of Jeannine Gramick, SSND, Regarding Discernment On the Notification of
the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
September 23, 1999
This statement is addressed to my religious sisters, colleagues, friends, and the entire Catholic community. When, on July 14, 1999, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith [CDF] prohibited me from any pastoral work with lesbian or gay persons or their parents, I entered a period of discernment. I now wish to communicate my discernment process and its results.
Obedience in Response to God's Call
I believe that a call from God is an invitation manifested by a deep conviction about the direction of one's life, a knowledge that something is right to follow because one believes that God is asking it. God's call feels overall like a right and comfortable fit, although there may be obstacles and times of uneasy comfort.
To be truly happy and at peace, I believe that each person needs to obey God's call. We listen attentively to this call through Scripture, events and people in our lives, the signs of the times, the needs that wait to be answered in the world, our own experiences and values, our gifts and our vulnerabilities.
As a woman religious, I give special attention to the Directives of our Church leadership as a source of knowing God's call for me. Obedience to God, however, is not reducible to blind acceptance of Church injunctions. Thus, I needed to undertake prayerful discernment in light of the CDF decision.
Elements of Discernment
An element of the discernment involved reflecting on the process leading to the CDF decision. When I did so, I was so overwhelmed by the authoritarian methods that I could not see the justice of God in the outcome. Some examples of these methods include: the disregard for the practice of subsidiarity in the Vatican's lack of acknowledgment of two 6positive evaluations of my ministry by my religious congregation in 1982 and 1985; the dismissal of objections raised by the Superiors General and Provincial Leaders of the School Sisters of Notre Dame [SSND] and the Society of the Divine Savior [SDS] regarding the composition of the Vatican Commission which resulted in imbalance and bias; the shift from the mandate to investigate my public presentations on homosexuality to an intrusion into my private beliefs.
Another part of this discernment involved reflecting on the implications of following the CDF order for various categories of people, especially lesbian and gay Catholics. I found no advantages for them. I asked myself if I could abandon my commitment to help lesbian and gay Catholics attain their rightful place in the Church as baptized Christians. When I thought of ceasing to speak the concerns
of lesbian and gay Catholics to the institutional Church, I understood what Jeremiah meant when he said: "It becomes like a fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones. I grow weary of holding it in. I cannot endure it" (Jer. 20:9). The Spirit of Jesus impels me to try to show lesbian and gay persons the loving, compassionate face of God and our Church. It is a fire in me.
My discernment also involved reflecting on my call to be a woman religious as a School Sister of Notre Dame. I prayed about the CDF directive and my call to lesbian and gay ministry in light of our Constitution and General Directory, the Mandate for Action of our Nineteenth General Chapter, and the Acts of our Twentieth General Chapter. These SSND documents call us to proclaim the good news to all, particularly those considered poor, to promote unity and reconciliation, to eliminate the root causes of injustice, to work for positive systemic change, and to risk innovative response to the needs of the time. How could I acquiesce in a decision I considered unjust and harmful to lesbian and gay Catholics and still be faithful to our mission?
Reconciling God's Call to Lesbian and Gay Ministry with the CDF Directive
While I see no benefits for lesbian and gay Catholics and their parents if I passively accept the CDF decision, I believe it is more beneficial to minister on their behalf with the blessing of Church leadership than without it. Therefore, I believe it is important to work within Church structures to have the CDF decision reconsidered and, hopefully, ultimately reversed.
I am asking my Notre Dame sisters, other women and men religious, lesbian and gay Catholics and their families, our U.S. bishops, and all the People of God to help me find creative, collaborative ways to lift the burden of this directive from my shoulders. I believe that creative solutions to the dilemma I am facing can ultimately be advantageous to lesbian and gay Catholics and to the whole Church.
The Next Steps
The CDF order to refrain from any pastoral work with lesbian or gay persons or their parents impacts directly on my religious congregation and me. On August 10, 1999, I met with my Superior General, my Provincial Leader, and a member of our General Council to share with them the results of my discernment. During the following month, these leaders communicated and discussed these results with their respective Councils.
While now living with the prohibition as a heavy weight on my heart and soul, I am presently in dialogue with my Provincial and General Council leadership regarding my future ministry. I trust that this ministry, while consistent with the imposed terms of the CDF notification, will honor my ongoing call from God to be a bridge-builder between lesbian and gay people and the wider Church.
I believe that the Holy Spirit is trying to teach all of us, the Church, through this experience. I ask theologians, canon lawyers, biblical scholars, and other thinkers and writers to reflect on, discuss, and write about the issues and principles related to this case. For too long, the investigation, including its process and substance, has been shrouded in secrecy and darkness. It is now time to bring the problems involved to openness and light.
Some of these issues include: identifying the central Teachings of the Church on homosexuality, the negative effects of the CDF decision on lesbian and gay persons and their families, educational and pastoral initiatives to welcome lesbian and gay persons into all facets of Church life, interference in the internal affairs of a religious congregation, the advantages and disadvantages of canonical status for religious congregations, the role of a public minister, the right of privacy of conscience, the principle of subsidiarity, the fragility of human rights in the Church, fair and just procedures and penalties, an analysis of ecclesiastical power, non-violent resistance to unjust Church laws, identifying the central teachings of the Church, and legitimate dissent in the Church.
For myself, I have asked God for humility, the stamina to stand alone if necessary, freedom from fear and from a desire for the esteem of others, and the wisdom to know when to bend and when to stand firm. For Church leadership, I have prayed for freedom and the courage to take risks. For lesbian and gay Catholics and their families, I have prayed for the healing of anger and hurt and for their full inclusion in the Church. For the People of God, I have prayed for an infusion of the Spirit of Vatican II.
I am deeply grateful for the hundreds and hundreds of messages of support I have received from my SSND sisters, family, friends, and people I have not met. I ask your prayers that I may have the courage to follow God's call wherever it may lead.