The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is warning that a Maryland-based ministry to gay and lesbian Catholics has neither the approval of the church nor the authority to speak on behalf of Catholics.

Cardinal Francis George, the archbishop of Chicago, spoke about New Ways Ministry, founded in Mount Rainier in 1977 by the Rev. Robert Nugent and Sister Jeannine Gramick.

“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,” George said in a statement issued late Friday. “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.”

Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, said the organization was “astonished” by George’s statement.

“New Ways Ministry will continue its bridge-building work between lesbian/gay Catholics and the Church because that work is needed now more than ever,” DeBernardo said in a response posted on the ministry’s Web site. “Cardinal George’s statement of February 5, 2010, will not impede or slow us in our efforts to work for justice for lesbian/gay people in the Church and society. …

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.

Complete statements follow, after the jump.

Statement of Cardinal Francis George, president, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

New Ways Ministry is an organization based in Mount Rainier, Maryland, that describes itself as "a gay-positive ministry of advocacy and justice for lesbian and gay Catholics and reconciliation within the larger Christian and civil communities." From the time of the organization's founding in 1977, serious questions have been raised about the group’s adherence to Church teaching on homosexuality. In 1984, the archbishop of Washington denied New Ways Ministry any official authorization or approval of its activities. At that time, he forbade the two co-founders of New Ways Ministry, Sr. Jeannine Gramick, SSND, and Fr. Robert Nugent, to continue their activities in the Archdiocese of Washington. In the same year, Sr. Gramick and Fr. Nugent were ordered by their superiors to separate themselves from New Ways Ministry. Although they resigned from leadership posts, they continued their involvement in New Ways Ministry activities until 1999, when the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith declared that because of errors and ambiguities in the approach of Sr. Gramick and Fr. Nugent they are permanently prohibited from any pastoral work involving homosexual persons.

In reference to his decision not to grant any approval or authorization to New Ways Ministry in the 1980s, Archbishop James Hickey of Washington cited the organization's lack of adherence to Church teaching on the morality of homosexual acts. This was the central issue in the subsequent investigation and censure of the founders of New Ways Ministry, Sr. Jeannine Gramick and Fr. Robert Nugent. This continues to be the crucial defect in the approach of New Ways Ministry, which has not changed its position after the departure of the cofounders.

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.

Response of Francis DeBernardo, executive director, New Ways Ministry:

New Ways Ministry will continue its bridge-building work between lesbian/gay Catholics and the Church because that work is needed now more than ever. Cardinal George’s statement of February 5, 2010, will not impede or slow us in our efforts to work for justice for lesbian/gay people in the Church and society.

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 USCCB 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?

For almost 33 years New Ways Ministry has been sustained spiritually by the prayers of millions of Catholics, and we owe it to these supporters to continue the work to which God has called us.

New Ways Ministry calls on its supporters not to give up hope in the Catholic Church, but to continue to pray and work for the day when lesbian/gay people are welcomed as full and equal members in our beloved Church.

 


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