(Above: Bishop John Stowe of Lexington speaking before the annual New Ways Ministry National Symposium in 2017; Sister Jeannine Gramick is also pictured.)
In a December 21, 2018 post to their official Facebook page, the Catholic LGBT advocacy group Fortunate Families attempted to solicit donations to their ministry in the name of a Catholic priest from the Diocese of Lexington who passed away on that same day – Fr. Bill Poole. According to the post from Fortunate Families:
In your charity, please pray for Fr. Bill Poole, Diocese of Lexington, who was found dead in his home today at noon. Bill was a staunch supporter of the LGBTQ+ conversation within the church, LGBT Ministry and Fortunate Families. God give him heaven…
Fortunate Families is a Lexington-based, 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 Fr. Robert Nugent and Sister 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 is an excerpt:
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!
According to Fortunate Families, their “Foundational Statement” includes:
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.
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; earlier, in 2016, Martin accepted the “Bridge Building Award” from New Ways Ministry. A member of Fortunate Families introduced Martin before his address at the 2018 Los Angeles Religious Education Congress.
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, Jeannine Gramick and Robert Nugent, were both officially silenced in 1999 by the Vatican.
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.
Later in 2017, Stowe sent words of support to Fortunate Families which planned an outreach at the local gay “Pride” festivities. He wrote:
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.
There is also an active LGBTQ+ Catholic ministry located at St. Paul Catholic Church in Lexington.
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 2015, Fortunate Families repeatedly applied for an exhibit table at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. The group was turned down.
At a “Fortunate Families Board Weekend” in Lexington, on February 4, 2018, both Stowe and William Poole were present. In the 2018 “Online Directory” for the Diocese of Lexington, Rev. William G. Poole was listed as: “Retired.” On December 17, 2018 the Lexington Herald Leader published an article titled: “Attorneys to determine if Lexington Diocese handled abusive priests appropriately.” One of those priests mentioned in the article was the Rev. William G. Poole. According to the article, Poole was accused of molesting a boy in the early 1970s; in 2003, a diocesan committee under the previous Bishop of Lexington, Ronald Gainer, deemed the accusations “not credible.” The Lexington Herald Leader also reported that “a separate investigation, conducted by the diocese of Covington, resulted in a six-figure settlement to Poole’s accuser.” In 2001, Poole pleaded guilty after he was arrested for masturbating at a urinal in a public restroom. Previously, he had been arrested under similar circumstances in 1990. In an October 2018 “Bulletin” from St. Andrew Catholic Church in Harrodsburg, Kentucky, Fr. Bill Poole was listed as one of the “Ministers of the Host.”
Ronald Gainer was the Bishop of Lexington from 2002 to 2014. He currently serves as the Bishop of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Gainer is also the President of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference. According to the 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report, which investigated clerical sex abuse in six Pennsylvania dioceses, Gainer wrote to the Vatican in 2014 requesting that two priests, who confessed to molesting children, not be removed from the priesthood.