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Response of Sister Jeannine Gramick, SSND
to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith regarding
"Erroneous and Dangerous Propositions in the Publications
Building Bridges and Voices of Hope by
Sister Jeannine Gramick, SSND, and Father Robert Nugent, SDS"

The Church has urged us to extend love and respect toward those who are alienated or who think or act differently than we do. The Church has asked us to understand their ways of thinking so that we may be able to enter into dialogue with them1. I have tried to do this in my ministry to gay and lesbian people. The basic purpose of my pastoral ministry has been to serve as a bridge builder between them and the Church. I have tried to do this by listening to their experiences, by articulating their concerns, and by presenting the Church's teaching.

In serving as a bridge with love and good will, we must also speak the truth. In this spirit, I offer the following corrections and clarifications in an attempt to overcome the dangerous and erroneous propositions perceived by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith regarding the books, Building Bridges and Voices of Hope. The Congregation's contestatio contains four numbered sections, preceded by an introduction which also identifies several propositions. My response follows the same order. I shall begin each subsection with a brief summary of the problem posed by the Congregation and then proceed to offer my clarifications and corrections.

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Introduction: Human Sexuality and Objective Morality

a. Homosexual feelings and behaviors are described as natural.

Clarifications and Corrections

In Building Bridges, I describe homosexual feelings and behaviors as "natural" because I was using a psychological definition of the word "natural," i.e., instinctual to a being or originating from an inner drive or impulse.

There are some church documents which also use the word "natural" in this psychological sense; e.g., "human drives, feelings and attractions are ultimately rooted in natural impulse";2, "There is a growing insight that homosexual behavior can be a natural expression of a constitutional or irreversible homosexual orientation"3.

Although the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith would not use the word "natural" to describe homosexual feelings and behaviors, it used psychological language to describe homosexual feelings when it spoke of "homosexuals who are definitively such because of some kind of innate instinct (emphasis added)."4 The Church urges us to use the findings of the secular sciences, especially psychology and sociology, in the pastoral care we extend to others5. I was using this psychological meaning of the word "natural," as something inherent or predisposed, when I wrote that "homosexual feelings and behaviors are just as natural as heterosexual ones."

I acknowledge that using the word "natural" in the psychological sense can be problematic because the same word has a different meaning in philosophy and theology. I do not categorize my writings as theology or philosophy, but as descriptive social science. Theologically, the Church teaches that a sexual act is "natural" only if it is disposed toward procreation. Acts which inhibit procreation are contrary to nature. Therefore, in the theological sense, homogenital actions are unnatural because they are not open to new life. I will make this theological understanding of "natural" very clear in the future.

b. Some theologians are proposing new understandings of sexuality which transcend biological and physical differences. Our activities and writings are directed toward the promotion of these views.

Clarifications and Corrections

These new understandings of sexuality, which were reported in Building Bridges, stand in opposition to the Magisterium. The Church teaches that biological and physical differences and complementarity are oriented toward heterosexual marriage and family life. It is only within marriage that sexual intercourse symbolizes God's design of covenanted love with the potential for new human life. This fundamental teaching on sexuality is rooted in the biblical account of the creation of man and woman in the image of God and made for union with one another. In the future, I will make this clear so that it will not be perceived that I am promoting new theological views.

c. Experience becomes the criterion through which the objective norms of morality are judged and set aside.

Clarifications and Corrections

In Building Bridges, I recount that many Catholic gay and lesbian persons have prayed to God and have come to a conscience decision that their life experience, though contrary to the church's teaching on homogenital behavior, does not separate them from God or the Church community.

I needed to explain more fully the Church's teaching on conscience and the proper role that experience plays in its formation. In order to form a true conscience, one needs to interpret the experience of one's life and the signs of the times6. Catholics are guided in this endeavor by the authoritative teaching of the Church, the witness or advice of competent people, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit7.

One's conscience can make erroneous judgments. The Church teaches that a conscience decision to engage in homogenital behavior is an erroneous judgment and that a person must work to correct this erroneous conscience8. I must take better care to clarify this and stress that Catholics are called to follow this teaching.

(1) Tendentious Use of Documents

a. Our use of documents fails to distinguish the relative authority of these texts.

Clarifications and Corrections

During the hearings with the Vatican Commission in 1994, I noted that there are different levels of Church teaching and that Vatican documents are more authoritative than documents from individual bishops or bishops' conferences9. I think that educated Catholics, who are the audience for our books, are generally aware of the differences in hierarchical authorities and that statements from individual priests or religious organizations do not carry as much weight as episcopal statements. Episcopal documents, which are all part of the body of Church teaching, stand on their own authority.

I now recognize that explicitly making these points in Voices of Hope would have precluded any misunderstanding about the relative authority of the texts and I will do so in the future.

b. We reprint texts which "employ methodologies which could lead to a development of magisterial teaching."

Clarifications and Corrections

The contestatio follows the above quotation about "a development of magisterial teaching," taken from the preface of Voices of Hope (p. x), by two quotations set in two different contexts and far removed from one another. The first of these two latter quotations reports the fact that many gay and lesbian persons desire a recognition of their committed, faithful relationships (Voices of Hope, p. 66). The second of these two latter quotations, taken from a different book, reports that they glean hope that the teaching on homogenital behavior will change because one document from a regional conference of bishops describes the teaching as not infallible (Building Bridges, p. 170).

Statements about the desires and hopes of lesbian and gay people, which appear in different books, should not be construed as what I mean by a "development of church teaching." There are other aspects of Church teaching on homosexuality, besides the teaching on homogenital acts; all of these other parts of Church teaching have developed.

Since I first met a gay man during my university studies in 1971, there have been additions and modifications in several areas of Church teaching. For example, in 1971, the Church had not yet made the distinction between homosexual orientation and homosexual acts or the distinction between temporary homosexuality and a permanent homosexual orientation. Both of these were first explicitly taught in 197510. In 1971, the Church had not yet taught explicitly about the dignity and human rights of homosexual persons nor about a "special degree of pastoral understanding and care"11, which was articulated in 1976. In 1971, there was no teaching about the evils of unjust discrimination and violence against gay and lesbian persons; this was made explicit in 198612. In Voices of Hope, these were the kinds of developments I meant.

c. In Voices of Hope, we selectively edit magisterial documents in such a way as to consistently excise the Church's teaching on the immorality of homogenital acts.

Clarifications and Corrections

Actually, I present this teaching in numerous places throughout Voices of Hope, e.g. on pages 10, 21, 24, 30, 35, 38, 41, 44, 46, 54, 78, 91, 101, 107, 220, and 231.

While I have quoted from Church documents which make clear the magisterial teaching on the objective moral evil of homogenital acts, I do not emphasize it to the detriment of other parts of Church teaching. From my pastoral ministry, I have learned that lesbian and gay people are already familiar with the Church's teaching about homogenital behavior, and that the constant reiteration of it has driven many of them from the Church. I was advocating the Church's teaching with the aim of reconciliation of lesbian and gay Catholics and their families.

Those who minister today to the divorced and remarried do not constantly proclaim the immorality of divorce and remarriage. Hospital chaplains do not constantly proclaim the immorality of neglecting and endangering one's health. Those in prison ministry do not constantly proclaim the immorality of criminal acts. Military chaplains do not constantly proclaim the immorality of war. I have assumed that the pastoral expectations of those in lesbian and gay ministry are similar.

Many gay and lesbian people whom I have met are angry because they feel that the Church despises them, does not want to understand them or even listen to their concerns. I have tried to affirm the lesbian or gay person as a human being with inherent dignity. This affirmation has more immediate pastoral urgency than the reiteration of the teaching on homogenital acts. In an attempt to open up communication with those who feel alienated by what they know of Church teaching, I think that it is vital to place greater emphasis on other, lesser known, elements of Church teaching to which these people can respond more positively.

