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Statements re: silencing of Sr Jeannine Gramick

A religious sister who spent more than 20 years running retreats and counselling for gay people and their parents has been forbidden to speak about her work.

Last July the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith ordered Sr Jeannine Gramick and Fr Robert Nugent to stop their work at the New Ways Ministry in Maryland. Sr Jeannine and Fr Robert are considered authorities in the field of pastoral work with the gay community and their families. They helped set up the UK Catholic Parents' Network which received diocesan endorsement.

The following letters and public statements reached ICN this week: Statement from School Sisters of Notre Dame - Baltimore Province - May 26 Sister Jane Burke, Provincial Leader of the Baltimore province of the School Sisters of Notre Dame (SSND) accompanied Sister Jeannine Gramick to meet with SSND General Superior Sister Rosemary Howarth Tuesday, May 24, 2000 in Rome. Sister Jeannine has been called in obedience by Sister Rosemary to abide by the conditions imposed by the July 1999 Notification of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith.

In addition, as recently clarified by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life (CICLSAL), Sister Jeannine is prohibited from further public speaking or writing on homosexuality, on any topics related to the content of the Notification and the ecclesiastical processes which led to it.

Sister Jeannine has announced that she cannot comply with these directives.

Sister Jane Burke commented: "I feel a very deep sadness that the situation has reached this stage. I feel concern for Sister Jeannine as an individual and as a School Sister of Notre Dame. However, as consecrated women religious, we live out of our vowed commitment." The School Sisters of Notre Dame are an international congregation of 5,000 sisters with ministries in 35 countries.

The cultures of the sisters themselves and of those with whom they minister are diverse, yet the congregation continues to find strength in unity through diversity. The Baltimore province of SSND is committed to living out our charism through ministry with gay and lesbian people and their families. To honour that commitment, the Baltimore province established a fund in July 1999 to support pastoral ministry to those who are gay and lesbian, standing firm in our commitment as women of the Church. Disbursements to qualified applicants to the fund began in spring 2000.

The Baltimore Province of the School Sisters of Notre Dame stands in community with the SSND General Council. As always, we seek to realise the charism of our foundress, Blessed Theresa Gerhardinger to struggle for unity. In the words of our foundress, "All the works of God proceed slowly and in pain; but then their roots are the sturdier and their flowering the lovelier." We ask all reading this to join us in prayer for Sister Jeannine and all those pained and alienated by the various aspects of this situation.

Statement from School Sisters of Notre Dame - The Generalate - 26 May

We, the General Council of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, are at a juncture, which we had hoped dialogue and collaboration would have prevented. It is now 10 months since the publication of The Notification of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, CDF, (July 13, 1999 L'Osservatore Romano), which permanently prohibited Sister Jeannine Gramick from any pastoral work with homosexual persons. She was to convey the teaching of the church in any future publication, and was to refrain from criticising the Magisterium concerning homosexuality or related issues. We have accompanied Sister Jeannine in the struggle to live out the Notifications restrictions.

We had asked her to "Let the land lie fallow" in relation to her former ministry among gay and lesbian persons, and to redirect her gifts and energies toward a different ministry.

After dialogue with Sister Jeannine and the Baltimore provincial council, she was assigned to a new ministry of full-time study. Due to divergent interpretations of the Notification, and because of some of Sister Jeannine's specific choices, statements, and public activities during these past months, she is now prohibited from any further speaking or writing on homosexuality, or on any topics related to the Notification and the ecclesiastical processes which led to it.

After carefully considering the rights and responsibilities of an individual member in relationship to the common good of an international congregation, we accepted our responsibility as general council in calling Sister Jeannine to obey. At a meeting with her in Rome, Italy, on May 24, 2000, we presented and clarified these further understandings of the prohibition and its implications. It saddens us deeply that Sister Jeannine's immediate response was that she cannot live with these directives.

We included in our deliberations the fact that we are a religious institute of pontifical right, whose members live and work within the church and are to respect the Magisterium and its legitimate authority. It is in freedom, each sister professes to live her vowed commitment, which includes obeying an explicit command given in an extraordinary situation. We recognise the personal and communal struggle that this experience has been for many, as it has been for Sister Jeannine and for us.

In our ongoing process, we maintained close collaboration with the Baltimore provincial council, sought professional consultation, and were in dialogue with the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR). In taking each step of this difficult journey, we have become increasingly aware of the complexity of the many related issues.

It is our hope that persons of faith - scholars and theologians - will also engage in in-depth dialogue and ongoing education, in theological reflection and in disciplined study, of the core issues stirred by this delicate situation. We recognise the positive aspects of Sister Jeannine's many years of dedicated service given to those marginalized because of their sexual orientation, and to their families. Numerous letters testified to the effectiveness of her pastoral ministry.

At the same time, however, we needed to take into consideration that there has been a 20-year history of trying to reconcile differences between Sister Jeannine and the Church. While we had asked Sister Jeannine to direct her gifts toward another ministry, we School Sisters of Notre Dame in harmony with our mission, continue to support pastoral ministry to lesbian and gay persons. Like Blessed Theresa Gerhardinger, our foundress, we exclude no one from our concern, and will continue to respond to the urgent needs of our time.

Statement of Sr Jeannine Gramick - May 25

Society hears the pain of battered women who remained silent for too long, often because of fear of further reprisals or concern about others, particularly their children. When a woman has found sufficient strength to name the oppression she has endured and seeks help, she is often pursued by the batterer, who tries to cower her into submission and begin the cycle of intimidation once again. For 11 years the Vatican investigated my pastoral ministry to lesbian and gay persons, after my congregation, the School Sisters of Notre Dame, conducted two studies resulting in positive evaluations of my work. I gave no particulars publicly about these investigations because Church authorities requested that I remain silent during the investigation process in the interest of confidentiality.

The publication of the Notification from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on July 14, 1999 presented details of the Vatican investigation from the perspective of the hierarchy. Since July 1999, I have offered my own viewpoint by revealing additional facts, which show that the process violated principles of fair judicial procedure outlined in the Catholic Church's 1971 document, Justice in the World (par 45).

Gradually, I found my voice and have told my story to various Catholic and ecumenical audiences. While I am not a battered woman and have experienced no physical abuse, the emotional dynamics of the investigation and its aftermath are similar to that situation. A command not to speak or write about the Notification and its ecclesiastical processes is similar to ordering a woman who feels she has been unjustly treated to remain silent. Is this not a violation of the basic human right to self-defense?

A woman religious does not surrender her human rights by virtue of her state of life. Our Church teaches "no one should be deprived of their ordinary rights because they are associated with the Church in one way or another" (Justice in the World, par 41). How can we grow in becoming a more just Church unless we reflect on and learn from our own experience?

Furthermore, how can it be right to require that I not ask the Christian faithful to write to the Vatican to express their views about the Notification? Church law states that "(the Christian faithful) have the right and even at times a duty to manifest to their sacred pastors their opinion" (canon 21. 3).

Members of religious communities give special attention to the wisdom of the community, expressed in the voice of a religious leader, as a source of knowing God's will.

Our community documents call us to obey God by proclaiming the good news to all particularly those considered poor, promoting unity and reconciliation, eliminating the root causes of injustice, working for positive systemic change, and risking innovative response to the needs of the time. I try to live obedience in the light of these principles and the requests of religious leaders, both of which, hopefully, are congruent.

If they are not congruent in the member's understanding, I believe the member must obey the will of God as manifested in her conscience, just as a baptised Christian must follow his or her conscience, even if it is not congruent with official Church teaching. Vatican II's Declaration of Religious Freedom states that "every one of us will render an account of oneself to God" (Rom 14:12), and for this reason (one) is bound to obey one's conscience" (par 11). Church teachings are certainly more serious matters than directives of religious leaders; therefore, the obligation to follow one's conscience applies to these directives as well. I have gravely considered the requests of my community leaders, as well as our community documents.

I feel pained that the Vatican and my community leaders now ask me to silence myself. After finding my voice to tell my story, I choose not to collaborate in my own oppression by restricting a basic human right. To me this is a matter of conscience. I am deeply saddened by the current situation because my community leaders and I have a common desire to serve God and God's people.

My faith in God and the paschal mystery give me hope that this Good Friday experience will some day be followed by an Easter Sunday. I ask the prayers of all who are concerned.


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