(Above: Image from Fortunate Families official web-site.)
On February 18, 2018, the pro-same-sex marriage advocacy ministry Fortunate Families posted to their official Facebook page a series of photos and one short video taken at Saint Paul Catholic Church in Diocese of Lexington, Kentucky, which featured the First Sunday of Lent homily from Deacon Steve Hester. They later added a YouTube video of the complete homily. The subject of his homily: the rainbow. In terms of the rainbow and its contemporary relationship to the LGBT community, Hester had this to say:
The pride flag that waves all over the world stands for community that values many of the same things that we value. Their flag stands for many of the same things that we stand for and I for one ‘m glad that somebody had the inspiration to use the symbol of God’s covenant in such a prominent way. To cover the world in rainbows.
The current Bishop of the Diocese of Lexington is John Stowe, OFM Conv. In 2017, Stowe made the controversial decision to speak at New Way’s Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium held in Chicago, Illinois. The co-founders of New Ways Ministry were Sister Jeannine Gramick and Fr. Robert Nugent. Both were officially silenced in 1999 by the Vatican:
The ambiguities and errors of the approach of Father Nugent and Sister Gramick have caused confusion among the Catholic people and have harmed the community of the Church. For these reasons, Sister Jeannine Gramick, SSND, and Father Robert Nugent, SDS, are permanently prohibited from any pastoral work involving homosexual persons…
…positions advanced by Sister Jeannine Gramick and Father Robert Nugent regarding the intrinsic evil of homosexual acts and the objective disorder of the homosexual inclination are doctrinally unacceptable because they do not faithfully convey the clear and constant teaching of the Catholic Church in this area.
Nugent died in 2014, but Gramick openly defied the Vatican and continues to speak on the issue of homosexuality and is active in New Ways Ministry. In 2011, she stated: “But because I know church history, I know change takes centuries. We are planting seeds for change at the upper level of leadership.” She continued: “When we started this work, only 20 percent of Catholics believed in equal rights for gays and lesbians. Now it’s over 73 percent…The church is moving.” In an op-ed for “The Washington Post,” she wrote:
Many Catholics have reflected on the scientific evidence that homosexuality is a natural variant in human sexuality, and understand that lesbian and gay love is as natural as heterosexual love. In forming our consciences, Catholics also consult scripture and our theological tradition. Here, again, there is little firm reason to oppose marriage equality.
After the 2015 Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage, Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director of New Ways Ministry, released the following statement:
New Ways Ministry rejoices with millions of U.S. Catholics that the U.S. Supreme Court has decided in favor of marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples! On this historic day, we pray in thanksgiving that justice and mercy have prevailed and that the prayers and efforts of so many have combined to move our nation one step closer to fairness and equality for all…The Supreme Court’s decision embodies the Catholic values of human dignity, respect for differences, and the strengthening of families.
In 2010, Cardinal Francis George, O.M.I, Archbishop of Chicago and then-President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, issued the following statement on the status of the organization “New Ways Ministry;” here is an excerpt:
No one should be misled by the claim that New Ways Ministry provides an authentic interpretation of Catholic teaching and an authentic Catholic pastoral practice. Their claim to be Catholic only confuses the faithful regarding the authentic teaching and ministry of the Church with respect to persons with a homosexual inclination. Accordingly, I wish to make it clear that, like other groups that claim to be Catholic but deny central aspects of Church teaching, New Ways Ministry has no approval or recognition from the Catholic Church and that they cannot speak on behalf of the Catholic faithful in the United States.
Thank you to everyone who played a part in organizing this first-ever interfaith Pride prayer service and thanks to each of you for your participation. It is a commendable outreach to people in the community who too often have suffered discrimination from people of faith. It is good to know that in the midst of the festivities, members of the LGBT community are taking time for prayer and reflection and coming together in celebration of a bond of faith.
Fortunate Families is a gay-affirmative pro-same-sex marriage advocacy group founded in 2004 by the Catholic parents of a “gay” son – Mary Ellen and Casey Lopata. Inspired by the work of Robert Nugent and Jeannine Gramick and their New Ways Ministry, the Lopata’s decided to form an outreach specifically targeted to the Catholic parents of LGBT children.
In 2003, the Lopatas published their book “Fortunate Families: Catholic Families with Lesbian Daughters and Gay Sons.” Here are some excerpts.
…one theologian who authored a Vatican document about sexuality, in a newspaper interview discussing the document, said: “When one is dealing with people who are so predominantly homosexual that they will be in serious personal and perhaps social trouble unless they attain a steady partnership within their homosexual lives, one can recommend them to seek such a partnership and one accepts this relationship as the best they can do in their present situation.” This is based on the moral principle that no one is obliged to do what is impossible for him or her to do. In its guidelines for confessors concerning some aspects of the morality of conjugal life, the Pontifical Council for the Family offers the following application of this principle: “the confessor is to avoid demonstrating lack of trust in the grace of God or in the dispositions of the penitent by exacting humanly impossible absolute guarantees of an irreproachable future conduct.”
