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Erroneous and Dangerous Propositions in the Publications
Building Bridges and Voices of Hope by
Sister Jeannine Gramick, SSND, and Father Robert Nugent, SDS

October 24, 1997

The Holy See, in profound unanimity with Bishops in the United States of America and throughout the Catholic world, continues to emphasize the need for "respect, compassion and sensitivity" for homosexual persons, especially because the inclination toward homosexual acts "constitutes for most of them a trial." All unjust forms of discrimination in their regard should be absolutely avoided1. It is indeed deplorable that they "have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the church’s pastors wherever it occurs. It reveals a disregard for others which endangers the most fundamental principles of a healthy society. The intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected in word, in action and in law"2.

At the same time, however, it needs to be recalled always that the authentic good of the human person is found in living in the truth and in doing the truth in love. "This essential bond of truth-goodness-freedom seems to have been lost in large part by contemporary culture and, therefore, to lead man back to discovering it, is today one of the requirements proper to the mission of the Church"3. In faithfulness to this mission, in the specific area of homosexuality, pastoral programs which are intended to assist members of the Christian faithful who find themselves struggling with homosexual temptations must be diligent in presenting the whole truth and not fall into the lamentable attitude of simply focusing on one aspect of the overall problem or, even worse, of contradicting those elements of the Church’s teaching which are not accepted by contemporary culture. So, for example, "the proper reaction to crimes committed against homosexual persons should not be to claim that the homosexual condition is not disordered"4 or that homosexual acts are not "gravely contrary to chastity"5. Clearly, every form of pastoral care must be undertaken in accord with the full truth of the Church’s teaching on this problem. When pastoral initiatives are at variance with doctrinal truth, their inherent nature is compromised and they no longer constitute a true help.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, at the request of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of the Apostolic Life, as well as Bishops in the United States of America, has undertaken a careful study of the writings of Sister Jeannine Gramick and Father Robert Nugent, focusing above all on their book Building Bridges: Gay and Lesbian Reality and the Catholic Church (Mystic: Twenty-Third Publications, 1992). In presenting the results of this examination, the Congregation wishes to note that, to the extent to which the pastoral activities of the two religious are intended to assist homosexual persons to live in an authentically Christian manner, they are necessary and positive. Unfortunately, however, their writings have been found to contain erroneous and dangerous positions, which because of their wide diffusion, have already caused grave harm to the faithful.

In summarizing these erroneous and dangerous positions, the Congregation does not intend to call into question the value and importance of pastoral programs directed toward homosexual persons, nor the Christian charity which must be exercised in their regard; rather, it believes that it is essential to indicate clearly the proper direction for such initiatives so that these may truly contribute to the good of those for whom they are intended.

As the principal writings and activities of the two religious have, for decades, been undertaken in mutual collaboration, the Congregation believes that it is advisable, at this stage, to evaluate the common texts of the authors with a single document.

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The writings of Sister Gramick and Father Nugent do not succeed in presenting the Church’s teaching on homosexuality clearly and sympathetically, especially with regard to the evaluation of the homosexual inclination and the question of the morality of homosexual acts6. The fundamental position underlying their presentation is expressed clearly in the following statement by Sister Gramick: "I am now convinced that homosexual feelings and behaviors are just as natural as heterosexual ones (Building Bridges, p. 33). Similarly, Father Nugent states: "Some are suggesting that the metaphor [of sexual relations as a language] be opened up with new understandings of human sexuality that transcend the biological and physical differences as not essential to sexual union and ethical evaluations. Cannot homosexual unions also be complementary in certain ways such as mutual self-giving? Cannot complementarity have a wider meaning than just biological? To deny this a priori is to ignore the intrinsic experience of countless gay and lesbian Christians" (Building Bridges, p. 180; cf. P. 154). The diverse activities and writings of the two religious are essentially governed by such views and are directed toward their promotion, with grave implications for both the Church and the wider society.

As exemplified above, the methodology of the authors is shaped by an appeal to a form of moral reasoning in which the category of "experience" becomes the criterion through which the objective norms of morality are judged and set aside. This is evident in the evaluation by Sister Gramick of those homosexual persons in the Church who "have decided to remain in the institution, even though they disagree with the teaching that all homogenital activity is intrinsically immoral. After prayerfully examining the truth of their own life experience, they have concluded that their loving sexual relationships not only are compatible with Catholic belief and practice but also provide a source of nourishment for their Christian lives. They are making personal conscience decisions to live out their sexual identity in a healthy, human, and spiritually enriching way". The author, far from pointing out the grave moral error of such a view, concludes rather that such persons "have come to understand that one can be fully Catholic and still respectfully dissent from non-infallible teaching. Their faith has matured to the point where they are comfortable in making their own decisions and taking responsibility for them" (Building Bridges, p. 171). Such a form of moral reasoning is clearly contrary to the principles of Catholic doctrine7.

