On February 5, 2010 USCCB president Francis Cardinal George issued a statement publicly disparaging New Ways Ministry. Upon reading it, my first thought was: what little we have is even too much.
Sr. Jeannine Gramick and Fr. Bob Nugent, co-founders of New Ways, were like a lighted, open doorway in a dark alley. Many gay and lesbian people, myself among them, came home through them and their ministry. God knows what would have become of us without them. They were a beacon of welcome, friendship and compassion in a very hostile world.
For 33 years New Ways Ministry has been a source of comfort, support, affirmation and encouragement for lesbian and gay Catholics to come back and remain within the institutional church. It is the one place where we can be affirmed in who we are without any sense of shame, regret or self-loathing.
“Anyone who has taken the time to listen to the stories about the lives of lesbian/gay people will come to realize that guidance about sexual activity is not where they need help most,” said Frances DeBernardo, Executive Director. “It is in the areas of living truthfully, openly, honestly, and courageously–the areas that consume most of their time and energy–where they seek the support of the church.”
These are areas where the Church offers no support.
The starting point for New Ways Ministry has always been less of the teaching of the Magisterium and more towards the Beatitudes – the values expressed by Jesus. True, the organization has not admonished gay Catholics they must live chastely or to “strive” to live chastely, the way the officially-sanctioned Courage Apostolate does.
Cardinal George stated that since the founding of New Ways Ministry in 1977, “serious questions have been raised about the group’s adherence to church teaching on homosexuality.” “No one should be mislead by the claim that New Ways Ministry provides an authentic interpretation of Catholic teaching and an authentic Catholic pastoral practice,” George said. “Genuine pastoral concern is based on respect for every person, no matter their sexual orientation, and acceptance of the truths of the Catholic faith,” he added. “These are the terms in which the church welcomes everybody and offers them a true home in Christ’s love and mercy.”
Why did Cardinal George pick this time to start a kerfuffle with New Ways: Could it have anything to do with the fact the Courage is having their 2010 annual conference this July at the University of St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein, Illinois? Or, that New Ways Ministry is planning a workshop in March 2010 in the Chicago area?
This program – “Next Steps – Developing Catholic Lesbian/Gay Ministry,” is billed as a “weekend of prayer, presentations, dialogue, and planning designed to assist those seeking ways to include lesbian/gay people and issues in their home parishes, schools, or other ministerial settings.”
Is the notion of openly gay Catholics (chaste and not) in Catholic settings threatening? The possibility that people in the pews might experience doubt about the “intrinsic evil” of lesbian and gay relationships once they know us–their fellow parishioners–as caring people, as loving parents, as devoted and committed couples?
The condemnation of New Ways Ministry by Cardinal George has sparked a healthy debate among faithful Catholics online. I found the following exchange over at America magazine’ s website informative and heartening.
One writer, Jeffrey L. Miller posits: “They (New Ways Ministry) are a openly dissident group that has never believed what the Church believes on same-sex attraction and have damaged countless individuals by encouraging a disorder instead of helping them to live what the Church believes and to live a chaste life. Organizations like New Ways Ministry cooperate with evil by not teaching that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered and thus encourage sin. It is a spiritual work of mercy to help your brother repent, it is an evil act to tell them they don’t need to repent.”
“Jeffrey: I hereby encourage you to repent:” countered Jim McCrea.” ‘The Pharisees’ sin has come to be called ‘scotosis,’ a deliberate and willful darkening of the mind that results from the refusal to acknowledge God’s presence and power at work in human stories. If the neglect of Scripture is a form of sin, a blind adherence to Scripture when God is trying to show us the truth in human bodies is also a form of sin, and a far more grievous one… If it is risky to trust ourselves to the evidence of God’s work in transformed lives even it when challenges the clear statements of scripture, it is a far greater risk to allow the words of Scripture to blind us to the presence and power of the living God.’
“And it is even worse,” McCrea added, “to allow the words of a very fallible, defectible and historically indefensible human church to do the same.”
Steve Schewe drolly observed: “Mr. DeBernardo’s statement that ‘we have always been found to be firmly in line with authentic Catholic teaching’ seems disingenuous; I wish he would have acknowledged his organization’s long history of differences with the Catholic hierarchy, including the disciplining of Sr. Gramick and Fr. Nugent. This is all old news.”
“So why did Cardinal George let loose with his condemnation this week? Could it have anything to do with the testimony by U.S. military leaders in the Senate advocating a process to end DADT, and the relatively calm response to their testimony? A rising tide of tolerance towards gays and lesbians continues; it will be interesting to see how the attempt to overturn Proposition 8 in California turns out, particularly since one of the lead attorneys for the plaintiff, Ted Olson, is a leading conservative with impeccable credentials.”
“Given the growing national acceptance of gays and lesbians in secular society and among people of faith, Cardinal George’s attack brings to mind the late Jaroslav Pelikan’s quip that “heresy may be the result of poor timing.”
“Heresy may be the result of poor timing”–I’ll be sure to share that one with Sr. Jeannine Gramick the next time I see her. She’ll appreciate it.