Fr. Jim Martin “Canonizes” Sr. Jeannine Gramick

When I think of a holy hero who speaks with authority, who reflects my beliefs and values, I think of Pope St. John Paul II, worthy of canonization.

When Fr. James Martin, S.J., who was out hawking his new book Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity, was recently asked who he might canonize, if he could, here was his reply:

Oh, this is great… I’m going to canonize Sr. Jeannine Gramick, who was the co-founder of New Ways Ministry, and let me tell you, you may be too young to remember all this but, uh, you know in the 80s, they were really under a microscope, and then in the 90s, Cardinal George in Chicago said they couldn’t call themselves Catholic, um, it was really severe, um, and, you know, she persisted…. here’s this woman who has really struggled, um, and has really fought, and has really advocated, at great cost, you know, within her own church. And, so, yeah, I’d put her up, uh … you know I haven’t read every single thing that she wrote, but, um, I’d put her up for canonization, and at least, servant of God, or beatification. (Source: “Jesuitical” podcast, “LGBT Catholics Have Been Treated Like Dirt and We Can Do Better,” June 16, 2017.)

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Previously, on receiving New Ways Ministry’s Bridge Building Award last year, Martin referred to Gramick as a personal hero who “speaks with authority.” So, it’s worth taking a closer look at one who garners so much respect and adulation. We can learn a lot about our own beliefs by looking at those whom we hold up as heroes.

As it turned out, I learned a lot about Gramick online, particularly through YouTube, of all places. Please consider what follows as a gratuitously offered “hagiography,” as it were, of Sr. Jeannine Gramick, canonization candidate.

Most all of what follows is from Gramick herself, from her own words. First, we have to go back to the pivotal year of 1971, when Gramick met a gay man who totally changed her understanding of the issue of homosexuality.

What I remember from that year, 1971, was total surprise and really, gift. And I guess my views about homosexuality, which is … we called people homosexuals in those days, my knowledge was just what society had to say, all the stereotypes. So, I had these stereotypes. And I guess the biggest stereotype that I think I had was that I felt that gay [people] were somehow not psychologically balanced or whole individuals, and when I started to meet gay and lesbian individuals, I realized that was totally wrong. Maybe I never really thought about the institutional Church’s position about sexual ethics, and the immorality of homosexual activity, but when I began to think about that it seemed very unfair that we would put different expectations on gay people, different from heterosexual people. So that was never a problem, but I think what I overcame was the cultural perception that gay people are not as psychologically balanced. And that myth was destroyed pretty early on. (Dignity USA video interview, March 2014)

So, Gramick says that, from the outset, it was “never a problem” that she thought of the Church’s teaching on homosexuality as anything other than “very unfair.” In 1971, her personal view was that it was very unfair. The only thing she had to get past was her bias about homosexuality and psychological balance.

That particular bias was fully jettisoned once professional psychiatric and psychological associations changed their assessment of homosexuality as a psychological disorder, in and around 1973. This meant that, by 1976, Gramick and New Ways Ministry co-founder Fr. Robert Nugent were already out doing “New Ways” workshops (which formally became New Ways Ministry in 1977), and had co-written a 1976 slim pamphlet titled Homosexual Catholics: A Primer for Discussion.

That year, 1979, this little pamphlet had already gotten the attention of “the Vatican,” Gramick says, whose first “intervention” regarding their ministry came that same year. In the next several years, two more ecclesiastical interventions occurred, raising concerns about the integrity of their ministry.

In 1984, Gramick and Nugent were told by the Holy See to separate themselves “totally and completely from the New Ways Ministry” and that they could not “engage in any apostolate or participate in any program or write on any subject concerning homosexuality unless [he/she] makes clear that homosexual acts are intrinsically and objectively wrong.” (Quoted from a 1988 letter from Apostolic Pro-Nuncio Pio Laghi to Cardinal Adam Maida.)

By 1988, Nugent and Gramick were the focus of a specially formed committee tasked with investigating their work, since it was clear they persisted in homosexuality ministry despite the 1984 prohibition. In brief, what was to unfold was an entire decade of ecclesial back-and-forth that ultimately resulted in a formal notification from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1999:

Given the failure of the repeated attempts of the Church’s legitimate authorities to resolve the problems presented by the writings and pastoral activities of the two authors, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is obliged to declare for the good of the Catholic faithful that the positions advanced by Sister Jeannine Gramick and Father Robert Nugent regarding the intrinsic evil of homosexual acts and the objective disorder of the homosexual inclination are doctrinally unacceptable because they do not faithfully convey the clear and constant teaching of the Catholic Church in this area.

