Pope Francis writes to controversial nun, thanking her for 50 years of LGBTQ ministry

Sister Jeannine Gramick, the co-founder of New Ways Ministry recently received a handwritten letter from Pope Francis congratulating her on “50 years of closeness, of compassion and of tenderness” in a ministry that he described as being in “ ‘the style’ of God.”

Pope Francis has sent an encouraging letter to an American nun thanking her for her 50 years of ministry to LGBTQ Catholics, more than two decades after she was investigated and censured by the Vatican for her work.

In his letter dated Dec. 10, Francis wrote that Sister Jeannine Gramick has not been afraid of “closeness” and without condemning anyone had the “tenderness” of a sister and a mother. “Thank you, Sister Jeannine, for all your closeness, compassion and tenderness,” he wrote.

He also noted her “suffering … without condemning anyone.”

Gramick, who lives just outside of Washington, D.C., in Mount Rainier, Md., said that the letter felt like it was “from a friend.”

“Of course, I was overjoyed,” she said. “It felt like a turning point in the church, because for so long, this ministry has been maligned and in the shadows.”< For decades, Gramick and her New Ways Ministry co-founder, the late Rev. Robert Nugent, were considered controversial by some church leaders for the workshops they did about the science and theology around LGBTQ topics. Gramick said she would not provide her opinion, but she would present the Catholic Church’s teaching, as well as doctrinal positions from more moderate and liberal theologians. Gramick said she was under scrutiny from the Vatican for about 20 years before officials issued a declaration that she would be barred from ministry. “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,” the 1999 statement from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith said.

Gramick later transferred to another religious order to keep doing her work.

A spokesman for the Vatican did not respond immediately Friday to a message seeking to confirm the authenticity of the pope’s letter to Gramick. The letter, first published on Friday in the Catholic publication America magazine, is the latest in a series of several letters the pontiff has written this year to gay Catholics and others who are serving and advocating for LGBTQ people.

The pope’s letter follows actions by the Vatican on gay rights that have frustrated Francis’s more liberal supporters. Early in his papacy, he famously declared: “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?” But he has upheld church doctrine that calls LGBTQ acts “disordered.” Last year, the Vatican’s doctrinal body said that Catholic priests cannot bless same-sex unions.

In December, a Vatican official apologized to New Ways Ministry for having pulled a reference to it on the Vatican website, drawing praise from the group as a rare and “historic” apology and for restoring the reference. New Ways revealed that Pope Francis had written them two letters earlier in 2021 praising their ministry. In those letters, Francis noted Gramick’s work, that he knew “how much she has suffered,” describing her as “a valiant woman who makes her decisions in prayer.”

The Rev. James Martin, a New York City-based priest known for his ministry affirming LGBTQ Catholics, said he has received a few letters from Pope Francis but made one of them public in July 2021. Gramick’s letter, he said, is significant because she has been censured by the Vatican.

“For most LGBTQ Catholics, Sister Jeannine is a real hero, so they’ll be delighted. They’ll rightly see this as one of Pope Francis’s steps forward,” Martin said. “He doesn’t change church teaching on this but take steps … added up, all the steps, we’ve come a long way.”

Gramick said official investigations came after the late Cardinal James Hickey, the former archbishop of Washington, wrote to the Vatican asking officials to pressure Gramick and Nugent to stop their ministry. An investigation was launched in 1988 and in 1999, the Vatican issued its censure.

“It was devastating,” she said. “What can I say? It didn’t feel good.”

A spokeswoman for the archdiocese of Washington did not immediately return a request for comment on the letter.

Gramick said she and others from New Ways Ministries met with Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the archbishop of Washington, in October and told them about the letters Pope Francis had sent the ministry. “Sounds like you’re pen pals,” Gregory told them, according to Gramick.

Gramick said she started her ministry when she was 29 while studying in graduate school and befriended a gay man who had left the Catholic Church for the Episcopal Church. In his apartment, she organized Mass for gay and lesbian people who had left the Catholic Church.

“When the liturgy was over, they had tears in their eyes because they felt they were being welcomed home again,” she said.

Gramick said she hopes the church will eventually change its position on sexual ethics and listen to the growing number of parishioners who have become more LGBTQ affirming.

“What would I say to LGBT Catholics is, ‘Hold on, it will change,’ ” she said. “We have to make our views known so that the officials of the church can properly express that change.’ ”

Francis also wrote to America magazine national correspondent Michael O’Loughlin, who is a gay Catholic, commending him for reporting on Catholic responses to the HIV/AIDS crisis.

From the earliest days of his papacy, O’Loughlin said, the pope has reached out to individuals in a personal way by calling people on the phone and writing the string of LGBTQ-related letters.

“There’s a lot of hurt and pain in the LGBT community and a single letter or group of letters is not going to fix that,” O’Loughlin said. “He’s interested in highlighting Catholics living out their faith even in areas that have been historically difficult for the church.”

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Catholic nuns lift veil on abuse in convents

By Philip Pullella

When young nuns at a convent in Eastern Europe told their Mother Superior that a priest had tried to molest them, she retorted that it was probably their fault for “provoking him.”

When African nuns in Minnesota asked why it was always they who had to shovel snow they were told it was because they were young and strong, even though white sisters of the same age lived there too.

As the Roman Catholic Church pays more attention to the closed world of convents, where women spend much of their time in prayer and household work, more episodes of psychological, emotional and physical abuse are coming to light.

A new book, “Veil of Silence” by Salvatore Cernuzio, a journalist for the Vatican’s online outlet, Vatican News, is the latest expose to come from within and approved by authorities.

Cernuzio recounts experiences of 11 women and their struggles with an age-old system where the Mother Superior and older nuns demand total obedience, in some cases resulting in acts of cruelty and humiliation.

Marcela, a South American woman who joined an order of cloistered nuns in Italy 20 years ago when she was 19, recounts how the indoctrination was so strict that younger sisters needed permission to go to the bathroom and ask for sanitary products during their menstrual periods.

“You are always complaining! Do you want to be a saint or not?” Marcela, who later left the convent, quotes the Mother Superior as shouting when she suggested changes in the daily routine.

Therese, a French woman, was told “you have to suffer for Jesus” when she asked to be spared physically demanding chores because of a back condition.

“I understood that we were all like dogs,” recounted Elizabeth, an Australian. “They tell us to sit and we sit, to get up and we get up, to roll over and we roll over.”

BURNOUT SYNDROME

Last year, Father Giovanni Cucci wrote a landmark article about abuse in convents in the Jesuit journal Civilta Cattolica, whose texts are approved by the Vatican.

He found that most of it was abuse of power, including episodes of racism such as in the Minnesota convent. Cucci said the problem needed more attention because it had been overshadowed by the sexual abuse of children by priests.

In 2018, the Vatican newspaper Osservatore Romano exposed the plight of foreign nuns sent by their orders to work as housekeepers for cardinals and bishops in Rome with little or no remuneration.

It later chronicled a “burnout” syndrome, where younger women with good educations were held back by older superiors reluctant to relinquish a boot camp-style tradition of assigning them menial tasks, ostensibly to instill discipline and obedience.

“Whatever may have worked in a pyramidal, authoritarian context of relationships before is no longer desirable or liveable,” wrote Sister Nathalie Becquart, a French member of the Xaviere Missionary Sisters and one of the highest-ranking women in the Vatican.

Becquart wrote in the book’s preface of the “cries and sufferings” of women who entered convents because they felt a calling from God but later left because their complaints too often fell on deaf ears.

Some were stigmatized as “traitors” by their orders and had great difficultly getting jobs in the outside world.

Last year, Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz, who heads the Vatican department that oversees religious congregations, revealed that Pope Francis had opened a home in Rome for former nuns abandoned by their orders.

The cardinal, who has launched investigations into a number of convents, told the Vatican newspaper he was shocked to discover that there were a few cases where former nuns had to resort to prostitution to live.

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‘Hidden Mercy’ shines light on nuns, priests who responded to AIDS with compassion

Pope Francis thanked the book’s author for bearing witness to the stories of Catholics who offered support while others offered only condemnation.

