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Statements of Sr. Jeannine Gramick, SSND


Editor's personal comment:  I have rarely been more appalled than at the Vatican censure of of Father Bob Nugent and Sister Jeannine Gramick for doing precisely what as Christians we are called to do: bring God's love into the world by ministering to all but especially to those excluded and marginalized for any reason. This step is especially regrettable because it can be interpreted to align the institutional leadership of the Church with the kind of  homophobia that rewards discriminating against our homosexual brothers and sisters and lays the foundation for irrational hatred and deadly attacks.  I am also deeply disappointed.  I was so very proud of my Church when a Franciscan brother who worked with dying AIDS patients in Chicago as part of an ecumenical support group told me that he always said, "I am thinking about it," when one of dying asked him if he was gay. He didn't want to give the tiniest impression of anything except unconditional acceptance of the other. I was so very proud of my Church when services for one of my gay students who had died of AIDS--a Baptist and son of a Baptist minister--were held in a Catholic church. I was so very proud of my Church when I read "Always Our Children," the 1997 compassionate message to parents of homosexual children and pastoral ministers by the Bishops Committee on Marriage and Family of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. Rome now repents of having persecuted Jews in the past. How long will it take for Rome to repent of persecuting those who do not fit a simplistic, pre-scientific definition of human sexual identity? I also wonder why the principles of religious liberty and human dignity affirmed by the Second Vatican Council are generally applied primarily to institutions other than the Church itself. 

Ingrid Shafer 
July 24, 1999

Statement of Jeannine Gramick, SSND, 
Regarding the Notification of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

July 23, 1999 

I am anguished and deeply troubled that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith [CDF] has decided that I should be permanently prohibited from any pastoral work with lesbian or gay persons or their parents. Many of my friends, colleagues, and sisters are hurt, bewildered, and deeply pained by the action of the CDF. This statement is intended to clarify my situation for them and for the whole Catholic community, which I dearly love. 

I have felt called to lesbian and gay ministry since 1971 when I met a gay man during my graduate school days at the University of Pennsylvania. His question, "What is the Church doing for my gay brothers and sisters," became God's invitation to me to help correct the injustices of our society and Church toward this excluded group of people. It changed the entire direction of my life. The severe judgment of the CDF brings me to a new moment in my life regarding this ministry. 

I strongly believe in the need for authority and I respect those entrusted with exercising it. At the same time, my experience in this investigation was that justice was not served because of a lack of fair and open procedures. The People of God deserve impartial hearings and trials for any accused. There is a conflict of interest when any agency fulfills the roles of prosecutor, jury, and judge in the same case, as happened with the Vatican investigation of my ministry. 

What began as an inquiry about my public statements and writings on homosexuality became, in the end, an interrogation about my inner personal beliefs on the subject. My personal beliefs had earlier been avoided in the Vatican Commission hearings when Cardinal Adam Maida, the Commission Chair, inquired about them but then quickly acknowledged, "Maybe that's not a fair question." 

I stand ready to proclaim my assent to all the core beliefs of our faith. Beyond this, my status as a vowed religious and as a public pastoral minister should not deprive me of the right which every believer has to maintain the privacy of her internal conscience in matters which are not central to our faith. To intrude, uninvited, into the sanctuary of another's conscience is both disrespectful and wrong. 

I have refrained from making public statements of my personal views about homosexual behavior and homosexual orientation because these are the areas of contention between the Magisterium and lesbian/gay Catholics. As a bridge-builder, I have tried to keep my personal views on contentious issues as far as possible in the background. I have tried to follow the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin's model of seeking common ground. 

I have tried to present the teachings of the Magisterium in a responsible and respectful way. These are contained primarily in the book, Voices of Hope: A Collection of Positive Catholic Writings on Gay and Lesbian Issues. At the same time, I have tried to present the concerns and views of lesbian and gay Catholics, which are contained primarily in the book, Building Bridges: Gay and Lesbian Reality and the Catholic Church. My hope has been, and still is, to stand as a mediator. 
An emphasis on the teaching about homosexual acts and orientation which obscures our Church's teaching about the human dignity of lesbian and gay persons and their rights as baptized Christians misses the fundamental message of Jesus' Gospel of love and compassion. The Church's teaching about the immorality of violence, prejudice, and discrimination, and about the human, civil and ecclesial rights of lesbian and gay people is far more important to the lived reality of homosexual and heterosexual people than any statement about homosexual activity or orientation.

Those who minister today to the divorced and remarried are not expected to constantly proclaim the immorality of divorce and remarriage. Hospital chaplains are not expected to constantly proclaim the immorality of neglecting and endangering one's health. Those in prison ministry are not expected to constantly proclaim the immorality of criminal acts. Military chaplains are not expected to constantly proclaim the immorality of war. The expectations of those in lesbian and gay ministry should be similar.

Wouldn't Catholics feel proud if Church leaders condemned anti-gay violence each time they mention homosexuality, instead of mentioning homosexual acts as they usually do? Wouldn't lesbian and gay Catholics feel the beginning of reconciliation in this year of jubilee if we, as a Church, asked forgiveness from our lesbian sisters and gay brothers for our silence and complicity in the face of their oppression?

