e-mail us

The following is Fr. Robert Nugent’s and Sr. Jeannine Gramick’s account of the Vatican investigation into their ministry to homosexuals. Many of the documents and letters mentioned in this account are also available on NCR’s website.

On March 4, 1988, Archbishop Vincent Fagiolo of the Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes [CRIS] notified Sister Patricia Flynn, SSND, General Superior of the School Sisters of Notre Dame [SSND], and Father Malachy McBride, SDS, General Superior of the Society of the Divine Savior [SDS], that a Commission would be established in the United States "to render a judgment as to the clarity and orthodoxy of the public presentations" of Sister Jeannine Gramick, SSND, and Father Robert Nugent, SDS, "with respect to the Church's teaching on homosexuality."

The Congregation appointed Most Rev. Adam J. Maida, then Bishop of Green Bay, Wisconsin; Sister Sharon Holland, IHM, Assistant Professor of Canon Law, Catholic University; and Rev. Msgr. James J. Mulligan, a moral theologian and Director of Priestly Life and Ministry Programs in the Diocese of Allentown, to the Commission.

On June 13, 1988, Sister Patricia Flynn expressed to the Congregation the concern that all parties be satisfied with the composition of the Commission. Sister Flynn requested that at least two more Commission members be named jointly by the School Sisters of Notre Dame and the Society of the Divine Savior and acceptable to the Congregation. On July 6, 1988, Father McBride wrote to the Congregation in support of Sister Flynn's request, adding that the two members should be a canonist and a moral theologian.

On July 23, 1988, Archbishop Fagiolo notified Sister Gramick and Father Nugent about the composition and general processes of the Commission. Because Sister Sharon Holland would not be able to continue as a Commission member, the Congregation would be disposed to receiving from the Superiors General a list of names of persons who could possibly replace her. The choice would then be made by the Congregation.

On May 27, 1989, Sister Flynn and Father McBride, along with Sister Christine Mulcahy, the SSND Provincial Leader of the Baltimore Province, and Father Paul Portland, the SDS Provincial of the North American Province, presented the Congregation with two lists of candidates and requested that one person from each list be added to the Commission.

One list consisting of canon lawyers included Archbishop Thomas C. Kelly, OP, Archbishop of Louisville; Bishop John F. Kinny, Bishop of Bismarck; and Bishop James R. Hoffman, Bishop of Toledo. A second list of moral theologians included Lisa Sowle Cahill, Professor of Theology at Boston College; Sister Anne E. Patrick, SNJM, Professor of Religion at Carleton College; and Leslie Griffin, Associate Professor of Christian Ethics at the University of Notre Dame.

In September, 1989, CRIS appointed Dr. Janet Smith, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Dallas to the Commission. SSND and SDS did not receive this information until 1994.(Dr. Smith’s name was not included on the SSND and SDS list on May 27, 1989.)

Between May 27, 1989 and January 24, 1994, there was no written communication between the Congregation and the two religious communities. Because of the lapse of time and the absence of communication, SSND and SDS believed that the Commission had been dissolved.

On January 24, 1994, the SSND and SDS Provincial Leaders received a letter from Archbishop Maida, who in the meantime had been appointed Bishop of Detroit, inviting them or their delegates to accompany Sister Gramick and Father Nugent to a procedural meeting of the Commission on March 18, 1994. He informed the Provincials that Dr. Janet Smith, had been added to the Commission and that the Commission had concluded its study phase.

On February 14, 1994, Sister Gramick and Father Nugent wrote to Eduardo Cardinal Martinez Somalo, then Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and for Societies of Apostolic Life, a new name for CRIS, reiterating their concerns about Commission membership, procedures and process. On February 25, 1994, Cardinal Martinez informed Sister Flynn that there was no commitment by the Congregation either to augment the Commission membership or to choose names only from those submitted. On March 15, 1994, Sister Flynn responded that she had concerns about the appointment of Dr. Smith and the reactivation of the Commission; furthermore, she stated that she had a different understanding about the number and composition of the Commission from her meeting with a Congregational official in 1989.

Despite the objections raised about the process by SSND and SDS, Archbishop Maida convened the first meeting of the Commission on March 18, 1994. The meeting was attended by the three Commissioners, the two Provincials, the two religious, and Msgr. Walter Hurley, a staff member for the Commission. Sister Gramick stated that she and Father Nugent were present under duress and out of respect for the authority of the Church. At the meeting, Archbishop Maida noted the work of Sister Gramick and Father Nugent, as contained in the postscript of the book Building Bridges.

The meeting dealt with the mandate of the Commission, the process to be followed, and a listing of materials to be reviewed. It was agreed that the Commission would write a first draft of a press release after each meeting, circulate it to SSND and SDS for review, and incorporate any agreed-upon changes into the release. Archbishop Maida stated that Sister Gramick and Father Nugent could each bring two advisors with them to future meetings, scheduled for May 18th and/or May 25th.

On March 28, 1994, Sister Christine Mulcahy, acknowledging that the Congregation's concern with Sister Gramick and Father Nugent was primarily pastoral, registered to Archbishop Maida a grave concern about the absence of pastoral experience of the last Commission member named.

On April 8, 1994, Archbishop Maida sent a series of questions and texts from the book, Building Bridges: Gay and Lesbian Reality and the Catholic Church, to the two provincials, with copies to Sister Gramick and Father Nugent who were to prepare responses. Archbishop Maida sent a summary of the Commission’s mandate, as excerpted from a letter to him from Archbishop Laghi, then Apostolic Pro-Nuncio in the U.S., on August 14, 1989. Archbishop Maida also sent to the two provincials a letter from Archbishop Laghi to him of May 9, 1988, formally notifying him of the formation and membership of the Commission.

On April 11, 1994, Sister Gramick and Father Nugent requested new dates for the next Commission meeting because their pastoral consultant, Bishop John Snyder, Bishop of the Diocese of St. Augustine, Florida, was unable to be present on either of the May dates. On April 21, Sister Mulcahy reiterated the request. On May 6, 1994, Archbishop Maida responded to Sister Mulcahy that it was important to keep the agreed-upon date and that the Commission would meet on May 25. On May 19, 1994, Sister Gramick and Father Nugent wrote to Archbishop Maida that they would attend the May 25th meeting to honor his request, but would be unable to discuss the substantive issues of the questions and book excerpts until the Commission could schedule a meeting at a time in which Bishop Snyder could participate.

At the May 25th meeting, attended by the three Commissioners and its staff person, the two religious and their provincials, the participants corrected minutes of the previous meeting. The Commission requested copies of handouts which the two religious distributed in their workshops. These copies were mailed to Archbishop Maida on June 9, 1994.

On June 24, 1994, Sister Gramick and Father Nugent mailed to Archbishop Maida the responses to the questions posed by the Commission.

Attending the third hearing, which took place on July 26, 1994, were Archbishop Adam Maida and Dr. Janet Smith, Commissioners, and their staff person, Msgr. Walter Hurley; Sister Jeannine Gramick and her Provincial Leader, Sister Christine Mulcahy; Father Robert Nugent, his newly-elected Provincial, Father Dennis Thiessen, and his former Provincial, Father Paul Portland.

The four advisors of Sister Gramick and Father Nugent who attended the hearing were: Bishop John Snyder, Bishop of St. Augustine, Florida, pastoral consultant; Msgr. Leonard Scott, Judicial Vicar of the Diocese of Camden, canonical consultant; Father Bruce Williams, OP, moral theologian, then pastor of St. Helen Parish in Valhalla, New York, theological consultant; and Dr. James Hanigan, Professor of Theology at Duquesne University, theological consultant. Msgr. James Mulligan, Commissioner, was unable to attend because of illness.

The morning of the July 26th meeting was largely spent on canonical issues. Msgr. Scott, in seeking the right to defense of his clients, asked for access to evidence, such as relevant letters to this case. He referred to Archbishop Maida’s statement at the first hearing on March 18th: "All materials we use, you’ll have possession of." He asked for a copy of the letter of August 14, 1989 from Archbishop Laghi to Archbishop Maida. Although Archbishop Maida had previously shared a paragraph from the letter dealing with the Commission’s mandate, he withheld the entire text because, he said, of personal issues contained in the letter.

Msgr. Scott noted that the excerpt did not contain full sentences, and that it did not seem logical that personal matters would be interspersed in the same sentence or paragraph as the mandate. It seemed, rather, that the letter contained personal opinions that could influence the Commission, and therefore, would be evidence to which his clients had a right.

In a later discussion about letters written to the Commission, Archbishop Maida noted that the identity of persons would be revealed if entire letters were shared. Father Portland responded that he returns letters of complaint in a parish if the author is not willing to stand behind what he or she writes.

Msgr. Scott noted it was important that the Commission not be pressured toward a certain conclusion. As an example, Msgr. Scott produced a letter, dated October 10, 1989, from Cardinal James Hickey to Cardinal Jerome Hamer, Prefect of the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and Apostolic Societies, which read in part, "I respectfully urge that pressure be brought to bear on Sister Jeannine’s superiors to ensure that she cease this work." Msgr. Scott noted that Cardinal Hickey did not ask for a reasonable study, but asked for "pressure."

Msgr. Scott produced a second letter by Cardinal Hickey on the same day to Archbishop Maida, perhaps written, he said, with the same thought in mind. This letter was the type to which Sister Gramick and Father Nugent had a right, he claimed, in order to defend themselves. The letter, he charged, was ambiguous, or at worst, deceptive because it alleged that Sister Gramick had been clearly directed in 1984 to refrain from participating in workshops and seminars. That, Msgr. Scott noted emphatically, was false. To withhold this letter from Sister Gramick and Father Nugent, as the Commission had done, compromised their right to defense. If his clients did not have access to letters which try to influence the Commission, there was no defense.

Msgr. Scott raised the question of the involvement of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and asked about freedom from double jeopardy. Would his clients appear before one Commission and then be questioned again by another Congregation? Archbishop Maida responded that the investigation enjoyed joint competency of both Congregations. He did not see this as double jeopardy because the concept does not exist in Church law.

Msgr. Scott requested that the discussion of Sister Gramick’s support for an ad in the National Catholic Reporter, be dismissed as outside the scope of the Commission as expressed in the mandate. (The ad suggested a boycott of the Peter’s Pence collection and a redirection of financial resources toward those committed to justice and inclusivity.) Sister Mulcahy, in a letter of July 13, 1994 to Archbishop Maida, had previously raised the same objection and referred to an article in The Baltimore Sun which reported that Catholics in some Baltimore parishes were given an opportunity to contribute to city parishes rather than toward the expense of a papal visit. Both of these actions, she claimed, were part of the U.S. culture and required no action from a Vatican Commission. Although Archbishop Maida stated that further discussion would show how the ad was connected to the work of the Commission, the ad was not discussed again.

For the remainder of the day, discussion centered on substantive passages from the book, Building Bridges: Gay and Lesbian Reality and the Catholic Church, in conjunction with the questions posed by the Commission.

In a letter on August 31, 1994 to Archbishop Maida, Msgr. Scott, acting on behalf of his clients, Sister Gramick and Father Nugent, reiterated his request made at the July 26th meeting for a listing of all the materials in the official record, including letters from more than 250 persons and several letters from Cardinal Hickey, in addition to Cardinal Hickey’s letter of October 10, 1989. Secondly, Msgr. Scott requested access to the 250+ letters sent to the Commission, including letters from 12 additional bishops.

