On March 24, 2018, Jesuit priest James Martin will be the featured speaker at a one-day symposium: “Building Bridges: A Dialogue on Faith, Catholicism, and the LGBTQ Community.” The event will take place at the University of Cincinnati. Besides Martin, those participating include dissident pro-gay marriage advocate Jeanine Gramick, LGBT activist and women’s ordination supporter Jamie Mason and gay theologian Andy Buechel who will moderate the panel discussion.
The co-founders of the dissident gay-affirmative outreach 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.
In 2016, James Martin accepted the “Bridge Building Award” from New Ways Ministry and his address at the awards ceremony served as the inspiration for his book “Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity.” In 2017, Martin called for the canonization of Jeannine Gramick.
Jamie Mason is a frequent columnist with The National Catholic Reporter and she received the Theresa Kane Award for Women of Vision and Courage from Women’s Ordination Worldwide in 2015; in 2012, she wrote:
The ability to dissent from the institutional church’s teachings and to live lives free of the church’s teachings is a privilege. But it is a privilege that can bear fruit for the wider church if we use this gift well.
We must think differently about what leaving the church looks like now. The traditional line in the church justice movement has been that “one can only change the church from within.”
In 2014, in an article about same-sex marriage and the Catholic Church, she wrote:
As someone preparing to enter a same-sex marriage with my partner of five years, I think American Catholics can and should accept recognition of same-sex marriage because they are Catholics. The church should revise its attitude toward same-sex relationships not simply because the culture is moving in that direction—which by itself…is no reason to alter any moral teaching—but because it has become clear that that what the church teaches about homosexuality is not true.
Andy Buechel currently teachers at Jesuit Xavier University in Cincinnati. He received his Master of Theological Studies from Notre Dame in 2007 and his Doctor of Philosophy in 2012 from Emory University. His dissertation was titled: “Can Anything Good Come Out of Nazareth? Perspectives in Queer Theology,” and it was later published as his 2015 book: “That We Might Become God: The Queerness of Creedal Christianity.”
According to Buechel:
…God became human that humans might become God. Our deepest desire is to participate fully in the erotic life of God, to be immersed so totally in love that the Divine Life and our own become the same.
The encounters with the resurrected Lord intensify the limitations and reductions of modern conceptions of sexual difference and sexual orientation, limitations first seen at the transfiguration. Jesus’ body is not only queer in its fluidity, openness, and excess; it is queer by how it relates to other bodies erotically, drawing them towards the Divine.
In one chapter, “Incarnation: Christ’s Queer Body,” Buechel engages in a lengthy discussion pertaining to Jesus’ penis; he wrote: “I have discussed the value of reflecting on Christ’s penis, Christ’s sex, in order to think through the political implications—cultural and ecclesial—that such reflection manifests. This, in turn, raises questions about us as church and our comfort with the full implications of the Incarnation, into which we are also incorporated.” In this context, Buechel also examined the Catholic Church’s historical refusal to depict the crucified Christ as completely nude; he identified this as: “Theology’s refusal to look under the loincloth…”
He added this hypothetical situation involving someone gazing upon a nude image of the Crucifixion:
What if the worshipful gazer is a straight man, for whom Jesus must be only a buddy—in order to maintain the devotee’s own solid heterosexuality—yet, somehow, more than that as well? What if the one who gazes is a straight woman or gay man whose desire might be enflamed by this image? Isn’t this dangerous territory? But isn’t the creation of desire precisely what this image is meant to do? Enflame us with love and the yearning to unite with the one who shows his love in outstretched, pierced arms? Are we not invited, like Thomas, to enter his body through his wounds? How do we think of this body—this body of God—and our relationship to it?
Concerning the doubting Apostle and the Resurrected Christ, Buechel describes “the erotic and sexual charge of Jesus’ encounter with Thomas…” According to Buechel, the meeting
…is erotically and even sexually charged is evident not only through the matrix of distance/proximity, sight/touch, difference/identity which all enflame and power desire but also through the interpretative tradition of this story…In this, the intimacy and eroticism are manifest. Jesus himself is guiding the hand of the fascinated Thomas toward his side. He is guiding the penetration of his wound, of the womb from which the church is born. Strictly, and anachronistically, speaking, this encounter is homosexual: it involves deep erotic intimacy between two people of the same sex.
Discussing his own discernment to the priesthood, Buechel wrote:
For me personally, the priesthood was a “safeplace” for my own gayness, for it was a space where one could be unattached to a woman and still be praised rather than judged. The ideal of the Priestly Body was one with which I resonated, a body that was not simply male and not simply straight: it offered space to play with these identities.
Buechel currently serves as Theological Adviser for the Lexington based pro-gay marriage ministry Fortunate Families. In his testimony for Fortunate Families, Buechel referred to Church prohibitions against homosexuality as “a handful of lower-order teachings.” Bishop John Stowe of the Diocese of Lexington serves as their Ecclesial Adviser. In 2017, Stowe spoke at New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium.
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.
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…”
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, James Martin recommended Fortunate Families.
Themes of “queer theology” have been incorporated into several Catholic LGBT ministries, namely at St. Paul the Apostle Church in New York City, St. Cecilia’s Rainbow Ministry in Boston and at St. Patrick – St. Anthony Church in Hartford, Connecticut.