Sister Mary Ellen Rombach, left, and Sister Carol Baltosiewich, in an undated photo.

By Jo Yurcaba

In 1986, the Vatican released a letter condemning homosexuality with what The New York Times called a “pointed allusion to AIDS.”

A year later, nearly 48,000 Americans had died from the disease.

Even as the death toll rose, the Roman Catholic Church reinforced its stance and also opposed the gay and lesbian rights movement more generally, creating an ongoing tension. Despite this, some nuns and priests went against those teachings and worked behind the scenes to care for and sit at the bedsides of people dying from AIDS-related illnesses.

A new book, “Hidden Mercy: AIDS, Catholics, and the Untold Stories of Compassion in the Face of Fear,” by Michael O’Loughlin, uncovers those stories.

O’Loughlin, a journalist who lives in Chicago, writes in the first chapter that for as long as he can remember, he’s been on a search. “I am gay and I am Catholic,” he wrote. “And I struggle continuously to reconcile those two parts of my identity.”

Image: Micheal O'Loughlin
Micheal O’Loughlin.

He wanted to speak with people who had lived through similar struggles, and in 2015 a friend who was a priest suggested that he speak to gay Catholics who lived through the height of the AIDS crisis in the United States. He ran with the idea and began tracking down scientists and doctors involved in AIDS work — nuns and priests who served as caretakers to the ill, and activists, including those from the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, or ACT UP.

He said he chose to focus on stories of compassion because he is interested in “people who had a lot to lose by taking on the power structure of the church but still did the right thing.”

“So, the priests who minister to gay men dying from AIDS, some of whom come out as gay themselves, and challenge the churches to be more welcoming and accepting,” he said. “The nuns who are really scrappy people who find the resources to learn all they can about HIV and AIDS and then do their own ministry. The gay Catholics who find themselves caught between their inclination to be part of the gay activism world but also remain part of the church.”

He said he kept asking himself, “How do they make this work?”

“I’m drawn to those stories because there’s something universal about summoning the courage to do the right thing when it would be much easier to do nothing,” he said, adding that this courage “applies to all sorts of situations even today.”

The book doesn’t attempt to “rewrite history” and also recounts how church leaders advocated against LGBTQ rights. But at the same time, O’Loughlin said he wanted to make sure the people who did extraordinary things and cite their Catholic faith as their motivation were also part of that history.

He noted that many of the people he spoke with said their journeys were complicated. Over 10 years, Sister Carol Baltosiewich, a nun and nurse from a small city in southern Illinois, traveled to Kansas City, Chicago and eventually New York City to care for people living with AIDS. She told O’Loughlin that she didn’t know any gay people before she began her AIDS work, and she had to reconcile the church’s teachings with her drive to care for people.

O’Loughlin said that it was at times painful for the people he interviewed, including Baltosiewich, to take a hard look at their prejudices and biases before their experiences changed them.

“When she began to learn about HIV and how it was affecting the gay community, it was sort of this whole new culture,” O’Loughlin said. “It was this clash between what she had known and something that was foreign to her, so she eventually learned and grew, but I think that some people are maybe hesitant to look honestly at that time, because there was so much stigma and shame that even the most well-intentioned people really couldn’t free themselves without making a conscious decision, which she did ultimately, but many people were just kind of in this culture that looked with such hostility at the LGBT community.”

Some of the people O’Loughlin spoke to experienced that hostility themselves. The Rev. William Hart McNichols, a Jesuit priest and an artist who attended the Pratt Institute in New York City, ministered to people dying from AIDS-related illnesses. In 1989, McNichols came out as gay publicly in a chapter for a book published by New Ways Ministry, a group that ministers to gay and lesbian Catholics.

He asked the permission of his Jesuit superiors at the time, and they told him that it was his choice to make, but that if he came out he wouldn’t be able to work at a Jesuit high school, college or parish. As an illustrator who worked in a hospital, he wasn’t offended by the response and decided to write the chapter.

