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Vatican ban ends years of investigation


The following is a chronology of the investigation that began with the Maida commission to examine the work of School Sister of Notre Dame Jeannine Gramick and Salvatorian Fr. Robert Nugent. The information was culled from nearly 90 pages of documents from the investigation. The full text of many of the documents can be found on NCR’s Web site at http://www.natcath.com/NCR_Online/documents/gramnuge.htm

  • The Vatican, through the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and for Societies of Apostolic Life, established a commission in 1988 to investigate Gramick’s and Nugent’s ministry. Cardinal Adam Maida was appointed to head the commission. Serving with Maida were Msgr. James J. Mulligan, moral theologian and director of the priestly life and ministry office of the Allentown, Pa., diocese, and Janet Smith, associate professor of philosophy at the University of Dallas.

    Nugent and Gramick met with the commission March 18, May 25 and July 26, 1994. At the July 26 meeting, they presented written responses to the commission’s questions, some of which related to passages in their 1992 book Building Bridges: Gay and Lesbian Reality and the Catholic Church. Issues discussed included whether they promoted church teaching or sought to change it. Also subject to scrutiny was Gramick and Nugent’s use of the word natural to describe homosexual orientation and their reticence to use the Vatican’s preferred word, disordered.

    After the meeting, Gramick and Nugent declared their satisfaction with the commission’s proceedings. Participants “acknowledged that they really learned a lot from the whole process,” Nugent told NCR.

  • The commission’s report, dated Oct. 4, 1994, and largely negative, came as a shock. The document accused the priest and nun’s ministry of creating “ambiguity and confusion.”

    In their response, Nugent and Gramick said the report ignored their clarifications, disregarded supportive testimony — including letters from bishops and over 200 others — and introduced new material omitted from the hearings.

    Gramick and Nugent were denied permission to review certain documents, including the commission’s recommendations, which were submitted to the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life. According to the Vatican’s notification of their removal from ministry, that recommendation was for disciplinary action. In 1995 the case was judged to be doctrinal and turned over to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

    A contestatio was approved by the congregation in October 1997. The document, titled “Erroneous and Dangerous Propositions in the Publications Building Bridges and Voices of Hope by Sister Jeannine Gramick, SSND, and Father Robert Nugent, SDS,” covered much the same ground as the Maida commission. However, the contestatio added criticisms of Gramick and Nugent’s 1995 book, Voices of Hope: A Collection of Positive Catholic Writings on Gay and Lesbian Issues.

    The congregation said the new book selectively edited church documents to remove fundamental teachings, especially on the grave depravity of homosexual acts.

  • Nugent and Gramick were asked to respond individually to the contestatio. Both once again attempted to clarify problems and rebut criticisms. Gramick said repeatedly, after dealing with each point in the contestatio, “I will make this teaching clear in the future.”

  • In the summer of 1998, Gramick and Nugent were informed through their religious superiors that their responses were unsatisfactory. They were asked to declare their personal adherence to church teaching. The congregation also asked them to acknowledge responsibility for errors in their books and ask pardon for them.

  • Investigation of Gramick’s work apparently ended with her reply. She did agree to accept responsibility for the contents of the books, noting that she had corrected the erroneous views and had promised to be clearer in the future, as well as asked for pardon. However, she told the congregation that she chose not to reveal her beliefs regarding homosexual acts and homosexual orientation for pastoral reasons. Her ministry as a “bridge-builder,” or mediator between the church and homosexual Catholics, required reticence, she said.

  • Nugent responded differently. He wrote a statement of his personal assent to church teaching. While saying he never deliberately denied Catholic teaching, he acknowledged that certain propositions in his public writings had been judged erroneous and dangerous. “As such, these propositions are contrary to certain doctrines of the authentic magisterium that require religious submission of will and intellect,” he wrote.

    He asked pardon for any harm that may have come from his writings and concluded, “I accept the doctrine contained in Persona Humana (1975), Homosexualitatis Problema (1986), and the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994) and the adherence which is due to it.”

  • That statement was deemed insufficiently explicit in indicating Nugent’s interior assent to church teaching, the congregation said. However, he was given another chance: an opportunity to sign a “profession of faith” formulated by the congregation, which was sent to Nugent Dec. 15, 1998.

  • In his reply, Nugent amended the text. He said he was concerned that the technical language of the statement would cause further hurt and alienation for homosexual Catholics and their families.

    Nugent’s changes, which he noted incorporated language used by English-speaking episcopal conferences, altered several phrases that used the term “intrinsically evil” to read “objectively disordered” and “objectively immoral.”

    The congregation, however, said that “intrinsically evil,” used to describe homosexual acts, “should not be replaced, even for pastoral motives, with terminology which is far less clear.”

    Nugent also added a paragraph about the “difficulties in determining whether a particular teaching has in fact been taught infallibly by a non-defining act of the ordinary and universal magisterium.”

    The congregation said this statement called into question the definitive and unchangeable nature of Catholic doctrine on homosexuality, and added it “contributes decisively to the inadequacy of his response.”

  • The notification permanently banning Nugent and Gramick from ministry to homosexuals was approved by Pope John Paul II and signed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, secretary of the congregation, at the end of May 1999.

    Gramick and Nugent were called to Rome by their religious superiors and informed of the decision just before the notification was released to the public July 13.

National Catholic Reporter, July 30, 1999