Francis Cardinal George, archbishop of Chicago and president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, has denounced New Ways Ministry, a national organization based in Mt. Rainier, Maryland, which reaches out to gay and lesbian Catholics, runs conferences on issues concerning gay and lesbian Catholics, and sponsors regular retreats for that same population. (It also offers a variety of resources on its websites, such as a list of Catholic parishes where gays and lesbians would feel welcome.) Valued among the gay and lesbian Catholics, the organization and its founders (Sister Jeanine Gramick, SL, and Father Robert Nugent, SDS) have often found themselves at odds with the Catholic hierarchy. Sister Gramick and Father Nugent have been for some years officially barred "from any pastoral work involving homosexual persons," as the USCCB statement affirms. New Ways Ministry, which includes on its board and advisory board both priests and religious, said in a statement today that it was not contacted by the USCCB to explain its positions before the bishops' statement was released. Here is part of Cardinal George's statement, dated yesterday.
New Ways Ministry has recently criticized efforts by the Church to defend the traditional definition of marriage as between one man and one woman and has urged Catholics to support electoral initiatives to establish same-sex "marriage." No one should be misled by the claim that New Ways Ministry provides an authentic interpretation of Catholic teaching and an authentic Catholic pastoral practice. Their claim to be Catholic only confuses the faithful regarding the authentic teaching and ministry of the Church with respect to persons with a homosexual inclination. Accordingly, I wish to make it clear that, like other groups that claim to be Catholic but deny central aspects of Church teaching, New Ways Ministry has no approval or recognition from the Catholic Church and that they cannot speak on behalf of the Catholic faithful in the United States. The full text of Cardinal George's statement is here.
Today Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways, responded, in part:
We are astonished that Cardinal George released such a statement, since New Ways Ministry has never been contacted by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to discuss the nature of our work. We were not even extended the basic courtesy of being informed of the statement as it was being released to the press. Instead, we learned about it only by reading a press account.
When dealing with such a sensitive topic as homosexuality, it is not surprising that questions will arise from individual Church leaders. Yet, for more than three decades, New Ways Ministry has had its programs reviewed by scores of Catholic bishops, theologians, and pastoral leaders, and we have always been found to be firmly in line with authentic Catholic teaching. If the USSCB had concerns about our ministry, why didn’t they contact us before a judgment was made? Why was New Ways Ministry not given an opportunity to explain our positions? The full text of their statement is here.
James Martin, SJ