I am concerned that lesbian and gay Catholics and their families will be angered by this action of the CDF. To them, I say 

Use your anger creatively. Don't leave the Church. It is your spiritual home. The People of God are welcoming you into our parishes. They are coming to see that the whole community is diminished when we exclude lesbian and gay persons from the table of Eucharist and dialogue. Believe what our U.S. bishops said in their pastoral message, Always Our Children: "In you God's love is revealed."
I have learned and received much from lesbian and gay Catholics. I am especially thankful for the gift of helping me to accept diversity. St. Paul's image of the Church as the Body of Christ has become very tangible in my life: "If the whole body were just an eye, how could it hear? And if it 
were only an ear, how could it smell? As it is, however, God put every different part in the body just as God wanted it to be" (1 Cor. 17-18).

I am profoundly grateful to the Congregation of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, and to the Baltimore Province in particular. Their advocacy of this ministry for more than two decades, especially when it was new in the Church, has been a witness to their commitment to Jesus' Way to comfort and liberate the oppressed and marginalized of this world.

I am now faced with a decision of whether or not to accept the outcome of a process that I believe was fundamentally unfair. I still feel called by God to lesbian and gay ministry. I also feel called to serve the People of God as a loyal member of the School Sister of Notre Dame in the Catholic Church. Thus, the censure from the Vatican presents a dilemma for me.

On July 14, 1999, I canceled my ministerial commitments for one month so that I can take the needed time to discern where God is calling me in the future. In God's mysterious way, I believe that this time of trial will be the occasion of many graces. We are assured that "For those who love God, all things work together unto good" (Romans 8:28). I ask for your prayers.

Response to the Vatican's May 23, 2000, silencing order.

May 25, 2000

Society hears the pain of battered women who remained silent for too long, often because of fear of further reprisals or concern about others, particularly their children. When a woman has found sufficient strength to name the oppression she has endured and seeks help, she is often pursued by the batterer, who tries to cower her into submission and begin the cycle of intimidation once again.

For 11 years the Vatican investigated my pastoral ministry to lesbian and gay persons, after my congregation, the School Sisters of Notre Dame, conducted two studies resulting in positive evaluations of my work. I gave no particulars publicly about these investigations because Church authorities requested that I remain silent during the investigation process in the interest of confidentiality. The publication of the Notification from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on July 14, 1999 presented details of the Vatican investigation from the perspective of the hierarchy. Since July 1999, I have offered my own viewpoint by revealing additional facts, which show that the process violated principles of fair judicial procedure outlined in the Catholic Church's 1971 document, Justice in the World (par. 45). Gradually, I found my voice and have told my story to various Catholic and ecumenical audiences.

While I am not a battered woman and have experienced no physical abuse, the emotional dynamics of the investigation and its aftermath are similar to that situation. A command not to speak or write about the Notification and its ecclesiastical processes is similar to ordering a woman who feels she has been unjustly treated to remain silent. Is this not a violation of the basic human right to self-defense? A woman religious does not surrender her human rights by virtue of her state of life. Our Church teaches "no one should be deprived of their ordinary rights because they are associated with the Church in one way or another" (Justice in the World, par. 41). How can we grow in becoming a more just Church unless we reflect on and learn from our own experience?

Furthermore, how can it be right to require that I not ask the Christian faithful to write to the Vatican to express their views about the Notification? Church law states that "(the Christian faithful) have the right and even at times a duty to manifest to their sacred pastors their opinion" (canon 212, 3).

Members of religious communities give special attention to the wisdom of the community, expressed in the voice of a religious leader, as a source of knowing God's will. Our community documents call us to obey God by proclaiming the good news to all particularly those considered poor, promoting unity and reconciliation, eliminating the root causes of injustice, working for positive systemic change, and risking innovative response to the needs of the time.

I try to live obedience in the light of these principles and the requests of religious leaders, both of which, hopefully, are congruent. If they are not congruent in the member's understanding, I believe the member must obey the will of God as manifested in her conscience, just as any baptized Christian must follow his or her conscience, even if it is not congruent with official Church teaching. Vatican II's Declaration on Religious Freedom states that "'every one of us will render an account of oneself to God' (Rom. 14:12), and for this reason (one) is bound to obey one's conscience" (par. 11). Church teachings are certainly more serious matters than directives of religious leaders; therefore, the obligation to follow one's conscience applies to these directives as well.

I have gravely considered the requests of my community leaders, as well as our community documents. I feel pained that the Vatican and my community leaders now ask me to silence myself. After finding my voice to tell my story, I choose not to collaborate in my own oppression by restricting a basic human right. To me this is a matter of conscience.

I am deeply saddened by the current situation because my community leaders and I have a common desire to serve God and God's people. My faith in God and the paschal mystery give me hope that this Good Friday experience will some day be followed by an Easter Sunday. I ask the prayers of all who are concerned.

Other voices

Another Voice

Questions From a Ewe

Challenges Facing Catholicism
(Bishop Geoffrey Robinson in converation with Dr Ingrid Shafer)

Home ARCC Web-Site Editor: Ingrid H. Shafer, Ph.D.
e-mail address: ihs@ionet.net
Posted 14 July1999
Last updated 2 June 2000
Copyright © 1999-2000 Ingrid H. Shafer
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