My favorite nun is leading an LGBT pilgrimage to the Vatican

Francis DeBernardo and Sr. Jeannine Gramick

Francis DeBernardo and Sr. Jeannine Gramick

Sister Jeannine Gramick is leading an LGBT pilgrimage to the Vatican in February 2015. When Gramick spoke in Dallas in 2010, Dallas Voice interviewed her.

The trip, called “Rebuild My Church: Pope Francis and St. Francis,” will give pilgrims an opportunity to reflect on church renewal while visiting historic, artistic, and sacred sites in Rome, Assisi, and Florence.

Gramick founded New Ways Ministry in the 1970s to minister to gay and lesbian Catholics. The organization compiled a list of LGBT-friendly churches around the country as well as LGBT-friendly Catholic schools. The ministry was also instrumental in working with Catholic lawmakers in Maryland, where the ministry is based, to show them that a majority of Catholics in the state and in the U.S. supported marriage equality.

Gramick asked that we share the trip information “with anyone who may be interested in making this pilgrimage and learning about rebuilding our church into a more just and inclusive community.”

For more information on the pilgrimage, contact New Ways Ministry.

 

 

 

—  David Taffet

LGBT Catholics remain hopeful despite Pope Francis 1′s anti-gay record

Pope Francis

Cardinal Bergoglio, who has been appointed Pope Francis I, visited an AIDS hospice in this 2001 photo.

Reaction to the election of Pope Francis I in the LGBT community has been mixed.

In a statement, the LGBT Catholic organization Dignity USA wrote:

“We acknowledge that as archbishop and cardinal the man who is now Pope Francis has made some very harsh and inflammatory statements about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. We call on our new Pope to recognize that he is now head of a Church that includes a huge number of LGBT people, their families and friends around the world. We invite him to take the time to learn about our lives, our faith, and our families before he makes any papal pronouncements about us, and we stand ready to enter into dialogue with him at any time.”

In Argentina, Cardinal Bergoglio led the “War of God” against marriage equality. Same-sex marriage has been legal in Argentina since July 2010.

The Federatión Argentina LGBT, the largest LGBT advocacy group in Argentina, issued a statement right away, referencing Bergoglio’s anti-gay statements. “While we have no expectations of change from the Vatican, the choice of someone who promoted a ‘War of God’ against marriage equality is disappointing. His radical position on this issue, on the gender identity law and on safe, legal and free abortion, keeps us from being optimistic.”

New Ways Ministry Executive Director Francis DeBernardo wrote, “We request that Pope Francis make one of his top priorities the re-evaluation of the Catholic hierarchy’s approach to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) issues.”

New Ways Ministries has worked on equal rights for the gay and lesbian community since the 1977.

DeBernardo points out that as a cardinal in Argentina, he spoke strongly against marriage equality and against the right for gays and lesbians to adopt children.

“Pope Francis has the opportunity to repair much of this hurt and alienation by offering sincere pastoral outreach to LGBT people and their families,” he wrote. “In the past few decades, Catholics in the United States and all over the globe have become increasingly welcoming of LGBT people. Catholics have gone to ballot boxes to ensure that LGBT people do not suffer from discrimination and violence, and that they receive equal benefits in society, including civil marriage.”

Father Carl Francis McGowan of Our Lady of Consolation Old Catholc Church, which meets at the Interfaith Peace Chapel, is hopeful the new pope will lead the church in a new direction for LGBT Catholics. Read McGowan’s statement after the jump.

—  David Taffet

St. Edward’s bars Equality Texas from campus

Chuck Smith

St. Edwards University in Austin has barred Equality Texas from participating in a volunteer fair on campus according to the Austin American-Statesman.

St. Edward’s is a Catholic school and is listed as gay-friendly on the New Ways Ministry website. New Ways Ministry is a Catholic organization that works for gay and lesbian equality.

The school said the group may not recruit students on campus because its supports marriage equality, which goes against church teachings. An organization called Pride was listed on school’s website, but all information about the group has been removed since the controversy began last week. The Austin newspaper quoted from the site before the information was removed:

The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Straight Alliance, “seeks to end discrimination and violence directed toward the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgendered community.”

Chuck Smith, deputy director of Equality Texas, said he was surprised by school’s decision not to allow the group on campus.

“Historically, St. Edwards is viewed as welcoming and supportive,” he said.

But he said an Austin blog this week has been questioning whether the campus is becoming more conservative. He cited the recent trip to Texas by President Barack Obama. Organizers had wanted the president to speak on campus, but the school denied the request.

Smith said marriage equality is a topic that is being discussed on campus. He said students use Equality Texas as a resource and that he has personally done at least 25 interviews over the last few years with students doing research papers on the topic.

Smith said that on Tuesday, the school made a statement that although Equality Texas would not be allowed on campus, students who choose to volunteer with the organization are free to do so. Smith said the group uses student interns in four areas and some students get credit for their internships.

—  David Taffet

Gramick: Equality is a Catholic value

Nun began working toward acceptance of gays and lesbians in the Catholic Church in 1971

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

Sister Jeannine Gramick and Francis DeBernardo
SOCIAL JUSTICE | Sister Jeannine Gramick and Francis DeBernardo spoke to a group of Metroplex Catholics at Resource Center Dallas on Aug. 11. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

In 1971, Sister Jeannine Gramick became friendly with a gay man while she was working on her doctorate in mathematics education.

