramick’s life, with particular emphasis on her relationship with the Vatican, celebrated its 10th anniversary. Producer Barbara Rick released an updated version and spoke with Global Sisters Reporter about the film and the sister behind it, saying of Gramick:

“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. . .

“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.”

A recent Buzzfeed profile of Sister Jeannine details in greater depth her journey of being faithful to an inclusive Gospel.  It’s a good read for those who want to learn more of her life and how she became involved with LGBT ministry and advocacy.  In the interview, she expressed hope in Pope Francis’ leadership, saying:

“[Attending the papal audience] was a great feeling of vindication, almost a euphoria that this is how the church should be. . .Doctrine doesn’t inform ministry. I think the opposite: Ministry informs the doctrine. In fact, I’m more in line with Pope Francis: I don’t think we need to worry or think about or be concerned about doctrine.”

Not all welcomed Gramick in 2015, however.  When she visited the Czech Republic this past summer, Prague’s archbishop expelled the program at which she was scheduled to speak from a local parish. Cardinal Dominik Duka rejected events to be held at the church during Prague Pride festivities over the summer. Sister Jeannine spoke elsewhere, reported the Prague Post, but remained disappointed by the cardinal’s decision.

As 2016 approaches, Sr. Jeannine’s ministry will keep pressing for equal justice for LGBT people in the church and in society. Her message from her earliest years still rings true for Catholics today: “This is your church — don’t let other people screen you out.” To hear more of Sr. Jeannine Gramick’s story and learn about her message of love, you can watch a TED Talk she gave at Penn State University earlier this year, entitled “Walk in Your God Shoes“:

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

LGBT Injustices Central at Loretto Community 200th Jubilee Celebration in DC

Loretto Sisters, Co-members and Friends at the USCCB

LGBT issues were front and center when 40 people gathered in Washington, D.C. to celebrate the Loretto Community’s 200th Jubilee.

Planned on the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, the DC gathering included visits to seven sights of injustice where the group prayed and sang a litany of saints and heroes. Sites visited were the US Supreme Court, the US Capitol, the DC Jail, the Vietnam War Memorial, the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, the Vatican Embassy, and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) headquarters.

Sr. Jeannine Gramick, a Sister of Loretto and co-founder of New Ways Ministry, and Matthew Myers, a co-member of Loretto who currently chairs New Ways Ministry’s Board of Directors, joined Sr. Maureen Fiedler of the Sisters of Loretto and Eileen Harrington, a co-member, in leading the afternoon’s celebrations.

Amongst the injustices called to mind were those committed against the LGBT community. These included the exclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons from equal protections under the law at the Supreme Court and the campaign against marriage equality launched by Catholic bishops that makes LGBT persons objects of discrimination.

Sr. Jeannine Gramick of New Ways Ministry and Sr. Maureen Fiedler

In the Loretto tradition of  ‘working for justice and acting for peace,’ the saints and heroes who struggle for equality and conscience were called to mind as well.

In the political and legal realm, those gathered sang the names of John Lawrence, plaintiff in the case that decriminalized same-gender consensual sex, as well as President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, who have refused to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act.

In the ecclesiastical realm, theologians Hans Kung, Charles Curran, and Margaret Farley were sung at the Vatican Embassy for their progressive views on human sexuality and the Vatican censures that followed. Bishop Thomas Gumbleton was intoned at the USCCB for his outspoken voice for LGBT rights within the Catholic Church.

Fittingly, Sr. Jeannine was included in the litany, along with several other women religious. The program described Sr. Jeannine in the following way:

“Loretto Sister who advocates for LGBT persons in the face of continual Vatican opposition.”

In 1992, after the Vatican had directed U.S. bishops to pull back from their support of civil rights’ legislation for lesbian and gay people, the Loretto General Assembly issued a statement in support of lesbian and gay civil rights which included the following:

“. . . as U.S. citizens, we believe that our constitutional tradition–properly understood and interpreted–ought to guarantee basic civil rights and equal protection of our laws to all citizens regardless of sexual orientation. It saddens us that the Vatican would enter the U.S. political arena by encouraging a departure from the finest ideals of our political tradition, ideals which promote equality and basic civil rights for everyone.
“Consequently, we call upon our political leaders to guarantee the civil rights of lesbian and gay persons in the law of our land. We call upon the U.S. Catholic Bishops to support such legislation as an authentic expression of the gospel call to respect the intrinsic human rights and dignity of all persons.”

New Ways Ministry applauds Loretto for 200 years of powerful witness to working for justice and acting for peace because of the Gospel’s urgent call.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry