Marveling at the courage of LGBTQ advocates

At the Vatican’s Casa Santa Marta Oct. 17, from left: Matthew Myers, New Ways Ministry’s staff associate; Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry’s executive director; Pope Francis; Loretto Sr. Jeannine Gramick, New Ways Ministry’s co-founder; and Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry’s associate director

By Michele Morek

Some of the nicest surprises of my “life in retirement” are chance encounters with sisters I met through Global Sisters Report. It happened again the night of Nov. 7 in Kansas City, when Loretto Sr. Jeannine Gramick of New Ways Ministry spoke on a panel with Jesuit Fr. James Martin of the Jesuit ministry Outreach, and a gay Catholic theologian, Jason Steidl Jack, author of LGBTQ Catholic Ministries: Past and Present. The event was part of the Thomas More Center for Catholic Thought and Culture Conversations series at Rockhurst University.

Martin introduced the group and updated us on how the synod on synodality spoke about the LGBTQ topic. He noted that the working document referred to LGBTQ twice, and there were a significant number of conversations on it. Since the church is universal, a variety of opinions were expressed, with some bishops claiming that LGBTQ is an ideology, or that it is a form of colonialism foisted on African countries by the west. In the end, the term LGBTQ was removed from the document and the discussion was not reflected in it. But he thinks the voices were heard.

Gramick has been working in education and advocacy to build bridges between the LGBTQ community and the church since 1971. Her journey began in graduate school when she met a gay man who asked her what the church was doing for the gay community. At that time, LGBTQ people were being thrown out of their families and even the confessional, and not even mentioned in Catholic circles. She noted that LGBTQ people are still being put to death in some African countries.

In describing her ministry, she said four people gave her hope:

  1. Blessed Mary Theresa Gerhardinger of Jesus, one of the founders of the School Sisters of Notre Dame (Gramick’s former community of 40 years), who said: “All the works of God proceed slowly and in pain. But then, their roots are the sturdier and their flowering the lovelier.”
  2. Sr. Mary Luke Tobin, a former president of the Sisters of Loretto (Gramick’s present community) who urged her sisters to not be afraid, but to “Go out on a limb. That’s where the fruit is.”
  3. Pope Francis, with whom she recently met in Rome, invited her at his residence and they chatted for an hour. She said they had become “pen pals” for two years, after he wrote to congratulate her on her 50 years of ministry to the LGBTQ community. He told her, “Hope — we must always have hope,” and she got to tell him that he is the face of God to her. To that he replied, “God’s face isn’t that ugly, is it?” So, from Pope Francis she got a lesson of two words: hope and humor!
  4. Her father, who first urged her to “let the other nuns” work with the LGBTQ community. He asked her if she were going to burn any draft records (like some war protestors were doing then). When she replied, “Probably not, but suppose I did?” he said something like, “Well, that’s against our country, but if you do it that’s OK — you’re my daughter!” From him she felt God’s unconditional love.

Steidl Jack spoke from his own experience as a gay Catholic when he described his answers to people, on both the left and the right, who ask him how he can stay in a church that persecutes him. He said that he is in an unusually privileged position, as he has the support of family, friends, coworkers, and his Catholic parish in Manhattan, New York. He has hope because the Catholic grassroots are far ahead of the hierarchy, with 69% of US Catholics supporting gay marriage since 2016. It is the lay people who are pressing ahead for more acceptance.

He regretted the fact that there seems to be a new scapegoat, the transgender community. Here he mentioned another Global Sisters Report writer, Sr. Luisa Derouen and her work with the trans community. Of course, I felt very proud of her and elbowed Sister Angela sitting next to me, to be sure she got that!

Steidl Jack said that LGBTQ Catholics have been out in public for decades, and are openly transforming the church. He is excited by the pope’s compassionate relationship with the LGBTQ community, and his preaching about acceptance. He said, “God is not done with the Catholic Church!”

At the end, there was a lively question and answer period; since the event involved a university community there were many students and members of the Catholic and LGBTQ communities. The panelists seemed to enjoy the back-and-forth, and the process was punctuated by rounds of applause.

In one of her answers, Gramick said that she thought sexual theology needs to change for everyone, not just the LGBTQ community. She gave the example of how it has already changed, citing the Augustinian notion that if a married couple has sex that does not result in a child, they have sinned. However, Augustine acknowledged, it would be only a venial sin since they are married!

In response to another question, she urged people to follow their consciences. She thinks the pope is trying to avoid telling people what to do but is encouraging them to discern. She counseled LGBTQ people to listen to those who criticize them, tell their own story, and try to find areas of agreement. She said they need to become political — to visit Catholic legislators and hold them to Catholic values.

Steidl Jack strongly urged anyone experiencing persecution to immediately get to a community that affirms and loves them. They should not stay where they are being abused. The Catholic tradition is wide, and they will be able to find a parish home.

Martin commented that more young people were “coming out” in the synod; one African man told him that 30% of his youth group identified as LGBTQ. As more young people come out, more parents will get involved, and the movement will become stronger. Finally, he said that our work for this year between synods is to reflect on the synthesis document, listen to one another, and give input to pastors and members of the synod.

It was a good experience. I marveled at the courage shown by the panelists over the course of so many years. Sister Jeannine and I managed a quick greeting and hug before the reception, and I can assure her many readers that she is as gentle and humble as ever. Just one more global sister making a difference in the world, and thriving out there “at the end of that limb!”

Complete Article HERE!

Francis demonstrates support for LGBTQ ministries

— The Pope received Sr Jeannine Gramick, who was prohibited from pastoral work with LGBTQ in 1999 for “errors and ambiguities” in her ministry.

Sr Jeannine Gramick IBVM with Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, pictured outside St Peter’s in 2015.

By Brian Fraga

Pope Francis demonstrated his support for LGBTQ ministry with two significant gestures while the Synod on Synodality was discussing the Church’s approach to sexuality.

On 17 October, Francis received Sr Jeannine Gramick IBVM, the co-founder of New Ways Ministry, for a 50-minute audience in the Apostolic Palace.

“The meeting was very emotional for me,” Sr Jeannine said, praising Francis for his “humility, his love of the poor and for those shunned by society”.

Sr Jeannine co-founded New Ways Ministry – a Maryland-based LGBTQ Catholic ministry – in 1977 with the late Salvatorian Fr Robert Nugent.

Francis and Sr Jeannine have developed a friendly correspondence since 2021, when Francis wrote to New Ways Ministry Francis describing her as a “valiant woman.” He later sent a handwritten note congratulating her for 50 years of LGBTQ ministry.

“Meeting with Pope Francis is a great encouragement for Sr Jeannine and New Ways Ministry to continue our work in the Catholic Church,” Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, said in a statement.

Francis’ outreach is a marked departure from the criticisms and rebukes that New Ways Ministry received in previous years from Vatican officials and American bishops.

In 1999, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI who at the time directed the Vatican’s doctrinal office, ordered that Gramick and Nugent be prohibited from pastoral work with LGBTQ persons because of alleged “errors and ambiguities” in their ministry.

On 13 October, Francis also wrote a personal note to Stan “JR” Zerkowski, a gay Catholic man involved in national and local LGBTQ ministry in Kentucky.

Zerkowski told the Lexington Herald-Leader that he had written to Frances to tell him about his experiences and the challenges faced by many who work in LGBTQ ministry, and the Pope had replied two days later.

“For the Holy Father to say thank you for your ministry…it’s affirming the ministry,” said Zerkowski, who added that Francis’ approach to LGBTQ issues “opens the door, maybe, for discussions where discussions could not be had before”.

Complete Article HERE!

Nun reveals she secretly blessed same-sex couple 15 years ago

— ‘I would do it again’

Sister Anna Koop doesn’t regret blessing a same-sex couple 15 years ago.

By Chantelle Billson

A Catholic nun has revealed that she secretly blessed a same-sex couple 15 years ago – long before the Pope Francis indicated that same-sex couples could receive blessings – and she’d do it again.

Roman Catholic Sister Anna Koop blessed the couple, one of whom was a personal friend, 15 years ago because they were in love and “Jesus did not say love was confined.”

The 85-year-old told CBS News that she was aware she might face consequences from the Church, but went ahead with with the private blessing anyway. In her own words, she “blessed the love they celebrate”.

In early October, LGBTQ+ groups praised Pope Francis for saying that same-sex couples could have their unions blessed.

Sister Koop, who became a nun in the late 1960s and has spent her career mainly in Denver, focussing on homelessness and poverty, said the Pope’s support of same-sex couple blessings made her feel that her blessing 15 years ago has been supported.

She said she never experienced consequences over the secret blessing and still keeps in touch with the couple. They are still together and have two children.

Sister Koop doesn’t regret her actions.

“I did it once and I would do it again,” she said.

In the Church of England, however, blessing services for same-sex couples may be a considerable way off.

The Bishop of London, Dame Sarah Mullally, has said it’s unlikely that such services will take place before 2025.