Let it sink in that Gramick had spent nearly fifteen years in total, from 1984 to 1999, openly defying the directive to cease homosexual ministry. Disobedient much? How could that last fifteen years?

Gramick tells us in the 2014 interview (around 27:48 on the video):

You know, people ask me, aren’t you being disobedient, and we have um, Sandra Schneiders has helped us, she’s a theologian and woman religious, has helped to understand what obedience is all about and all of us need to be obedient to the call of God, to the will of God. And we have to discern what that will is. But sometimes you know, I think we can achieve change and follow our conscience by using what I call “creative circumvention” around certain laws or, you might be in a situation where there’s a little wiggle room and you can still do what you believe is right and should be done. But it may give an appearance of compliance, you know.

Gramick’s “creative circumvention” of the committee’s years-long investigation used all available wiggle room. She never, not once, gave in on her refusal to reveal her personally held views on homosexuality, never agreed to sign an unambiguous oath of fidelity, always offering responses that would shield her from revealing whether she agreed with Church teaching. In a February 1998 reply to the committee, prior to the final 1999 prohibition, she even gave the “appearance of compliance” on several key points.

But, a year later, faced with the final result, having been “investigated by the Inquisition,” she opted to not “collaborate with my oppression,” as she says in a 2015 video in which she describes having finally gotten past the fear that kept her from speaking openly of her own views since the 1970s, having felt like “a woman who had been battered by her domestic partner.”

Gramick changed religious orders so that she could receive continued protection as she defied the prohibition. She says since that time, now 16 years or more:

The Loretto Sisters [her second religious order] have received nine letters from the Vatican, essentially saying if I continue to speak out on behalf of lesbian and gay people, that I should be dismissed. But the Loretto Sisters have stood firm, and in fact, they just write polite letters in return, saying that she is doing the work, the justice work, of our community.

And I’m happy to say that we’ve received no letters in the pontificate of Pope Francis. So, he’s one of my heroes, and just last week we returned from a pilgrimage—I took about 50 lesbian and gay Catholics and families and friends and we had an audience, a general audience, at the Vatican, but we were given “VIP” treatment because we sat right up on the stage to the left of Pope Francis….

“To the left of Pope Francis” is no exaggeration, either. Since she found the courage to speak out, she’s created quite a track record:

  • Watch Gramick endorse same-sex “civil marriages” here.
  • Watch Gramick state that same-sex “marriage” “flows from” the Church’s “social justice teaching” here.
  • Watch Gramick give a Twilight-zone-worthy account of the history of marriage while accusing our bishops of impinging on religious liberty here.
  • Watch Gramick deny the dogma of papal infallibility and papal primacy here.
  • Watch Gramick admit membership in “Catholic Organizations for Renewal,” which includes pro-abortion “Catholics for Choice,” here. And see Gramick plead to the Obama Administration for more abortion funding here.
  • Watch Gramick reject Church teaching on contraception here.
  • Watch Gramick reject the Church’s whole teaching on sexuality and imply that “Church leaders” aren’t part of the “people of God” here.
  • Watch Gramick reject the infallible teaching on women’s ordination here.
  • Watch Gramick re-write Galatians 3:28 to include “neither heterosexual nor homosexual” here.
  • Watch Gramick state that “we know who we are by who we love” here.
  • Watch Gramick ridicule the Church’s penalty of excommunication here (about 15:50).

It seems then that Gramick spent decades intentionally withholding her own personal views, defying directives to stop her ministry efforts, despite ceaselessly claiming to present and promote all of Church teaching in her pastoral ministry, claiming to be a bridge-builder. But all the while, by her own admission, she merely lacked the courage to state her views openly—precisely because they contradict what the Church really teaches.

This is the “hero” who “speaks with authority,” the person whom Fr. James Martin, S.J., wants to “canonize.” The person whose own 1992 book, “Building Bridges,” gave rise to the name of the award received by Fr. Martin last year, which in turn gave rise to Martin’s newly published book about—you guessed it—“building bridges.”

Thanks, Fr. Martin—I hear you, loud and clear. I think I know exactly what you really believe about the Church’s teaching on homosexuality.

(Photo credit: Giampiero Sposito / REUTERS)


  • Jim Russell

    Jim Russell lives in St. Louis, Missouri. He writes on a variety of topics related to the Catholic faith, including natural law, liturgy, theology of the body, and sexuality. He can be reached at: [email protected]

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