Vatican orders activists' silence

Priest, nun barred from speaking about homosexuality

Ministry stopped last year

May 27, 2000|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

A nun and a priest from Baltimore, already under Vatican orders to end their three-decade ministry to gay and lesbian Catholics, now also have been silenced by Rome, forbidden from speaking publicly about homosexuality or about their punishment.

Sister Jeannine Gramick, a School Sister of Notre Dame, and the Rev. Robert Nugent, a Salvatorian priest, received the order at a meeting Tuesday at the Vatican. It was announced last night by their religious superiors.

Gramick, who reluctantly agreed with Vatican limitations last year, said last night she will not obey the latest order, which she called "a violation of the basic human right to self-defense." Her actions will likely lead to her dismissal from her religious order, with which she has lived and worked for the last 40 years.

"My response is that in conscience, I don't think I can do that because I don't think it is right," Gramick said last night shortly after returning from Rome.

"The part that I think is particularly unfair is to say to someone, `You are forbidden to speak about this experience.' How else are we to grow as a church, as individuals or as a community unless we can speak about and reflect on our experiences? That part I found particularly offensive."

Gramick said she is making her decision with full awareness of its consequences, although she added that "I'm not dismissed yet, so I always hold out hope that something would happen that would preclude that."

If she were dismissed from the School Sisters of Notre Dame, which she joined at age 18, "that would be very painful," she said.

Nugent to comment soon

"For me, religious life is my religious family," Gramick said. And in a family, even if there is a dispute over authority, "I wouldn't banish someone from the family. That is what I think I would be experiencing. I would feel I were banished from my religious family."

Nugent was returning from Rome last night and was not available for comment. His religious community, the Milwaukee-based Salvatorians, released a statement that gave no indication he would defy the Vatican order. He has consistently said he will abide by whatever restrictions the Vatican applied.

"Since the Notification 10 months ago, Fr. Nugent has respected in good faith its stated directives, and will soon issue a statement concerning his recent meeting in Rome with the Generalate of the Society," the Salvatorian statement said.

Gramick and Nugent were ordered in July by the Vatican 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 the church regards homosexual acts as intrinsically evil.

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

The earlier Vatican directive, while prohibiting Gramick and Nugent from further pastoral work with gays and lesbians, did allow them to publish writings with the permission of their religious superiors.

Closing loophole

The way Gramick and Nugent interpreted the Vatican's previous order, they were still allowed to speak about homosexuality and about the 11-year investigation that resulted in the ministry ban.

It was this loophole that the Vatican closed during the meeting on Tuesday with Gramick, Nugent and their religious superiors.

Groups representing gay and lesbian Catholics reacted with anger and sadness.

"The gay and lesbian community is going to be further devastated by the news, further angered and alienated from the church," said Marianne Buddy, executive director of Dignity U.S.A.

"I think that Jeannine and Bob were trying to live within the letter of the directive from Rome, but also trying to be true to their ministerial calling," she said. "To force them to make a choice between their life in community and their call to ministry is a kind of abuse."

Francis DeBernardo, executive director of Hyattsville-based New Ways Ministry, which was founded in 1977 by Gramick and Nugent, called the Vatican's latest action "a cover-up."

"If they had handled the investigation correctly in the 11 years that it took, there would be no need to silence Sister Jeannine and Father Nugent now," he said. "Further silence is only going to breed further injustice in this case. I can't help but to ask: `What is it the Vatican is afraid of?' "

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