“Sister, what is the Catholic Church doing for gays and lesbians?” he asked her.

She realized the answer was, “Very little.”

That’s when Gramick began working on LGBT issues in the Catholic Church and has since dedicated her career to helping gays and lesbians.

In 1977, Gramick co-founded New Ways Ministry, a Catholic social justice center working for the reconciliation of lesbian and gay people and the church. She founded several local Dignity groups and has served on the board of Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund.

“I do this because I believe this is what God is calling me to do,” said Gramick, who was in Dallas this week for the Leadership Conference of Women Religious with Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry.

DeBernardo said he came of age after Vatican 2 in the social justice tradition of the church. He said what’s more important isn’t someone’s sexual orientation but that people are not being treated equally.

New Ways helps parishes that want to become more gay friendly and helps them develop strategies to do that.

Gramick said that since she began her work, a number of bishops in the United States have supported her. But more and more conservative members of the clergy have been appointed to higher positions since she first took her vows.

In 1999, the Vatican prohibited her from doing pastoral work with gays and lesbians and the next year she was ordered to stop speaking about homosexuality and about Rome’s investigation into her work.

She refused to be muzzled and continued working tirelessly.

The head of her order was worried that Gramick faced excommunication. She suggested they travel to the tomb of the founder of their order in Munich, Germany, to pray for divine intervention.

They flew from Baltimore to Rome where they changed planes for Munich. On the plane from Rome, she sat next to a man she thought might have been a priest.

That’s where the divine intervention happened.

She interrupted him to introduce herself.

“I’m a nun,” she said and asked if he was with the church.

The man introduced himself as Cardinal Ratzinger. When she told him her name, he joked that he had known her for 20 years,meaning they had a thick file on her and had been investigating her for that long.

Before they landed, the head of her order told the cardinal her concern that Sister Jeannine would be excommunicated.

“Oh, no, no, no,” Gramick said the future Pope Benedict told her. “It’s not that level of doctrine.”

Gramick said that the work of New Ways Ministry is not considered an excommunicatable matter. She noted that despite the Vatican’s position on LGBT issues, no one has been excommunicated for working on gay and lesbian social justice issues.

Although Gramick disagrees with the pope’s position on a number of issues and believes the Vatican still doesn’t understand the impact pedophile priests have had on so many lives, she is gracious in describing him.

She recalls him as a friendly, spiritual, holy man.

“He was praying when I interrupted him,” she said. “He has a good sense of humor.”

She said that meeting him put a human face on the institution.

DeBernardo explained the work of New Ways Ministry. Helping parishes become more supportive of gay and lesbian Catholics is a major focus of the organization. He suggested a number of ways parishes can become more supportive.

“The oppression runs the gamut from silence to violence,” said DeBernardo. “Just breaking the silence is a good way.”

He suggests starting support groups in churches. Some churches have integrated gays and lesbians into their education programs.

“If you’re having a discussion on sexuality, you have to mention homosexuality,” he said. “You can’t ignore it anymore. It’s an important part of the current discussion on sexuality.”

Recognizing the gifts gay and lesbian members bring is another important step. One parish, he said, recognizes a lesbian mom or the mother of a lesbian every Mother’s Day.

He said his approach is not “one size fits all.” What works in one area of the country won’t work elsewhere. What works in one church won’t work in a neighboring parish.

In Maryland, New Ways is experimenting with a new program targeting legislators as well as Catholic grassroots voters.

DeBernardo said support of gay and lesbian issues is strong among the grassroots and among middle managers in the church.

“But bishops get the media,” he said.

The project, that they will bring to other states debating same-sex marriage legislation or other equality laws, helps educate legislators that they will not lose Catholic votes by voting in favor of social justice.

Gramick said that there is a disconnect between the church hierarchy and Catholics in the pews.

She spoke at Resource Center Dallas on Wednesday, Aug. 11, to a group of Catholics from around the Metroplex interested in her work.
A teacher who attended said she was afraid she would lose her job if she helped gay students who came out to her.

Gramick suggested the teacher help her students by teaching the full range of Catholic theologies. While the hierarchy teaches one thing, a vast majority of Catholic writers and theologians teach something else, Gramick said.

A parent of a gay son wanted to know how to help others in her parish and in other parishes around the diocese.

“Baby steps,” DeBernardo suggested.

He said the church puts a strong emphasis on family.

“Catholics are so much about keeping families together and when you have large families, you’ll have gays and lesbians in your family,” he said.

“Church leaders think a lot about sex,” he said. “For people in the pews, while sex is important, they don’t think of it as the primary way of interpreting the world. People know that sex is only one part of their lives.”

Gramick estimated that as many as half of all priests are gay. She said that the Catholics in the pews, however, separate the pedophile priests scandal from homosexuality.

Gramick said that when the scandal first erupted, there was a lot of confusion between sexual abuse and gay priests.

She said that people came to church because they liked their priest and didn’t care about his sexual orientation.

Congregations are showing their independence on the issue, Gramick and DeBernardo said.

One church in Greenwich Village has marched in the New York gay Pride parade for years. This year, New York’s new archbishop told them they could not carry their church’s banner in the parade.

Instead they all wore T-shirts with their church’s logo and carried a blank banner.

“They were on CNN. That was great publicity for the church that was being gay friendly,” Gramick said. “Not so good for the archbishop.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 13, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas