Vatican censures gay-tolerant ministry

Mass planned despite church's objections

March 09, 2002|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

The Vatican has withheld permission to celebrate Mass from a Maryland-based Catholic group that promotes greater understanding of gays and lesbians during its national convention in Louisville, Ky., saying the group does not adhere to church teaching and the event will cause scandal.

But organizers of the gathering, sponsored by New Ways Ministry of Mount Rainier, said they have found a legal loophole that will allow them to proceed with plans for a Mass tonight as part of the three-day conference of about 550 church leaders and ministers.

The Mass will be celebrated by retired Bishop Leroy T. Matthiesen of Amarillo, Texas. He is expected to be joined by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton of Detroit.

Organizers say they may proceed because they have not been expressly forbidden to do so by Archbishop Thomas Kelly of Louisville, the local church official who has the authority to bar someone in his diocese from celebrating Mass.

"It is not defiant or a protest act at all," said Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry. "We're going ahead ... because we have not been forbidden."

New Ways Ministry was founded by a priest and a nun based in Baltimore, the Rev. Robert Nugent and Sister Jeannine Gramick. They ran afoul of Cardinal (then Archbishop) James A. Hickey of Washington and were ordered by the Vatican to end their association with the group in 1984 and to end their ministry to homosexuals in 1999.

Although its founders have been censured, DeBernardo said that this is the first time to his knowledge that New Ways Ministry has crossed Vatican radar.

The Vatican missive came in the form of a letter from Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, secretary for the church's office charged with supervising its teaching and disciplining those who stray from it.

Bertone wrote to the Louisville archbishop that "because New Ways Ministry does not promote the authentic teaching of the Catholic Church and because of the confusion and scandal which will inevitably arise, ... the Congregation asks Your Excellency to inform the organizers of the symposium that they do not have permission to celebrate the Eucharist as part of their conference."

A statement from Kelly's spokeswoman said that the archbishop forwarded the Vatican directive and "invited conference participants who wished to do so to attend liturgy at one of the regularly scheduled Masses at the Cathedral of the Assumption."

In that wording, New Ways Ministry saw a loophole.

DeBernardo said canon lawyers and other experts advised the group that only the bishop can regulate who celebrates Mass in his diocese, and they contend the archbishop's letter did not explicitly forbid them.

"It's legal according to church law," DeBernardo said.

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