WASHINGTON (July 13, 1999) -- Saying that it would benefit the ministry to homosexual persons, Galveston-Houston Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza, president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops/U.S. Catholic Conference, called on School Sister of Notre Dame Jeannine Gramick and Salvatorian Father Robert Nugent to "find the way to express their acceptance of the Church's teaching on homosexuality, as sought by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith." The Holy See's doctrinal congregation issued a Notification today that Sister Gramick and Father Nugent are "permanently prohibited from any pastoral work involving homosexual persons."
Sister Gramick and Father Nugent have been engaged in pastoral activities for homosexual persons for over twenty years, having founded New Ways Ministry for that purpose in 1977. In its notification regarding the two Religious, the Congregation stated that they "have continually called central elements" of the Church's teaching on homosexuality into question. In 1984, the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and for Societies of Apostolic Life told them to separate themselves from New Ways Ministry and not to conduct this work "without faithfully presenting the Church's teaching regarding the intrinsic evil of homosexual acts."
In 1988, the Holy See established a commission headed by Cardinal Adam Maida of Detroit to examine the continuing activities of Sister Gramick and Father Nugent. The commission, "while not overlooking the presence of some positive aspects" in their work, also found "serious deficiencies in their writings and pastoral activities, which were incompatible with the fullness of Christian morality," the Notification said. The commission recommended disciplinary action, including the publication of a notification "in order to counteract and repair the harmful confusion caused by the errors and ambiguities in their publications and activities."
According to the Notification, in 1995, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, "with the hope that Father Nugent and Sister Gramick would be willing to express their assent to Catholic teaching on homosexuality and to correct the errors in their writings," invited them "to respond unequivocally to certain questions regarding their position on the morality of homosexual acts and on the homosexual inclination." When their response and a 1995 book authored by them "made it clear that there was no change in their opposition to fundamental elements of the Church's teaching," the Congregation decided to resolve the case according to the procedure outlined in its Regulations for Doctrinal Examination. Each Religious was asked to respond, personally and independenly of the other, to the erroneous statements identified by the Congregation and included in a document presented to them by their religious superiors.
The declarations of Sister Gramick and Father Nugent failed to satisfy the Congregation. Since Father Nugent's response seemed to leave more room for resolution, he was offered a declaration of assent to sign. However, his reply took the form of an alternative text which the Congregation found insufficient.
As a result of "the failure of the repeated attempts of the Church's legitimate authorities to resolve the problems presented by the writings and pastoral activities of the two authors," the Notification said that the Congregation found itself "obliged to declare for the good of the Catholic faithful that the positions" of Sister Gramick and Father Nugent "regarding the intrinsic evil of homosexual acts and the objective disorder of the homosexual inclination are doctrinally unacceptable because they do not faithfully convey the clear and constant teaching of the Catholic Church in this area."
The Congregation has prohibited them permanently from "any pastoral work involving homosexual persons" and declared them ineligible, "for an undetermined period, for any office in their respective religious institutes."
In his statement on the Congregation's Notification, Bishop Fiorenza said that "the Church's teaching on homosexuality has remained constant, consistent, and clear; and the long period of time devoted to examining whether Sister Gramick and Father Nugent accept this teaching indicates that these disciplinary measures were not taken lightly." He also pointed out the obligation of Church leadership "to discern what is or is not faithful to the teaching handed on by the Lord to the Apostles."
Bishop Fiorenza said that "all of the Bishops are aware of how pastorally and humanly sensitive is the area of ministry on which Sister Gramick and Father Nugent embarked in their outreach to persons with homosexual inclinations." He pointed out that the commission chaired by Cardinal Maida did not find it to be "without positive aspects" for homosexual persons and their families. He stated that "the Congregation was obliged to act" on account of deficiencies in their ministry and "not because it was a ministry to homosexuals as such."
Bishop Fiorenza then quoted the Congregation's 1986 letter on the pastoral care of homosexual persons which encourages bishops "to provide pastoral care in full accord with the teaching of the Church for homosexual persons of their dioceses," without departing from the Church's teaching, remaining silent about it, or presenting it "as if it were an optional source for the formation of one's conscience."
"Homosexuality is such a sensitive issue in our society that an outreach and ministry to homosexual persons, even when carried out in accord with Church teaching, can still be subject to misunderstanding and criticism," Bishop Fiorenza said, resulting in hesitation "to engage in this outreach at all.
"The Congregation clearly does not want such a result," Bishop Fiorenza added, once again citing the Congregation's 1986 letter which says that "an authentic pastoral program will assist homosexual persons at all levels of the spiritual life.... In such a way, the entire Christian community can come to recognize its own call to assist its brothers and sisters, without deluding them or isolating them."
Bishop Fiorenza said that the U.S. Catholic Bishops "have heard the call to offer this Gospel-based pastoral assistance, as demonstrated by the various forms of outreach which exist in individual dioceses."
He also noted that the Bishops' Conference has "addressed these pastoral concerns in such statements as To Live in Christ Jesus, A Call to Compassion and Responsibility, Human Sexuality: A Catholic Perspective for Education and Lifelong Learning, and Always Our Children, a statement of the Committee on Marriage and Family.
"We also join with the Congregation in condemning in no uncertain terms `violent malice in speech or in action' against homosexual persons as revealing the kind of `disregard for others which endangers the most fundamental principles of a healthy society,'" Bishop Fiorenza said. This condemnation appears in the Congregation's 1986 letter also. "The teaching of the Church cannot be used to justify bigotry in any form," he said.
"All Catholics facing serious moral questions deserve our care and respect as brothers and sisters in the Lord. Those with homosexual inclinations deserve this care and respect no less than any others," he concluded.
In the course of his statement, Bishop Fiorenza expressed his "personal hope that Sister Gramick and Father Nugent can find the way to express their acceptance of the Church's teaching on homosexuality, as sought by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
"Such a step would be of benefit not only to them personally but also to the ministry which, though they are now permanently excluded from it, has been so important to them and for which the Church maintains a continuing pastoral responsibility," Bishop Fiorenza said.
Adam Cardinal Maida of Detroit, who chaired the commission appointed by the Holy See in 1988 regarding the work of Sister Gramick and Father Nugent, also issued a statement today in which he said that, in its work, the Commission "never lost sight of the realization that ministry to the homosexual community is both sensitive and necessary."
He added, however, that "such ministry can cause more harm than good if it is conducted in the midst of controversy and ambiguity."
Cardinal Maida concluded by saying that he joined with his fellow Commission members, Monsignor James Mulligan and Dr. Janet Smith, "in the hope and prayer that Father Nugent and Sister Gramick can find the way to accept the decision of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith."