Newswriters Hear Views on New Pope, Gays in Seminaries
Allen, John L., Jr., National Catholic Reporter
Last week, I was in Miami to take part in a panel about the new pontificate of Benedict XVI at the annual convention of the Religion Newswriters Association. The association brings together religion reporters for major American secular papers and broadcast outlets in the United States.
The other members of the panel were Loretto Sr. Jeannine Gramick and Jesuit Fr. Joseph Fessio.
Sr. Gramick, who heads the National Coalition of American Nuns, was some years back the object Of a Vatican investigation for her pastoral work with gay and lesbian Catholics. Fr. Fessio, the publisher of Ignatius Press, was the founder of the Ignatius Institute at the University of San Francisco and is now the provost at Ave Maria University in Naples, Fla. Because Sr. Gramick and Fr. Fessio are heroes to the Catholic left and right, respectively, conference organizers no doubt expected a wide range of views, and the panel delivered.
Sr. Gramick concentrated her remarks largely on the forthcoming Vatican document on the admission of homosexuals to Catholic seminaries, arguing that it will cause great pain both to gay priests already serving and to young gay men discerning a vocation. Further, she suggested, it will demoralize gay and lesbian Catholics who already feel to some extent marginalized by the church.
At the same time, Sr. Gramick recounted a story of a chance encounter with then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger during an airplane flight from Munich to Rome several years ago, as the investigation of her work was underway. She described Cardinal Ratzinger as a kind and gracious man, and said the two parted with promises to pray for each other. She expressed hope that his papacy would reflect a "pastoral" rather than a "hard-line" approach.
Fr. Fessio, who studied under Cardinal Ratzinger while he was an up-and-coming German theologian in the late 1970s at the University of Regensburg in Bavaria, focused more on his personal acquaintance with the new pope.
As is well known, Cardinal Ratzinger has made an effort to stay in touch with his former students. Each year, his former doctoral students organize a meeting with their professor called a Schulerkreis, where they meet for two or three days to discuss some particular topic. Usually these meetings are held in a monastery, Fr. Fessio said, and the discussions are informal and free flowing, sometimes stretching over dinner and into a few glasses of beer or wine.