New Ways Ministry discusses gay marriage during conference

Montgomery County delegate is among those who support bill in Md. Senate

  • Sister Jeanine Gramick and Francis DeBernardo speak at the day-long conference, Marriage Equality: A Positive Catholic Approach, sponsored by New Ways Ministry.
Sister Jeanine Gramick and Francis DeBernardo speak at the… (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun )
February 19, 2011|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun

Several speakers voiced support for marriage equality for Roman Catholic gay and lesbian couples during New Ways Ministry's all-day conference in Pikesville on Saturday — a view not shared by the Vatican.

But the 70 attendees were buoyed by the hope that the amended version of the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act, approved by a Senate committee Thursday and headed to the full Senate for debate, would soon make Maryland the sixth state to recognize same-sex marriages.

New Ways Ministry, a Maryland-based national Roman Catholic organization, proclaims that it works for justice and equality for lesbian and gay people.

Keynote speaker Del. Heather Mizeur, a Montgomery County Democrat, said, "Marylanders are fair-minded people, and they will stand up with us, and truly make Maryland the Maryland Free State."

Mizeur, a Roman Catholic lesbian who married her spouse, Deborah, five years ago in California, said, "We will counter our opponents' extremism with love, and that's why we're going to win."

The Maryland Catholic Conference, based in Annapolis, is against the legislation.

"We're opposed to Senate Bill 116," said Kathy Dempsey, the organization's communications director, in an interview. "We favor marriage between one man and one woman."

The Catholic Church's official stance is that sexual activity between people of the same gender is not permitted and it therefore opposes same-sex marriage.

During the conference at the Pikesville Hilton, Mizeur related the anxiety and pain she felt when she was in college and was fearful of telling a priest who was both a religious counselor and a close friend that she was a lesbian.

"I knew he'd go into a meltdown, and when I told him, he withdrew from me," she recalled. "Over time and many conversations, he came back to me and apologized.

Mizeur said her priest friend said, "'You have come into my life and you have made me a better priest.'"

She spoke of people's fear of change and the importance of keeping or bringing back to the church "our gay brothers and sisters."

She pointed out that the Roman Catholic Church has been slow to move on this issue.

"Much pain and suffering has been handed out by the church and there is a crisis in the church. We must stay and fight," she said. "This is a civil rights issue. There is a choice between love and fear. Fear goes away when you pound it with love."

"It's so rare for a politician to speak so deeply of their personal faith," said Francis DeBernardo executive director at Mount Rainier, Prince George's County, New Ways Ministry, which was co-founded in 1977 by the Rev. Robert Nugent, a Roman Catholic priest, and Sister Jeannine Gramick.

A question-and-answer session was followed by roundtable discussions at the conclusion of the delegate's remarks.

Virginia Rugemer asked, "If gays and lesbians are accepted by my family, why not society?" while Carol Rice said, "I'm a Catholic, and no one is going to steal my church."

Many attending the event blamed the church's hierarchy for its stance on same-sex marriage.

Gramick, who has been assigned to a pastoral ministry for gay and lesbian Catholics for the past 20 years, is hopeful that same-sex marriage will become law in Maryland.

"There have been a lot of bumps on the way, but in the long run, truth will come out and justice will prevail," said Gramick, who is a member of the Sisters of Loretto. "And it's because of church governance that it's been so long in coming. … Let the people's voice come through."

Gramick's work has not always endeared her to church authorities.

"I was warned back in the 1990s by the Vatican that I should not be involved in this ministry," she said.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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