CHARLOTTE, N.C. — An upcoming speaking engagement with an LGBT-affirming Catholic nun will have to be relocated after news Monday that she and the event have been banned from an Uptown church by Bishop Peter Jugis of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charlotte.
Sister Jeannine Gramick was scheduled to speak on May 16 at St. Peter Catholic Church, the city’s oldest Catholic parish, on S. Tyron St. She was the headlining speaker of an event planned by PFLAG Charlotte and St. Peter Catholic Church’s Gay/Lesbian Ministry, “Including LGBTQ People and Their Families in Faith Communities.”
Gramick is the co-founder of New Ways Ministry, begun in 1977 and described as “a gay-positive ministry of advocacy and justice for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Catholics, and reconciliation within the larger Christian and civil communities.”
Charlotte diocese spokesperson David Hains said Tuesday that neither Gramick nor New Ways Ministry can speak for the Catholic Church and confirmed that Jugis had made the decision to pull the plug on the event.
“News Ways does not speak legitimately for the teaching of the Catholic Church and therefore cannot be allowed to hold gatherings on Church property,” Hains said in a short written statement.
Diane Troy, president of PFLAG Charlotte and a parishioner at St. Peter Catholic, said the decision was disappointing. She described St. Peter as an open and welcoming place for her and her family. The Uptown parish is widely considered among the most LGBT-affirming Catholic churches in Charlotte.
“Sr. Jeannine’s message is very much in line with Pope Francis’ message of welcoming LGBT people to the Catholic Church. Her message of inclusion and acceptance has been well received by LGBT Catholics, the Catholic Church and its hierarchy for decades,” read a short statement from Troy. “My Catholic faith is profoundly important to me, as is the unconditional love and pride I feel for my gay son. Our Catholic school and parish communities should be a spiritual haven where all families receive acceptance and unconditional love.”
Troy added, “It’s unfortunate that the Bishop, as our spiritual shepherd, has chosen to turn his back on so many.”
Hains pointed to controversy surrounding Gramick as a reason for the bishop’s decision. Gramick and her ministry have been condemned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, as well as a 1999 decision by the Vatican’s Congregation on the Doctrine of the Faith — the church body founded in 1542 and known until 1904 as the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition.
“…[T]he Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is obliged to declare,” read the 1999 decision, “for the good of the Catholic faithful that the 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.”
Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, said Tuesday that Gramick and his ministry has spoken in 80 percent of the nation’s dioceses. They’ve continued to speak or present at a number of Catholic institutions even since the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishop’s condemnation in 2010. Acceptance of LGBT people in the church has also grown since that time, he added.
“Since about 2010, there have been more and more surveys showing that the vast majority of Catholics in the United States favor full equality, including marriage equality, for lesbian and gay people and for bisexual transgender people, as well,” DeBernardo said.
Gramick has been a proponent of civil equality for LGBT people, speaking out in 2012 for Maryland’s pro-LGBT marriage referendum because “it nourishes my own moral development,” she said according to the Washington Blade.
“As we grow in the moral right, we sometimes have to make conscience decisions that are at odds with the leaders of our religious denomination,” Gramick said at a press conference at the time, reported by the D.C. newspaper. “I do respect the position of the Catholic bishops on this question, but I disagree with them and I disagree with them because my conscience tells me so. My conscience tells me that social justice teaching in my church… supports equality and dignity for every individual. And so I can apply that social justice teaching of my church to the question of civil marriage for lesbian and gay people. This is not a question of church doctrine. It’s a question of public policy. And in this area of public policy I respectfully disagree with the bishops of my church.”
Gramick is currently out of the country and advocating for marriage equality in Ireland, where voters will decide on May 22 whether to pass a constitutional amendment to permit same-gender marriages.
Despite efforts to malign Gramick’s views as a Catholic, DeBernardo said she continues to speak for those whose consciences guide them toward affirmation.
“Like many issues in the church, such as birth control, the Catholic people have a different approach than the bishops,” he said. “The interesting thing that I find when I talk to Catholics who support LGBT people is that their support comes because they are Catholic, not in spite of being Catholic. Their Catholic faith has taught them to work for equality and respect of the human dignity of all people, whether we agree with them or not, and this is what motivates many Catholics to work for LGBT equality in the church and in society.”
DeBernardo added, “For many Catholics,, this particular issue is a matter of family. It is a matter of keeping families together and strengthening families. In the past two decades, more and more people in the U.S., including Catholics, have learned about an LGBT member in their family and that’s changed their hearts and their minds and moved them to work for equality.”
Jugis’ decision to ban Gramick stands in stark contrast to recent efforts by the Vatican to include her and the ministry she began. In February, Religion News Service reported that several Catholic officials, including staunchly anti-LGBT San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, wrote a letter to the Vatican on behalf of New Ways Ministry. The efforts resulted in the group receiving VIP tickets at Pope Francis’ Ash Wednesday public audience in St. Peter’s Square.
“It’s disappointing int he era of Pope Francis, where we see many Catholic leaders taking a more open approach to find out that Bishop Jugis has taken a more old-fashioned approach of silencing rather than [engage in] dialogue and encounter, which are the words Pope Francis used,” said DeBernardo.
Gramick and PFLAG Charlotte will still plan on holding their event on May 16. It will be hosted by Myers Park Baptist Church, 1900 Queens Rd., 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
“Sister Jeannine will be there and she will be glad to meet with the people, particularly now because of this very sad intervention [by Jugis],” DeBernardo said. “I think the need for reconciliation is going to be even stronger, because I’m sure there are a lot of people who are upset with this decision. It would have been great if the event could have been in a Catholic church; it would have sent a really important message. But the work will go on and she’ll be there on the 16th.”
Jugis’ decision to ban Gramick comes on the heels of the diocese’s decision earlier this year to fire openly gay Charlotte Catholic High substitute teacher Lonnie Billard after he said he planned to marry his same-gender partner. In 2012, the diocese fired popular music director Steav Congdon after he married his partner. Church officials call it “a public act that is in disobedience to Church teaching.”