O’Loughlin said the LGBTQ people he interviewed all made a decision at some point to stay in the church “no matter how strong the headwinds they faced,” because it was their church, too.

“Once people made that decision, there seemed to be something — whether it was grace or just stubbornness — that kept them involved,” he said. “And that kind of spoke to me as I continue to figure out what place I have in the church and as I interview dozens and dozens of LGBT people every year going through something similar, that you have to make that decision to stay and then be prepared to fight to keep your place in an institution that isn’t always welcoming.”

O’Loughlin wrote Tuesday in an op-ed for The New York Times that conducting interviews for his book had a “profound effect” on his faith, so much so that he wrote a letter to Pope Francis to tell him about the book and the conversations he had.

In August, the pope wrote back. The letter was written in Spanish but was translated to English.

“Thank you for shining a light on the lives and bearing witness to the many priests, religious sisters and lay people, who opted to accompany, support and help their brothers and sisters who were sick from H.I.V. and AIDS at great risk to their profession and reputation,” Pope Francis wrote.

The pontiff added, “Instead of indifference, alienation and even condemnation, these people let themselves be moved by the mercy of the Father and allowed that to become their own life’s work; a discreet mercy, silent and hidden, but still capable of sustaining and restoring the life and history of each one of us.”

O’Loughlin wrote that the letter won’t heal old or new wounds — the church still won’t bless same-sex marriages and teaches that homosexuality is immoral — but that it gave him hope that church leaders “will be transformed” in how they see LGBTQ people and “others whose faith is lived on the margins.”

Regardless of whether that happens, O’Loughlin said one of his goals for the book is to show LGBTQ people struggling with their faith that they aren’t alone, and that there are many people who came before them.

“By meeting people and learning about the struggles and learning the history, I’ve realized that this is not new at all,” O’Loughlin said. “The reality is, people have been grappling with these questions for forever … and there’s a lot of wisdom in these stories that have helped me realize I’m not alone at all.”

Complete Article HERE!

Pope honors Catholic priests, nuns who cared for HIV victims

By Associated Press

Pope Francis has paid tribute to Catholic priests, nuns and laypeople who helped care for people with HIV and AIDS during the early period of the epidemic in the U.S. “at great risk to their profession and reputation.”

Francis offered the words of praise in a letter to Michael O’Loughlin, national correspondent for the Jesuit magazine America, who wrote the book “Hidden Mercy: AIDS, Catholics, and the Untold Stories of Compassion in the Face of Fear,” out this month.

“Instead of indifference, alienation and even condemnation these people let themselves be moved by the mercy of the Father and allowed that to become their own life’s work; a discreet mercy, silent and hidden, but still capable of sustaining and restoring the life and history of each one of us,” Francis wrote.

O’Loughlin provided the text of Francis’ Aug. 17 letter in an essay published Monday in the New York Times, recounting his experience as a gay Catholic reporting the project and the tensions in the 1980s among the Catholic hierarchy, the gay community and AIDS activists to confront the epidemic.

In the letter, Francis thanked O’Loughlin “for shining a light on the lives and bearing witness to the many priests, religious sisters and lay people, who opted to accompany, support and help their brothers and sisters who were sick from HIV and AIDS at great risk to their profession and reputation.”

Francis’ letter was praised by the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit and editor at large of America who has advocated for the Catholic Church to build bridges with the LGBT community. In an email, Martin said Francis’ letter “is another significant step in the pope’s continual outreach to LGBTQ people.”

The Vatican holds that gay people must be treated with dignity and respect, but that gay sex is “intrinsically disordered.”

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Catholic order that staffed Kamloops residential school refuses to share records families seek

B.C. government has asked Sisters of St. Ann to turn over documents ‘immediately’

Seven of Bronwyn Shoush’s aunts and uncles lie in residential school graves in Mission, B.C. For decades, she’s been searching for answers about how exactly they died.

By Angela Sterritt, Jennifer Wilson

The order of nuns that taught at the former Kamloops residential school, and others in B.C., continues to withhold important documents that could help tell the story of how Indigenous children died at the schools over the past 150 years.

