Above: From Atlanta “Pride” 2017; the GLBT ministry from the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, participated in the event.
For the past several years, the historic Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Atlanta, Georgia, has sponsored a contingent of parishioners who march in the annual Atlanta “Pride” Parade. This year the “Pride” festival will take place from October 12-14, 2018. Listed among the “Registered Participants,” that includes PFLAG Atlanta, Planned Parenthood Southeast, and the Human Rights Campaign, is the Catholic Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Planned Parenthood Southeast served as one of the Grand Marshals in the 2017 Atlanta “Pride” Parade.
In addition to the annual participation in the “Pride” Parade, the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception also hosts a monthly GLBT “Pot Luck Social” as well as a “GLBT Couples Pot Luck Social” which “provides a venue for socializing with other GLBT couples.”
Recently, the Archdiocese of Atlanta, under Archbishop Wilton Gregory, has a history of gay-affirmation. In 2014, Gregory met with a group of disgruntled Catholic parents with self-proclaimed “gay” children called Fortunate & Faithful Families. After the meeting, Gregory said:
Their parents then spoke of the hostile environment that many of them encountered from the Church. The language that the Church uses in speaking of their sexual orientation is often unwelcoming and condemnatory…I spoke of the distinction that our Church makes between orientation and behavior, which admittedly needs reexamination and development.
The group is an offshoot of the dissident Catholic pro-gay marriage LGBT ministry Fortunate Families.
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 1999, Nugent and Gramick were both officially censured by the Vatican and “permanently prohibited from any pastoral work involving homosexual persons.”
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.”
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.
One of the current contact persons for the “Ministry with Gay and Lesbian Persons” in the Diocese of Memphis in Tennessee is Deb Word and her husband Steve, she is the former President, now Communications Coordinator for Fortunate Families. According to the Archdiocese of Memphis website, the “Ministry with Gay and Lesbian Persons” is a support group for the parents of “gay” and “lesbian” children.
Headquartered in the Diocese of Lexington, Bishop John Stowe is listed as “Ecclesial Adviser” to Fortunate Families and has celebrated mass for the group. In 2017, Stowe made the controversial decision to speak at New Way’s Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium held in Chicago, Illinois.
In 2017, Fortunate and Faithful Families held their fifth annual retreat at the Chancery of the Archdiocese of Atlanta. The theme of the retreat: “Building Bridges of Love.” That same year, Jesuit author James Martin publicly supported Fortunate Families and spoke with the group via Skype about his book “Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity.”
Then, on June 20, 2017, Sister Jeannine Gramick and Francis DeBernardo of New Ways Ministry spoke at the Catholic Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. In 1992, Gramick co-wrote, with Robert Nugent, and published the book: “Building Bridges – gay and lesbian reality in the Catholic Church” – here is an excerpt from an essay written by Gramick:
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.
During an interview in 2017, James Martin said he wished he could canonize Jeannine Gramick. Concerning Martin’s book “Building a Bridge,” Wilton Gregory found it both “wonderful” and “challenging.” Gregory has served as the Archbishop of Atlanta since 2005. Previously, from 2001 to 2004, Gregory was the President of the USCCB.