The promotion of these views is accomplished by Sister Gramick and Father Nugent in a number of ways, which often include the following features:

(1) Tendentious use of documents

Sister Gramick’s and Father Nugent’s use of documents, published by a variety of individuals and groups within the Church, fails to distinguish the relative authority of these tests. In their recent work, Voices of Hope. A collection of Positive Catholic Writings on Gay & Lesbian Issues (New York: Center for Homophobia Education, 1995), the two religious state that they have elected to reprint texts which, according to them, "employ methodologies which could lead to a development of magisterial teaching" (Voices of Hope, p. x). They write: "For many gay and lesbian people, ecclesial recognition of the goodness of committed, faithful homosexual love is the bottom line in their feeling truly affirmed by the Christian community. Until this issue is resolved, many believe that full justice will not be done" (Voices of Hope, p. 66).

The direction that such a change in Church teaching would take is indicated in a number of other passages, for example "The moral judgement on homogenital activity is crucial for most lesbian and gay Catholics. They regard a totally negative evaluation, even within a loving, faithful relationship, as a lack of full equality and basic respect for their personhood. The fact that one U.S. Episcopal document notes that this teaching is not infallible and that the morality of homosexual behavior needs rethinking will one day change" (Washington State Catholic Conference, 1983) (Building Bridges, p. 170).

The tendentiousness of the authors’ presentation becomes especially evident in their selective editing of the documents of the Magisterium on homosexuality, in which certain fundamental elements of that teaching are consistently excised (for example, the fact that homosexual acts are acts of grave depravity and are intrinsically disordered). Such an approach, exemplified by their book Voices of Hope, is erroneous and dangerous to souls because it vitiates the organic connection between truth, goodness and freedom, and, by deliberately suppressing the fullness of truth, renders the pursuit of goodness and the attainment of authentic freedom impossible. Such a manipulation of the truth is a service to no one.

(2) Criticizing the Magisterium

The following statement is representative of Sister Gramick’s and Father Nugent’s critical attitude toward the Magisterium: "A positive and affirming lesbian/gay theology or spirituality rejects the notion that a homosexual orientation is abnormal, sick, sinful, or criminal. The 1986 letter from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, which contended that a homosexual orientation was `objectively disordered’ obviously did not begin from the experience of being lesbian or gay. Such experience confirms that a homosexual orientation is not contrary to nature but is part of God’s plan for creation and essential for developing the human family" (Building Bridges, p.189). Once again an appeal to the category of "experience" becomes the criterion by which the teaching of the Magisterium is criticized and contradicted.

A recurring technique in the writings of the two religious is to present gravely erroneous propositions in the form of rhetorical questions which are left unanswered. For example, "the basic question gay and lesbian Catholics raise is this: why is heterosexuality judged to be normative for full humanity and sexuality? What are the grounds for such a claim? Do we need to examine that claim and all of its sources, including biblical, psychological, and theological ones? Is heterosexuality such an intrinsic part of authentic human nature that without it the individual person is in some way lacking or inferior? Is human nature the same for all times or are we learning more and more about previous positions concerning what is normative?" (Building Bridges, p.154).

The author’s criticism of the Church’s teaching on homosexuality and their attitude toward the Magisterium become expecially apparent when it is proposed that "we need a conversion of heart that will take us `back to the basics’ of the early Christian community. We may have to choose between `Defending Church teaching’ and proclaiming Jesus’ message of love" (Building Bridges, p. 75). Here the serious errors of the authors’ position become especially clear, as there is, and in fact can be, no opposition between Jesus’ message of love and the teaching of the Church. The attempt to create such an opposition can only lead to moral error. Furthermore, it must be noted that the appeal to the practice of the early Christian community in order to criticize the teaching of the Magisterium is manifestly flawed; one need only read the New Testament8 to discover the consistency of the teaching of the Church since the beginning9.

(3) Promotion of homosexuality

The authors, however, are not content simply to argue in favor of homosexuality, one finds in their writings also statements which are indicative of an attitude in which homosexuality is judged to be superior: "Lesbian/feminist theologians are exposing the limitations of a procreative sexual ethic and are suggesting instead an ethic based on mutual relation. Same-sex couples have a greater potential for modeling this ethic than opposite sex couples who are often subtly saddled with societal conditioning to conform to sex-role stereotypes involving dominance and submission" (Building Bridges, pp. 189-190).

Still further: "Lesbian and gay persons remind the Christian community that God alone is absolute. Those who cling to an inflexible heterosexism, who fear a world in which heterosexuality is not thought to be a superior form of sexuality, fail to reverence other human beings properly. Heterosexuality is their god … Domestic partner relationships, with the legal rights and benefits accruing to same-sex couples, have been acknowledged by several large cities in the United States, These social developments portend a future conducive to spiritual and theological change. Only when lesbian and gay persons have been accorded full and equal respect and dignity as human beings in society and in the church so that they are no longer categorized as inferior insiders or outsiders, will the Christian community be able to say that the god of heterosexism has been eradicated" (Building Bridges, pp. 192-193).