This pastoral need, and not the desire for a change in the church's teaching on homogenital acts, was my motivation in publishing Voices of Hope. As I stated, "A change in the Church's teaching on homogenital expression is not the goal of the positive statements and documents found in this book" (Voices of Hope, p. 67).

(2) Criticizing the Magisterium

a. An appeal to the category of "experience" of lesbian and gay people becomes the criterion for criticisms of the teaching of the Magisterium.

Clarifications and Corrections

I reported that those who are writing gay or lesbian theology hold that a homosexual orientation is not "abnormal, sick, sinful, or criminal," but that it is "part of God's plan for creation." Such a position is contrary to the Magisterium's teaching that a homosexual orientation is an objective disorder because it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil.

The views I have reported are based on the experience of gay and lesbian people. In doing such reporting, I must be more careful to explicate the Church's teaching that the category of subjective experience is not a sufficient criterion for making objective moral judgments. Catholic morality is founded on human reason illuminated by faith13. These judgments take into account sacred tradition, sacred Scripture, and the teaching authority of the Church under the action of the Holy Spirit14.

b. Erroneous propositions are presented as rhetorical questions which are left unanswered.

Clarifications and Corrections

The questions raised in the contestatio are the ones being asked by lesbian and gay Catholics today.

Posing such questions is a way of illustrating areas which need further exploration. It is also an academic technique used by writers; however, using this technique needs to be structured in such a way that it does not create misunderstanding or imply that authoritative statements by the Magisterium are being questioned.

As the contestatio has indicated, by posing these questions without comment or correction, they can be construed as not questions, but answers. If I continue to use this technique, I acknowledge the need to be more careful so that the teaching of the Church is always clear and not called into question.

c. "We may have to choose between 'defending Church teaching' and proclaiming Jesus' message of love."

Clarifications and Corrections

This statement occurs in a passage about homophobia and lesbian women and needs to be interpreted in that context. I have met many lesbian Catholics, who are the victims of homophobia, who speak about two contrasting approaches to the issue of homosexuality.

Lesbian women have identified one approach ("defending Church teaching") as emphasizing the immorality of homogenital activity so that this facet of Church teaching is vigorously defended while the teaching on the immorality of prejudice and violence against gay and lesbian people is muffled.

The second approach (proclaiming Jesus' message of love) emphasizes that gay and lesbian persons are children of God whose unique gifts benefit the community and muffles the teaching on homogenital acts because it assumes that Catholics know this teaching.

I did not mean to create an opposition between the Church's teaching on homosexuality and Jesus' message of love in stating a perception of the lesbian women I have met in my pastoral ministry. There is no opposition between the Church's teaching and Jesus' message of love when the truths of faith are presented in a way which manifests Christ's love for all. This is illustrated in a recent pastoral message on homosexuality from the U.S. Bishops addressed to parents of gay and lesbian children15. I will make this known as widely as possible as a way to close the pastoral gap.

(3) Promotion of Homosexuality

a. In their writings...homosexuality is judged to be superior.

Clarifications and Corrections

Lesbian and feminist theologians are claiming that homosexuality is not inferior to heterosexuality. They state that, in some circumstances, lesbian and gay people have a greater advantage because of social conditioning.

These opinions are in opposition to the Magisterium. Although the Church does not use the words "inferior" or "superior" to describe any sexual orientation, it teaches that a homosexual orientation is disordered. Acts flowing from a homosexual orientation lack an essential and indispensable finality16. As such, homosexuality cannot be considered either superior to, or on a par with, heterosexuality. I will make this teaching clear in the future.

b. The dissemination of such errors promotes the legal recognition of homosexual unions and thus constitutes also an attack against the divine institution of marriage.

Clarifications and Corrections

Some lesbian and feminist theologians argue for the legal recognition of homosexual unions. They claim that these unions do not threaten the institution of marriage.