Since church law restricts marriage to a man and woman, does this mean homogenital behavior is always a sin? The Vatican says: “In fact, circumstances may exist, or may have existed in the past, which would reduce or remove the culpability of the individual [engaged in homosexual activity]…in a given instance.” So Church teaching says homogeni-tal acts are not necessarily always a sin. Of course!
1. There are only six passages generally used to condemn homosexuality.
2. The primary concern of these passages is something other than homogenital activity.
3. There are translation issues suggested by the fact that 1946 was the first time the word “homosexual” appeared in an English translation.
4. The biblical writers had no concept of our modern psychological understanding of homosexual orientation.
5. The prophets, the gospels and Jesus say nothing about homosexuality in the bible.
In 2015, the Lopatas published a “Letter” addressed to Pope Francis in which they detail their support for same-sex marriage and their experiences related to an ongoing twenty year friendship with a “married” “gay” male couple; the Lopatas are the godparents for the couple’s two adopted children. They describe the two men and their children as “a model Catholic family.” According to the “Letter,” the “married” “gay” couple is very active in their Catholic parish:
“They are very active in parish life: one or the other (or both) has served as president of the parish council, chair of the liturgy committee and on the diocesan liturgical commission, religious education teacher, lector, Eucharistic minister, cantor and choir member.”
The Lopatas continued, with this message to Pope Francis:
“These gay men have accepted their God-given sexual orientations and are striving to follow God’s will in their lives. Though our two godchildren are not being raised by their biological parents, their gay parents through their complementary (though not in the reproductive sense) and loving relationship have created a family every bit as authentic and holy—and life-giving—as that of any heterosexual relationship we know of including our own.”
According to Fortunate Families, their “Foundational Statement” includes:
We also acknowledge, together with the Church, that the fullness of sexual expression is best framed in a loving committed relationship. We believe, along with mainstream science, that the homosexual orientation and experience of gender is deeply seated and cannot be reversed by prayer and/or therapy. Many of our LGBTQ+ sisters and brothers are in loving, committed relationships with persons of the same sex or persons with other gender nonconforming expressions and ask us to embrace, accept and love them for who they are. We do embrace them, knowing that our decision to love them – at times – places us in tension with Church teaching.
We do not come lightly to these conclusions; we have prayed about it, talked to other parents, families, friends, allies and Church officials about it, cried about it and finally come to an acceptance about it that resides on the level of conscience. We recognize that sometimes the conscience of the individual places him/her in conflict with articulated Catholic teaching. The resolution of this conflict often includes the proper use of conscience as articulated by the Magisterium. Many of us have sought the counsel of Catholic priests who have supported us in loving LGBTQ+ sisters and brothers.
We realize that church teaching and the articulation of doctrine has developed through the years. We earnestly pray for a development of Church teaching on the topic of homosexuality and gender. We also earnestly pray that Church officials listen to our experiences and the experiences of our LGBTQ+ sisters and brothers.
After the Obergefell v. Hodges decision, Deb Word, then President of Fortunate Families, released the following statement:
“Fortunate Families celebrates with our LGBT children the opportunity to share in the same rights as their straight siblings. The Supreme Court decision brings legal stability to our children’s lives and security to our grandchildren. We applaud this decision and continue our work in the Catholic tradition seeking social justice for all our children…”
In 2014, Deb Word contributed the essay “This Catholic Mom: Our Family Outreach” to the book “More than a Monologue: Sexual Diversity and the Catholic Church: Voices of Our Times .” In it she described her work with Fortunate Families, some of its members, her experiences as the mother of a “gay” son, and her hopes for the future:
Another former board member was able to dance at her son’s wedding a few years ago. She was able to share his joy in having found a soulmate in his partner. But her experience was bittersweet for her because the wedding was not recognized by the church. She has struggled to minister in a Catholic context and finds it hard to remain a practicing Catholic…
The Fortunate Families board members are Catholic parents who are old enough to remember life before Vatican II. We realize that when the unchangeable makes no sense, it somehow changes. For example, my non-Catholic grandmother, who later converted, could not be married inside the church building. She was married in the rectory instead. Years later, she was told she could be excommunicated if she attended her son’s wedding ceremony, which took place in a Methodist church. We all remember “meat eaters’ hell” and women who were counseled to “go home and be nicer” to their physically abusive husbands. Things change in our church, slowly. But things do change, and so we have hope. If Chris’s [her “gay” son] generation is not to see change in the church’s stance on homosexuality, then maybe my grandchildren will.
In 2015, Fortunate Families repeatedly applied for an exhibit table at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. The group was turned down. According to Deb Word, after the World Meeting Families, she wrote to the Archbishop of Philadelphia, Charles J. Chaput, concerning her thoughts on Pope Francis and the “rejection” of Fortunate Families from the event; according to Word, Chaput replied with:
“…please, do not misuse the words of Pope Francis to justify anything contrary to the teachings of Jesus and His Church.”
We need to acknowledge that many of our LGBTQ+ sisters and brothers are in committed loving same gendered relationships. While same gendered relationships might not be procreative in the strict sense, they often are very generative, contribute to the common good, and can be examples of a loving, committed relationships. We ask the Church to acknowledge the truth of this.
In 2017, Jesuit priest James Martin recommended Fortunate Families.
Contact the Diocese of Lexington.