The fact that the authors present such manifestly erroneous positions without comment or correction, and indeed in a positive light, not only contradicts the constant teaching of Sacred Scripture and the Magisterium that homosexual acts are "acts of grave depravity" which "in no circumstances can be approved"10, but is seriously unjust to those persons of homosexual inclination who, often with great heroism, live in keeping with the truth of Catholic morality. Furthermore, the dissemination of such errors promotes the legal recognition of homosexual unions and thus constitutes also an attack against the divine institution of marriage11.

(4) Statements regarding Celibacy

The authors’ presentation of celibacy, whether with respect to priesthood or religious life, includes various statements which are dangerous and cause for great concern. The authors use the word "celibacy" in their books, but it is clear that this term has been reinterpreted to mean something far different from what the Catholic Church has always intended. Father Nugent, for example, holds that "current feminist approaches to celibacy place primary emphasis not on the presence or absence of genitality but on the right ordering of relationships. Drawing the line at genital sex, for example, is a typical patriarchal preoccupation with genitals and a truncated understanding of human sexuality" (Building Bridges, p. 116). In the same text, Sister Gramick, after explaining that "the traditional conception of celibacy … insisted on a clear line of sexual demarcation," writes approvingly that "lesbian religious, particularly those in the middle years, are rejecting this traditional approach to celibacy and intimacy in favor of an alternative interpretation" (Building Bridges, p. 132).

* * *

As this brief presentation illustrates, the writings of Sister Gramick and Father Nugent contain numerous elements which are not in conformity with the teaching of the Catholic Church. An effort, such as theirs, that favors and indeed advances dissent from Church teaching while consistently lacking a clear, accurate and sympathetic presentation of that teaching, is unacceptable from every standpoint. As a number of the quotations cited above illustrate, the work of the two religious involves often a studied ambiguity regarding a faithful presentation of the truth of the Church teaching on homosexuality and , thus, does a disservice to the Church, to those engaged in the pastoral care of homosexual persons and to those seeking guidance from the Church. It can never be forgotten that "only what is true can ultimately be pastoral. The neglect of the Church’s position prevents homosexual men and women from receiving the care they need and to which they have a right"12

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1 CF. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n.2358; Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Some Considerations Concerning the Response to Legislative Proposals on the Non-discrimination of Homosexual Persons, n. 11: L’Osservatore Romano, July 24, 1992, p. 4.

2 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter Homosexualitaitis problema, n. 10: AAS 79 (1987) 549.

3 Address of Pope John Paul II to the members of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, October 24, 1997, n.3:L’Osservatore Romano (english edition), October 29, 1997, p.2.

4 Homosexualitatis problema, n.10; AAS 79 (1987) 549; cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n.2358.

5 Catechism of the Catholic Church<, n. 2396.

6 Cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration Persona humana, n. 8:AAS 68 (1976) 84-85; Homosexualitaitis problema: AAS 79 (1987) 543-554; Catechism of the Catholic Church, nn. 2357-2359, 2396.

7 The Holy Father has warned the faithful about erroneous forms of moral reasoning in which "the individual conscience is accorded the status of a supreme tribunal of moral judgement which hands down categorical and infallible decisions about good and evil. To the affirmation that one has a duty to follow one’s conscience is unduly added the affirmation that one’s moral judgement is true merely by the fact that it has its origin in the conscience. But in this way the inescapable claims of truth disappear, yielding their place to criterion of sincerity, authenticity and `being at peace with oneself,’ so much so that some have come to adopt a radically subjectivistic conception of moral judgement" (John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Veritatis Splendor, n. 32; AAS 85 [1993] 1159; cf. ibid., n. 56: AAS 85 [1993] 1178-1179).

8 CF. Rom 1:24-27; 1 Cor 6:9; 1 Tim 1:10.

9 There is "a clear consistency within the Scriptures themselves on the moral issue of homosexual behaviour. The Church’s doctrine regarding this issue is based not on isolated phrases for facile theological argument, but in the solid foundation of a constant biblical testimony" (Homosexualitatis problema, n. 5: AAS 79 [1987] 545; cf. ibid., nn. 6-7: AAS 79 [1987] 545-547).

10 Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2357.

11 The Church is aware "that the view that homosexual activity is equivalent to, or as acceptable as, the sexual expression of conjugal love has a direct impact on society’s understanding of the nature and rights of the family and puts them in jeopardy" (Homosexualitatis problema, n. 9: AAS 79 [1987] 548).

12 Homosexualitatis problema, n. 15: AAS 79 [1987] 552.