Archbishop Maida responded to these requests in a letter to Sister Mulcahy on October 11, 1994, saying that, with the exception of 10-12 letters, all were supportive of Sister Gramick’s and Father Nugent’s ministry, but that he could not provide copies of these letters. The Commission would not make the letters part of the official acts but would forward them as background for the Congregation.

Archbishop Maida further listed the official acts of the inquiry that would be sent to Rome to consist of the following materials:

-The Mandate of the Commission;

--May 9, 1988 letter of Archbishop Laghi to Bishop Maida

--July 23, 1988 letter of Archbishop Fagiolo to Father Nugent;

--July 23, 1988 letter of Archbishop Fagiolo to Sr. Gramick;

-Official minutes of the March 18, 1994 meeting;

--Press Release of May 11, 1994;

-Official minutes of the May 25, 1994 meeting with attachments;

-Official minutes of the July 26, 1994 meeting with attachments;

--News Advisory of August 31, 1994;

--Response to Msgr. Blair’s observations;

-A copy of Building Bridges;

-The Report of the Findings of the Commission;

-The Response of Sister Gramick and Father Nugent to the Report of the Findings;

-Recommendations by the Commission to the Congregation.

On October 11, 1994, Sister Gramick, Father Nugent and their provincials received a copy of the Report of the Findings of the Commission Studying the Writings and Ministry of Sister Jeannine Gramick, SSND and Father Robert Nugent, SDS.

Six years earlier, when the two religious communities were questioning various aspects of the Commission established by the Vatican, Sister Gramick received a letter on July 23, 1988, from Archbishop Vincent Fagiolo of CRIS, stating that the members of the Commission would certainly present their conclusions to the two religious and to their communities. Archbishop Fagiolo further stated that, even by American standards, he thought the process would be most fair and equitable. During the Commission hearings, however, Archbishop Maida announced that the Commission would separate the "Conclusions" into "Findings" and "Recommendations." The Commission would share a report of the Findings, but not the Recommendations for action. (Until the Notification issued from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith [CDF] on May 31, 1999 and made public on July 13, 1999 in the U.S. by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, it remained unknown that the Commission had recommended unspecified disciplinary measures, including the publication of some form of Notification.)

In a letter to Cardinal Maida on November 9, 1994, Sister Mulcahy expressed her disappointment with the report. On January 11, 1995, Sister Mulcahy stated that the report made possible misleading inferences and voiced her regret that the Commission’s recommendations were not offered to the two religious and their communities. On January 1, 1995, Father Dennis Thiessen noted that in identifying areas of ambiguity, the report used qualified and tentative language. This problem, together with the well-documented positive pastoral contributions of the two religious, prompted him to ask that they be able to continue their ministry. On January 12, 1995, Sister Gramick and Father Nugent submitted their response to the Vatican Commission’s report.

On February 12, 1995, Sister Patricia Flynn wrote to Eduardo Cardinal Martinez Somalo, Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, in support of Sister Gramick’s ministry and of her willingness to discuss this matter in person with the Congregation. On February 22, 1995, Cardinal Martinez responded that the Congregation had enough material to make a well-founded judgment.

On December 7, 1995, Sister Mulcahy and Father Thiessen received a letter from Cardinal Maida containing three new questions from the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life which Sister Gramick and Father Nugent were to answer. Their responses were dated February 22, 1996.

On December 19, 1997, at a meeting at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger informed Sister Patricia Flynn, SSND, Superior General of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, and Father Karl Hoffmann, the current Superior General of the Society of the Divine Savior, that the case of the two religious had been transferred in 1995 to the CDF because of doctrinal issues. He likewise informed the Superiors General that the responses of the two religious to the three additional questions were not sufficiently clear as to whether or not the religious adhered to these teachings. Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, Secretary of the CDF, was also present.