In giving voice to these lesbian and feminist theologians, I did not mean to attack the institution of marriage. The Church teaches that the position of these theologians just cited contradicts the true meaning of marriage and the family. Marriage can only be understood as the union of a man and a woman. By its very nature, marriage is ordained toward the mutual love of the spouses and the procreation and education of children, the "supreme gift" of the marriage17. Complementarity of the two sexes is considered fundamental to marriage. Because homogenital behavior is not a complementary union and is unable to transmit life, it negates the rich symbolism and meaning of the Creator's sexual design in the marital union.18

Because marriage is the foundation of the family, which is the basic unit of society, the Church has forewarned polities that a legal recognition of homosexual unions would lead to an individualistic model of society.19 I will make the Church's teaching on marriage clear in the future.

(4) Statements regarding Celibacy

The word "celibacy" has been reinterpreted to mean something far different from what the Catholic Church has always intended.

Clarifications and Corrections

I am reporting, not writing "approvingly," about a feminist approach to celibacy which focuses on the "right ordering of relationships" which lesbian religious are accepting in addition to the traditional approach.

These feminist interpretations of celibacy are incompatible with the Church's understanding of celibacy as articulated in its document on the renewal of religious life.20 The celibacy of religious and priests, a sexual abstinence, is a sign of the Reign of God, in which there will neither be marriage nor giving in marriage. Celibacy is a paradox of faith whereby a person can love and be loved without genitality. Vowed celibacy calls the person to a disciplined way of life based on reverence in relationships and wholehearted love of God. Celibacy challenges any culture obsessed with sex to confront deeper realities. Committed celibacy is a charism for the community rooted in the Gospel. I will make the Church's teaching on committed celibacy clear in the future.

* * *


I trust that the corrections offered above will rectify any impression that my writings are contesting authentic Church teaching. It is my further hope that the forgoing affirmations of that teaching will serve to remedy any harm arising from the perception of dangerous and erroneous propositions in certain passages in my writings.

The project of building bridges is always a dangerous one because the effort to establish communication between alienated parties (the Church and many lesbian/gay Catholics) is apt to encounter misunderstanding from both sides. I have tried to present the full range of the Church's teaching on homosexuality in my pastoral ministry. I have been criticized frequently by gay and lesbian people precisely because I have not rejected the magisterial teaching on homogenital activity. Unfortunately, I find that I am also criticized by the Church, which I dearly love, on suspicion of disloyalty to that teaching.

It is my intent to present the truth of the Church's teachings in its integrity in such a way that will enable lesbian and gay persons to live an authentically Christian life and to convey more effectively my loyalty to the Church in my future ministry to them.

Respectfully Submitted, this

5th day of February, 1998


Jeannine Gramick, SSND

* * *

1 Gaudium et Spes, par. 28.

2 Cardinal Humberto Medeiros, Pastoral Care for the Homosexual, 1979.

3 Bishops of the Netherlands, The Catholic Council for Church and Society, Homosexual People in Society, 1979.

4 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Persona Humana, 1975, n.8.

5 Gaudium et Spes, par. 62.

6 Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1788.

7 Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1785.

8 Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1793.

9 Minutes of the Second Hearing of the Vatican Commission, conducted in Detroit, May 25, 1994, p. 9, l. 15-26.

10 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Persona Humana, 1975, n.8.

11 National Conference of Catholic Bishops, To Live in Christ Jesus, 1976, n. 52.

12 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter to the Catholic Bishops on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, 1986, n. 10; National Conference of Catholic Bishops, Human Sexuality: A Catholic Perspective for Education and Lifelong Learning, 1990, p. 55.

13 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter to the Catholic Bishops on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, 1986, n. 2

14 Die Verbum, par. 10.

15 National Conference of Catholic Bishops, Committe on Marriage and Family, Always Our Children, 1997.

16 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Persona Humana, 1975, n.8.

17 Gaudium et Spes, par. 50.

18 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter to the Catholic Bishops on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, 1986, n. 7

19 D'Agostino, Francesco. "Should the Law Recognize Homosexual Union,' l'Osservatore Romano, May 21, 1997, pp. 9-10; Schlesinger, Piero. "Do Homosexual Couples Have a Right to Marriage?" L'Osservatore Romano, May 28,1997, p. 10.

20 Perfectae Caritatis, par. 12.