Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of July 19, 1999
Vatican orders halt to gay-lesbian ministry
American priest, nun refused to uphold Church teaching
By JERRY FILTEAU
Catholic News Service
The Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has permanently barred Father Robert Nugent and Sister Jeannine Gramick "from any pastoral work involving homosexual persons."
In a public notification released July 13, it said the two Americans advanced "doctrinally unacceptable" positions "regarding the intrinsic evil of homosexual acts and the objective disorder of the homosexual inclination."
The pair, who have been engaged in joint gay and lesbian ministry since the early 1970s, have been under a Vatican investigation since 1988.
Nugent in a statement said "As a son of the Church, a presbyter and a member of a religious congregation with a vow of obedience, I accepted the decision of the CDF and expressed my intention to implement it accordingly."
The congregation said its public notification, personally approved by Pope John Paul, was necessary "for the good of the Catholic faithful."
The "errors and ambiguities" promoted by the priest and nun "have caused confusion among the Catholic people and have harmed the community of the Church," it said.
It also declared the two "ineligible, for an undetermined period, for any office in their respective religious institutes."
Nugent, 62, is a Salvatorian priest. Gramick, 57, is a School Sister of Notre Dame.
Bishop Joseph Fiorenza of Galveston-Houston, president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, in a separate statement July 13 stressed that the Vatican ban was imposed because of "serious deficiencies in their writings and pastoral activities . . . not because it was a ministry to homosexuals as such."
He said the U.S. bishops "share a commitment to this ministry. . . . 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."
"This decision was reached after nearly 12 years of dialogue with Sister Gramick and Father Nugent," he said.
He said the long time taken to reach a decision on the case "indicates that these disciplinary measures were not taken lightly."
Nugent and Gramick first became involved in gay and lesbian ministry in 1971. In 1977 they co-founded New Ways Ministry and began giving frequent workshops on gay and lesbian ministry around the U.S.
They co-directed New Ways Ministry until 1983, when then-Archbishop James Hickey of Washington asked their superiors to remove them because he believed they distorted Church teaching on homosexuality.
Three times between 1977 and 1988, at the request of the Vatican, their religious orders undertook internal studies of Nugent's and Gramick's work.
A fourth investigation, ordered by the Vatican and headed by Maida, to study their writings began in 1988.
The notification said the commission, which submitted its report to Rome in 1995, found "serious deficiencies . . . incompatible with the fullness of Christian morality" and recommended disciplinary action.
The Vatican's Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life turned the case over to the doctrinal congregation in 1995 because "the problems presented by the authors were primarily of a doctrinal nature," the notification said.
It said the doctrinal congregation then "undertook another attempt at resolution by inviting them to respond unequivocally to certain questions regarding their position on the morality of homosexual acts and on the homosexual inclination."
It said their responses "demonstrated a clear conceptual understanding of the Church's teaching on homosexuality but refrained from professing any adherence to that teaching."
In 1997, invoking its formal procedures for doctrinal examination, the congregation sent the two notices, approved by the pope, of errors found in their writings and asked for their responses.
The congregation said it found both responses unacceptable.
In mid-1998 it asked the two "to formulate a public declaration . . . to express their interior assent to the teaching of the Catholic Church on homosexuality and to acknowledge" doctrinal errors in two of their books on Church teaching and homosexuality, Building Bridges and Voices of Hope.
"Sister Gramick, while expressing her love for the Church, simply refused to express any assent whatsoever to the teaching of the Church on homosexuality. Father Nugent was more responsive, but not unequivocal in his statement of interior assent to the teaching of the Church," the notification said.
It said the congregation then sought to get Nugent to sign a profession of faith with specific language added concerning definitive Church teaching on homosexuality and homosexual acts.
He signed the profession after changing some of the language to reflect what he argued was a more pastorally sensitive phrasing of the same teaching and raising questions about the definitive character of teachings described as definitive.
The congregation found his revisions unacceptable and issued the notification with the same penalties for Nugent and Gramick.