The delay comes amid what Mullally called a “time of uncertainty” for the Church due to division over the General Synod – the Church of England’s decision-making body – announcing in February it would continue to prevent priests ordaining same-sex marriages, but blessings would be offered instead.

In a move towards increased inclusivity, in January the Church of England formally apologised for its historically “hostile” treatment of LGBTQ+ people.

Complete Article HERE!

Synod on Synodality: Italian nun claims St. Paul attended ‘non-ritual female liturgy’

Mother Maria Grazia Angelini gave an exegesis of the New Testament for synod delegates during the general congregation on Oct. 13 in which she claimed that St. Paul “inserted himself into a ‘non-ritual’ female liturgy” when he arrived in the city of Philippi in Macedonia.

By Courtney Mares

An Italian religious sister told the Synod on Synodality assembly Friday that St. Paul attended “a non-ritual female liturgy” ahead of synod discussions of women’s inclusion in the Church.

Mother Maria Grazia Angelini gave an exegesis of the New Testament for synod delegates during the general congregation on Oct. 13 in which she claimed that St. Paul “inserted himself into a ‘non-ritual’ female liturgy” when he arrived in the city of Philippi in Macedonia.

Speaking to hundreds of synod participants in Paul VI Hall, Angelini described how “Paul was welcomed by a liturgy outside the ritual, among women, in the open air.”

She said: “The apostle did not start, as was his custom, in the synagogue … He inserted himself into a ‘non-ritual’ female liturgy, breaking into it with the word of the Gospel.”

Angelini’s speech referred to a historical event recorded in chapter 16 of the Acts of the Apostles, which states: “On the sabbath, we went outside the city gate along the river where we thought there would be a place of prayer. We sat and spoke with the women who had gathered there” (Acts 16:13).

The Scripture goes on to describe how one of the women named Lydia listened “and the Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what Paul was saying” and she was baptized along with her household (Acts 16:14-15). The Biblical text does not make mention of any sort of a liturgy.

The sister’s exegesis of the Acts of the Apostles was part of a larger speech on “the cry of women” throughout the New Testament. She argued that the contribution of women “unceasingly fuels the spiritual dynamism of reform.”

Angelini is one of two “spiritual assistants” who helped to lead the meditations for the retreat and the prayers throughout the Synod assembly this month, along with Father Timothy Radcliffe.

The 79-year-old nun served as the abbess of the Benedictine Monastery of Saints Peter and Paul in Viboldone, Italy, from 1996 to 2019. She studied theology under Giovanni Moioli and has written more than a dozen spiritual books.

She is one of three women who addressed the Synod’s general congregation on Friday at the start of a new module of Synod discussions on “Co-responsibility in Mission: How can we better share gifts and tasks in the service of the Gospel?” which will be discussed by Synod delegates over the next two days.

Sister Gloria Liliana Franco, a Colombian religious of the Company of Mary Our Lady, told Synod delegates the story of a woman who earned better grades than her male classmates at a pontifical university, but “did not receive a canonical title because she is a woman,” adding “because until a few years ago women in their country could not study theology, only religious sciences.”

“Many women have no place in the parish or diocesan council, even though they are the teachers and the catechists,” Franco said.

“From the point of view of the members of many councils, the mission of women is very maternal, basic, and pastoral, while the goals of the councils are, for them, more administrative and strategic,” she added.

Sister Xiskya Valladares, Nicaraguan sister known as“the tweeting nun,” also spoke to the general congregation. Valladares, who has more than 452,000 followers on TikTok and 77,000 followers on Twitter, said in a TikTok video that “there should be no problem in there being women priestesses.” Valladares limited her livestreamed speech to the synod congregation to the subject of evangelization in a digital environment.

Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich told the Synod delegates that the morning’s testimonies help to frame the themes and questions that will be discussed and advised delegates that “everyone can revise the speech they had prepared” in light of what was said during the general congregation.

Complete Article HERE!

Alternative Catholic synod to push case for ordination of women priests

— Event organisers say it’s ‘crunch time’ for pope as scandal and bigotry drive Church members to leave

Pope Francis at the Vatican in August. He first announced his ‘synod on synodality’ in 2021.


They make up more than half its membership, they have been denied a say for centuries in the way it is run: but, early next month, women will gather in Rome for a process that they hope can bring the Catholic church’s thinking on female equality into the 21st century.

The central event is a mass listening exercise announced by Pope Francis in 2021, the synod on synodality. Its delegates will meet in Rome throughout October to discern the future direction of key issues in the church; and at the forefront of soundings already taken across the 1.3 billion-strong Catholic church across the globe has been the role of women.