Cardinal Ratzinger further stated that their book, Voices of Hope: A Collection of Positive Catholic Writings on Gay and Lesbian Issues, published in 1995 after the conclusion of the Vatican Commission, continued to call into question the teaching of the Magisterium on homosexuality. This led to an internal examination by the CDF of the books Building Bridges: Gay and Lesbian Reality and the Catholic Church, and Voices of Hope: A Collection of Positive Catholic Writings on Gay and Lesbian Issues, which found erroneous and dangerous propositions in the books.

This material, called the contestatio, had been presented to Pope John Paul II in an audience on October 24, 1997, and the Holy Father approved the transmission of the contestatio to the two authors to correct. Sister Gramick and Father Nugent were to respond to the CDF personally and independently within two canonical months and their General Superiors were asked to offer their evaluations of the responses. The CDF would then evaluate the responses, make a judgment, and implement it. This followed the procedure of "Examinations in cases of urgency" as contained in articles 23-27 of the Agendi ratio (Regulations for Doctrinal Examination). Five texts cited in the Contestatio were also cited in the Commission Report. Five texts were new.

On February 5, 1998, Sister Gramick responded to the contestatio.

On February 6, 1998, Father Nugent responded to the contestatio.

In a letter of February 10, 1998, Sister Flynn wrote to Cardinal Ratzinger that she had asked Sister Gramick to correct the errors regarding the propositions, but had not asked her to reveal her conscience, and, in her judgment, Sister Gramick had met this condition in a spirit of obedience.

In a cover letter to Cardinal Ratzinger that accompanied Father Nugent’s response, Father Karl Hoffmann said that he found Father Nugent’s response satisfactory and thought that Father Nugent’s ministry deserved to continue.

On June 27, 1998, Sister Rosemary Howarth, SSND, newly-installed General Superior of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, informed Sister Gramick that the CDF found that her response to the contestatio was not satisfactory because she did not disclose her personal convictions with regard to the Church’s teaching on homosexuality and because she frequently sought to justify points in her writings.

Similarly, on July 4, 1998, Father Hoffman informed Father Nugent that the CDF found that his response to the contestatio was not satisfactory because he did not express in sufficiently unequivocal terms his adherence to the Church’s teaching on homosexuality and because he frequently sought to justify points in his writings.

Through their Superiors General, the CDF asked Sister Gramick and Father Nugent to formulate, within a period of one month, a declaration of personal assent to the teaching of the Church on homosexuality as contained in Persona Humana, n. 8, the Letter, Homosexualitatis problema and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, nn 2357-2359, 2396, using the formula "I firmly accept and hold that..." The CDF requested that the religious admit that their books contained errors, for which they accepted responsibility, and that they ask for pardon.

On July 29, 1998, Sister Gramick submitted a declaration to the CDF.

On August 6, 1998, Father Nugent submitted his declaration to the CDF.

On December 22, 1998, Father Hoffman informed Father Nugent that the CDF determined that, although his declaration contained positive elements, his response did not express with necessary clarity his internal adherence to the various aspects of the Church’s teaching on homosexuality. Before proceeding to the definitive determination for the disciplinary measure, Father Nugent was requested to sign within two weeks a Profession of Faith provided by the CDF.

On January 25, 1999, Father Nugent submitted a revised Profession of Faith with a cover letter to Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone of the CDF, explaining his reasons for the modifications.

On July 10, 1999, at their respective Generalates in Rome, the Superiors General orally informed the two religious about the CDF decision. In addition, Father Hoffmann furnished Father Nugent with a copy of "Some Observations on ‘A Response to a Profession of Faith’" from the CDF.

On the evening of July 13, 1999, Sister Gramick and Father Nugent returned from Rome without having seen a copy of the Notification from the CDF. The two religious learned that the U.S. Bishops and the press had been mailed a copy of the Notification on July 9. Sister Gramick and Father Nugent saw the written Notification on July 14, 1999, the day it appeared in the newspapers.