Nun decides to end her ministry to homosexuals

She pledges to work to overturn ban decreed by Vatican

September 28, 1999|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore nun said she will abide by a Vatican order to end her ministry to gay and lesbian Roman Catholics, but will work to have the ban overturned.

Sister Jeannine Gramick, who said until recently she had not decided whether she would obey the Vatican, said she felt it was wiser in the long run to work within the structures of the Roman Catholic Church.

"While I see no benefits for lesbian and gay Catholics and their parents if I passively accept the [Vatican] decision, I believe it is more beneficial to minister on their behalf with the blessing of Church leadership than without it," she said in a statement. "Therefore, I believe it is important to work within Church structures to have the decision reconsidered and, hopefully, ultimately reversed."

Gramick and her colleague, the Rev. Robert Nugent, a Baltimore priest, were ordered in July by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to end their nearly 30-year ministry to gays and lesbians, because they failed to explicitly state in their teaching and in their personal beliefs the church doctrine that a homosexual orientation is "disordered" and that homosexual acts are intrinsically evil.

Nugent and Gramick have been ministering to gay and lesbian Catholics since 1971. They have co-written two books and traveled the country lecturing and offering retreats and workshops to gay Catholics and their families.

Gramick took a month off from ministerial obligations to contemplate her future, spending part of the time at a religious retreat with the Carmelites. She consulted with her religious superiors and gave them time to discuss her decision -- to accept the Vatican's decision and work for its reversal -- before making any statement.

One option she never considered was leaving religious life, she said yesterday in an interview.

"I've never had any kind of feeling that I should not be with my religious community," she said. "I've wanted to be a nun since I was 7 years old. I always felt God was calling me to be a religious. It was in high school that I decided on a congregation, and I've been very happy as a School Sister of Notre Dame. I love my community very much, and I feel very loved and supported by them."

She might continue speaking and writing about gay and lesbian Catholics in an academic setting, which she and Nugent say is not prohibited by the Vatican action.

"The mistaken impression I think a lot of people have is they say I've been `silenced' by the Vatican," Gramick said. "I haven't been silenced. I can still speak and write about gay and lesbian topics in an academic setting."

But it is the pastoral ministry to gays and lesbians that she feels called to, and she hopes she will be able to resume.

"The spirit of Jesus impels me to try to show lesbian and gay persons the loving, compassionate face of God and our church," she said. "It is a fire in me."

She notes that Sri Lankan theologian the Rev. Tissa Balasuriya was excommunicated in January 1997 after the Vatican condemned his writings on salvation and the Virgin Mary. That excommunication was lifted a year later after negotiations between Balasuriya's religious superiors and the Vatican.

"This sanction from the [Vatican] is not as serious as an excommunication," Gramick said. "If an excommunication can be lifted, certainly this sanction can be lifted. And we just need to find out how to do that."

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