To underline this clamour for change, a consortium of 45 pro-reform Catholic organisations will run their own synod – entitled Spirit Unbounded – alongside the official event: and former Irish president Mary McAleese, who will be among its keynote speakers, says it is crunch time for Francis and his cardinals and bishops. “They have to do something more than a cynical exercise in kicking the can down the road,” she says. “If the cardinals and bishops can be humbled into listening to the people of God, maybe the Holy Spirit will have a chance to bring about change.”

If not, she says, it is hard to see a way forward in a church that has shedded members – certainly in Europe and the west – and been ravaged by abuse scandals, financial misconduct and a dearth of men signing up to become priests.

“The scandals show up the craven stupidity of so many of the members of the magisterium,” says McAleese, who was president of Ireland – a country that bore the brunt of Catholic abuse scandals – from 1997 to 2011. “And, of course, there have always been examples of appalling teaching: but we are in a different generation now, with a highly educated laity who are more than capable of critiquing church teaching,”

Cherie Blair speaks on stage during the 2023 Concordia Annual Summit at Sheraton New York
Cherie Blair will be a keynote speaker at the Spirit Unbounded event.

Women in particular, she says, are being “driven away”: “They’re seen as second class and they won’t put up with it any more.”

Also addressing the alternative synod will be Cherie Blair, who will tell participants that “the church’s track record on women is at best mixed”, but that it needs to change and should not be afraid to change. “There remains a strong sense that the church does not do enough for women, that its structures and teaching on matters such as birth control and its priorities do not always serve women well,” she says in a pre-recorded video message.

For many, top of the change agenda is female ordination: admitting women first as deacons, and in time as priests. Miriam Duignan of Women’s Ordination Worldwide, one of the organisations taking part in Spirit Unbounded, is expecting hundreds of pro-ordination supporters for a march in central Rome on 6 October, as the synod on synodality gets under way.

Her organisation is also planning some “surprise” events, she says. “In almost every parish in the world where synod discussions took place, from Lesotho to the Philippines to Peru, women were talked about as an area where change is needed,” she says. “The Catholic church doesn’t have enough priests, and yet everyone knows nuns and laywomen who are already doing 90% of the work in the parishes – then they have to stand aside when a priest is needed to say mass.”

She adds. “Right now we’re at a tipping point: it’s clear that women are doing the work of priesthood, and they want to be recognised as priests.”

Despite what’s seemed a hard line against women priests from the Vatican, Duignan says there’s “below the radar” support from many priests and bishops. On demonstrations, she says: “We’ve had priests smiling at us, putting their thumbs up, clapping. One cardinal said ‘brava’ to me.”

Since becoming pope in 2013, Francis has convened two commissions to look into the question of female deacons. It is widely acknowledged that women served in leadership roles in the early years of the church and, says Duignan, as late as the 15th century women abbesses were hearing confessions and presiding at eucharistic services. But so far, Francis has failed to act. “He has a blind spot where he doesn’t see that the discrimination he speaks out against in wider society also happens in the Catholic Church.”

The official Synod Instrumentum Laboris, or working document, asks synod delegates to consider how women can be better included in the governance, decision-making, mission and ministries at all levels of the church, and asks whether women deacons could be envisaged. Although it doesn’t mention the possibility of female priests, many believe this would follow a decision to admit women to the diaconate, as happened in the Church of England – women were first ordained as deacons in 1987, and as priests in 1994.

Penelope Middleboe of the UK Catholic reform group Root and Branch, one of the lead organisations behind Spirit Unbounded, says the alternative event reflects suspicions about whether the official synod is properly taking laypeople’s views into account.

“In England and Wales, we researched what happened to points raised in the parish discussions, where there were calls for more action on abuse, for the inclusion of LGBTQ+ people, and for women to be admitted to the priesthood and to leadership roles – but we found these had been watered down by the bishops who filtered them for the report document,” she says.

And while the official synod is the first ever event of its kind in the Catholic church to include voting women, there are far more bishops with a vote than women. “Also, the few women involved have been chosen by the bishops – many of them work for Catholic institutions, so they’re not always able to speak their minds.”

Freedom to speak, and an ability to listen, are essential ingredients in what happens next, says McAleese: “I believe change is possible, which is why I stay – because many argue that by staying you’re collaborating or colluding with inequality. I feel that myself: but I feel I must stay to nudge the internal debate, and to press for change.”

Complete Article HERE!