Ministry to Gays Investigated: Vatican Revives Case against Priest and Nun

By Edwards, Robin T. | National Catholic Reporter, May 27, 1994 | Go to article overview

Ministry to Gays Investigated: Vatican Revives Case against Priest and Nun


Edwards, Robin T., National Catholic Reporter


Fr. Robert, Nugent and Sr. Jeannine Gramick, whose often troubled but thriving ministry to gays has repeatedly placed them at the center of controversy in the church, are back in the spotlight again, the subjects of a revived Vatican investigation.

The priest and nun must defend their ministry and writings before a Vatican-appointed three-member commission charged with determining if they are in step with official church teaching on homosexuality.

Gramick, a School Sister of Notre Dame, and Nugent, a Salvatorian priest, have collaborated in the ministry to homosexuals since the 1970s.

The Vatican Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life appointed the commission to determine "the present faithfulness" of the pair's work, which incorporates research, writing, advocacy and education on the issue of homosexuality.

The commission's chair is Detroit Archbishop Adam J. Maida. Also serving on the commission is Msgr. James J. Mulligan, a moral theologian and director of the Allentown diocese's Priestly Life and Ministry, Office, and Janet Smith, associate professor of the University of Dallas department of philosophy and an expert in human life issues and moral teaching in the area of human sexuality.

A May 11 statement issued by the Detroit archdiocese said that Nugent and Gramick's ministry "may have created an ambiguity which has caused confusion in the minds of some people."

Ned McGrath, the archdiocese's director of communications, told NCR that the commission, which will meet several times in the coming months, is expected to give its recommendation to the Vatican congregation by summer's end. The commission conducted its first meeting March 18.

For both the priest and nun, the outcome of this investigation is critical to the fate of their ministry, which has made its presence known in seminars and workshops in Catholic dioceses throughout the United States. Nugent put it this way: "Our careers and futures depend on what this commission does."

Not the first time

This investigation is not the first time Nugent and Gramick have come under such scrutiny. It is actually a resurrection of a 1988 Vatican investigation, which has been dormant, at least publicly. Both Nugent and Gramick, who thought the matter had been dropped, said the current investigation came as a surprise.

Controversy has beset their ministry for many years. In 1984, the Vatican ordered them to end their association with New Ways Ministry, a homosexual ministry group they cofounded in 1977.

The order came at the urging of Washington Cardinal James Hickey, who disapproved of their presence within the archdiocese, where the group is headquartered. His efforts culminated in their resignation from New Ways.

The priest and nun did not, however, cease their ministry to homosexuals. And, according to Gramick, Hickey's active opposition did not end either, despite the fact that their work continued outside his jurisdiction and under the authority of their religious communities. (The spokesperson for Hickey's diocese could not be reached for comment.)

"In some dioceses, if (Hickey) heard that we were giving a workshop, he would send a letter to the bishop ahead of time giving background about us," Gramick said. "But the implication has been to not let us speak." In some cases, she added, dioceses canceled. "It's has been kind of distressing, to say the least," she said.

Just the same, Gramick and Nugent say their ministry has enjoyed some measure of success in recent years, having operated, in some fashion, in 150 U.S. dioceses.

Gramick is hopeful that this current investigation will result in the church hierarchy giving "its blessing" to their special ministry. Since the late 1970s, both have had the support of their respective religious communities.

At the request of the former Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes in the early 1980s, the communities evaluated Nugent and Gramick's ministry. …

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