NEWS:  August 19, 2003

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Bird’s Eye View of the News

Atila Sinke Guimarães

RATZINGER, A TOOTHLESS LION  -  For the last 20 years Sr. Jeannine Gramick, SSND, and Fr. Robert Nugent, SDS, have been two leading American religious stars in the Catholic “ministry” with gays and lesbians. Their innovative progressivist positions on the topic have generated a lot of publicity, so I don’t need to remind my reader who they are. On July 13, 1999 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued to both Sr. Gramick and Fr. Nugent a formal condemnation along with a permanent prohibition to carry out any “ministry” with homosexuals.

The text, signed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and duly approved by Pope John Paul II, was the end point of a 10-year process undertaken by the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Among the principal targets were the two books co-authored by Gramick-Nugent: Building Bridges and Voices of Hope. A little before the condemnation, the two writers were called to Rome to acknowledge their responsibility for the errors in their books and ask forgiveness (National Catholic Reporter, July 30, 1999). After the publication of the CDF condemnation in L’Osservatore Romano (July 14, 1999), Ratzinger was consequently presented to the Catholic center and right as a true lion: an implacable new Torquemada who took special pleasure in burning such heretics. Feeling secure with the protection of such an efficient “guard of orthodoxy,” countless American conservatives smiled, turned away, and took a good nap.

Gramick Launches Book

Sr. Gramick launches in Rome a book condemned four years ago - The Catholic World Report, October 2001
This July 2003, only four years later, Sr. Gramick landed in Rome again. What was she doing there? Perhaps preparing to sign a retraction of her errors? No. Precisely the opposite. She arrived for the public launching of the Italian edition of her book Building Bridges. Yes, the same work that was in the center of the controversy in 1999. Here are some questions and answers from an interview she gave to the Roman bulletin Adista (July 5, 2003, pp.11-13):

Question: "Sr. Gramick, four years have passed since the Vatican imposed silence on you and prohibited you from carrying out any pastoral activity with homosexuals. Could you describe to the readers of Adista what has happened since then?

Answer: "The 1999 notification of Card. Ratzinger had established that I should stop developing my pastoral activity for homosexuals …. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith passed on the task of applying the penalty to the Congregation of the Religious; the latter passed on the task to the General Superiors of the School Sisters of Notre Dame and the Society of the Divine Savior, which was Fr. Nugent’s order. Our Superiors then gave us an order to obey, which was that we should stop speaking in public about the rights of homosexuals, stop criticizing the Magisterium, and stop encouraging the faithful to protest against the Church.

“After July ’99 I began to travel around the United States and I spoke to thousands of Catholics to make them understand how this judgment of the Church was, in my opinion, unfair. I requested the faithful I met to write to Ratzinger and ask him to reconsider his decision, and thousands of letters reached Ratzinger.

“In May 2000 Fr. Nugent made the decision to obey the prohibition of his Superiors, whereas I told my Superior that, in accordance with my conscience, I could not follow that order, since I believe that God continues to work with lesbian and gays. I thought that I could be the voice of the people without a voice in the Church. My Superior told me that there would be ‘terrible’ consequences for my disobedience, since I would be excluded from the community. That was a tremendous threat for me because I loved my community, which I had been in for 20 years. But I felt that the only way to continue the ministry I was called to was to change to another community, the Sisters of Loreto. Today, therefore, I continue my ministry with gays and lesbians in this new community.

Question: "How do you feel in this community and what relationship do you maintain with the School Sisters of Notre Dame?

Answer: "After I changed to the Sisters of Loreto, the prohibition imposed on me by the School Sisters of Notre Dame could not be applied to my present day pastoral activity. I do not owe any further obedience to the Superior of my former order. Now I am financially dependent on the Sisters of Loreto and should obey them. I have very good personal relationships with my old co-sisters and I have many friends there whom I meet often and who are always in my heart. About my choice to change to the Sisters of Loreto, I must say that I am very content with it. The Sisters of Loreto is an American congregation founded in 1812 in Kentucky and is known for being made up of pioneer and combative women. I am very happy with my choice.

Question: "Aren’t you afraid that the Vatican will also impose this Order to prohibit you from exerting your ministry with gays and lesbians?

Answer: "I believe that this will not occur. Certainly the possibility exists that the Vatican will also go to them, but I do not believe that the Sisters of Loreto will act the way the School Sisters of Notre Dame did. Their past shows that the Sisters of Loreto have a great respect for the personal consciences of their Sisters. In 1967 they held a general assembly at which they adopted a decision establishing that the rights of the individual must be separate from those of the institution, and that priority must be given to the individual rights over the institutional."

Joseph Ratzinger

A toothless and clawless lion ...
30 Giorni, April 2002
Therefore – and this is my comment – on the practical level it is clear that Sr. Gramcki made some institutional maneuvers that made it impossible for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to apply that “terrible condemnation” against her.

What kind of power does Ratzinger have if, after thundering violent penalties in official documents and before the press, nothing was applied? How can he tolerate this heterodox and rebel nun spreading right under his nose the very book he condemned? Where are the claws and the teeth of such a terrible lion? These are questions one can’t avoid asking.

Are we looking at a weak point in the Vatican system of punishment, or is it something else? I think there is something else.

What is it? Here are some similar cases:
  • Fr. Hans Küng also handled a "condemnation” against some points of his books and the prohibition to teach in a Catholic establishment in a similar way. He merely had himself transferred from one institution to another to avoid any implementation of the sentence.

    Hans Kung

    Hans Kung dodged his punishment also - Inside the Vatican, February 2003
    By some bureaucratic maneuverings, the Institute of Catholic Theology that he directed was transferred simply on paper from the College of Catholic Theology to the University of Tübingen, a state institution. So, the famous “condemnation” against the German theologian was not applied, and Küng remained serenely teaching the same things at the same institute which remained precisely in the same place (for details, check my Animus Delendi I, pp. 158-60).

  • Another such case: Fr. John J. McNeill, S.J., founder of the American homosexual organization Dignity, also dodged the “condemnation” of his book The Church and the Homosexual by choosing to leave the Society of Jesus and to become a diocesan priest (for details check my In the Murky Waters of Vatican II, MAETA, pp. 384-7).
In face of these three thunderous but ineffective Vatican condemnations – I could cite others – doesn’t one have to ask in all honesty if there is a concerted plan behind them? What plan? To create the illusion of severity, while giving free reign on a practical level to the very errors that one seems to be condemning.

“I don’t agree with you!” Some furious conservative will argue, and then add, “Ratzinger is still a valiant lion.”

Well, if there is not a plan behind these three cases, at least my conservative reader has to agree that the condemnations did not have any practical effects, that is to say, that his lion is clawless and toothless.


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