The Sisters of St. Ann has never approved the release of relevant government records — documents that could relate to deaths at the schools — according to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation and the religious order.

“It might be because there were things that weren’t relevant to the school system or names of those students, as well as other people like visitors,” said Sister Marie Zarowny, a St. Ann spokesperson.

She also said the sisters have provided some documents to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission about the residential school system, but is unwilling to share some records outlining internal workings of the congregation, as well as what is called the school “narrative.”

“What is in those documents, why can’t I have access to them?” said Bronwyn Shoush, whose father attended St. Mary’s residential school in Mission, B.C.

Like Kamloops, it was also staffed by the Sisters of St. Ann and administered by the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate.

Seven of her father’s nine siblings lie buried in the residential school cemetery. The children were all in marked graves that have since fallen into disrepair, she says. Yet she knows very little about how they came to die at school. Her father told her one sibling was killed in what he was told was an accident — falling on a pitchfork. Another died suddenly and others from Illness, but Shoush has few other details.

The National Student Memorial Register lists 21 children as having died at St. Mary’s, but to add to the confusion, none of her aunts or uncles are named.

“The longer it’s locked up and held or destroyed or held in secret, the more you’re likely to be very suspicious,” Shoush said.

The St. Mary’s residential school cemetery in Mission, B.C., where school children as well as nuns and the institution’s administrators are buried.

It also goes against the Truth and Reconciliation mandate as set up by the Indian Residential School Settlement agreement.

“This is a concern and remains inconsistent with the actions of the vast majority of other signatories to the Settlement Agreement,” reads a statement from Stephanie Scott, executive director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.

‘Turn over these records immediately”

The Royal B.C. Museum that houses St. Ann’s private archival collection has appealed to the nuns to “provide better accessibility of these records to the public — but particularly to Indigenous communities whose members attended residential schools.”

Researchers can access the archives by appointment, but some have noted it’s not always easy to do so.

The B.C. government has also called on the Sisters of St. Ann “to turn over these records immediately.”

In the order’s defence, Zarowny said St. Ann wanted to be able to fix historical inaccuracies before documents were made public.

But Ry Moran, who guided the creation of the TRC’s national archive, says having a hodgepodge of the records conceals more important truths.

“The biggest inaccuracy is that kids’ own names were robbed from them and replaced with Christian Western names,” Moran said.

This is the St. Mary’s residential school cemetery. The National Student Memorial Register names 21 children who died at the school, but none of Bronwyn’s relatives are listed on it.

“We’re going back and figuring out what names, lands, territories, identities and villages were actually stolen from kids in the first place.”

The sisters taught at St. Mary’s, Kamloops, Kuper Island and Lower Post Indian residential schools where children experienced rampant physical, emotional and sexual abuse.

Records can be forced by law

St. Ann is not the only entity to refuse to hand over the documents.

Father Ken Thorson of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate told the CBC that his congregation would not be providing personnel files of the staff at the residential schools citing privacy laws.

Those could include disciplinary records of nuns who treated children poorly.

But the TRC’s mandate outlines that “in cases where privacy interests of an individual exist, and subject to and in compliance with applicable privacy legislation and access to information legislation, researchers for the Commission shall have access to the documents.”

And it’s not just churches who have refused to give up residential school documents.

The federal government has been in court since 2020 trying to block the creation of statistical reports on residential school abuse claims.

The Supreme Court of Canada also ruled in 2017 that thousands of records documenting abuse at residential schools should be destroyed.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Crown-Indigenous Relations said, “As per the terms of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, Canada was obligated to disclose all relevant documents to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.”

It goes on to say, “the courts have consistently found that Canada has met its document disclosure obligations and that no further action is required.”

Still, those at the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation disagree.

“The federal government and provincial governments also have not shared all the records they agreed to provide to the NCTR. We continue to negotiate acquisition of further records from many settler organizations — both religious and governmental,” the statement says.

For those like Shoush who want information about how her relatives died, it could take years of fighting just to find the truth.

Complete Article HERE!