(Above: Jeannine Gramick marching in the 2015 Prague Gay “Pride” Parade.)

On August 21, 2018, before his scheduled talk at the World Meeting of Families in Dublin, Ireland, James Martin posted a message on the Facebook timeline of Jeannine Gramick, he wrote: “I’m taking you to Dublin with me in my heart!” Gramick responded with: “Thanks, Jim, for speaking out for LGBT people at the World Meeting of Families. You are moving our Church along!”

Along with Fr. Robert Nugent, Jeanine Gramick founded the gay affirmative Catholic outreach, New Ways Ministry in 1977. Almost immediately the group’s wide divergence from official Catholic teaching caught the attention of concerned prelates in the United States, and the Vatican began an investigation into their published work and unusual pastoral practices. In 1984, both Nugent and Gramick were ordered to step down from leadership positions at New Ways Ministry. But both continued to speak out against Church prohibitions concerning homosexual activity. In 1992, they co-wrote and published the book: “Building Bridges – gay and lesbian reality in the Catholic Church” – here are some excerpts from those essays written by Gramick:

An obvious function of the genital organs is reproduction. But to maintain that a particular bodily organ serves only one purpose or must serve a certain specified purpose seems provincial at best.

A positive and affirming lesbian/gay theology or spirituality rejects the notion that a homosexual orientation is abnormal, sick, sinful, or criminal. The 1986 letter from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which contended that a homosexual orientation was “objectively disordered,” obviously did not begin from the experience of being lesbian or gay. Such experience confirms that a homosexual orientation is not contrary to nature but is part of God’s plan for creation and essential for developing the human family. Without the presence of lesbian and gay people in the world, reality would be truncated and humankind unfulfilled.

Lesbian/feminist theologians are exposing the limitations of a procreative sexual ethic and are suggesting instead an ethic based on mutual relation. Same-sex couples have a greater potential for modeling this ethic than opposite sex couples who are often subtly saddled with societal conditioning to conform to sex-role stereotypes involving dominance and submission.

A lesbian/gay spirituality or theology begins with the individual’s encounter with God. It is not necessary that God’s presence be mediated through formal religious structures….In their personal encounter with the living God, lesbian and gay people must read the scriptures in the light of their own experience…In his ministry of teaching and healing, Jesus challenged the authority of the religious leaders of his day. By the witness of their lives of faith, responsibility, and love, lesbian and gay Christians similarly reject traditional teachings regarding the moral status of homogenital acts and thus threaten the authority of contemporary religious structures.

Domestic partner relationships, with the legal rights and benefits accruing to same-sex couples, have been acknowledged by several large cities in the United States. These social developments portend a future conducive to spiritual and theological change. Only when lesbian and gay persons have been accorded full and equal respect and dignity as human beings in society and in the church so that they are no longer categorized as inferior insiders or outsiders, will the Christian community be able to say that the god of heterosexism has been eradicated.

In 1999, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a “Notification Regarding Sister Jeannine Gramick and Father Robert Nugent,” both were:

Permanently prohibited from any pastoral work involving homosexual persons…

In addition:

…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.

Gramick ignored the notification stating – “I choose not to collaborate in my own oppression.”  As a result, in 2000, her religious congregation, the School Sisters of Notre Dame, told her to cease speaking publicly on the topic of homosexuality. Gramick rejected the request, and then transferred to the Sisters of Loretto who support her ministry.

In 2010, the USCCB, then headed by Cardinal Francis George, issued a clarification on the status of New Ways Ministry – stating:

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.

In 2011, Gramick 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.

She continued:

In forming our consciences, Catholics also consult scripture and our theological tradition. Here, again, there is little firm reason to oppose marriage equality.

In 2012, Gramick spoke out in support of the state of Maryland’ s same-sex marriage referendum (or Question 6) – which narrowly passed with 52% of the vote thus, at the time, making Maryland the eighth US State to legalize gay marriage. Gramick was also present when then Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley signed the legislation into law.

In 2015, Gramick publicly supported legislation legalizing gay marriage in both Ireland and the US – stating:

You can be a Catholic and vote for civil marriage for lesbian and gay people because it is a civil matter – it has nothing to do with your religion.

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 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.

During a 2015 talk, Gramick stated that since her official censure by the Vatican in 1999, “the Loretto Sisters have received nine letters from the Vatican essentially saying that if I continue to speak out on behalf of lesbian and gay people that I should be discharged.” According to Gramick, her religious congregation has sent “polite” letters in return, but refuses to curtail her dissident activities in any way. Gramick added: “I’m happy to say that we’ve received no letters in the pontificate of Pope Francis, so, he’s one of my heroes…”