Church Renews Pressure on Pro-Gay Catholic Group

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday February 26, 2010

Progressive Catholics maybe on a collision course with the guardians of their faith's doctrine--especially when it comes to civil rights issues affecting GLBTs, marriage equality among them.

A Feb. 24 article at Inside reported that a Catholic Cardinal, Francis George, had issued a Feb. 5 condemnation of religious GLBT advocacy organization New Ways Ministry. The report linked this renunciation to a meeting of clergy and laity in the nation's capital several days previously to establish a new pro-GLBT parity group, Catholics for Equality (CFE), that will seek to revise the church's teachings on gays and gay family life.

The church's doctrine holds that while homosexuality is inherent to an individual, the expression of that personal characteristic sexually is sinful and contrary to "natural law." Moreover, gays and lesbians, the church says, are "disordered" in their ability to relate sexually with others. Therefore, the church teaches, God "calls" gays and lesbians to forsake intimate relationships and family life and lead lives of celibacy. The church also brands as a form of "violence" against children adoption by same-sex parents, or biological parents continuing to raise their own children after entering into a committed relationship with a person of the same gender.

Cardinal George spoke out against New Ways Ministry, saying, "It has no approval or recognition from the Catholic Church, and they cannot speak on behalf of the Catholic faithful in the United States."

The Inside Catholic article noted that a cleric, Father Tony Adams, responded to the Cardinal's attack by saying that it was "retaliation" by the church brought on by the establishment of the new progressive Catholic group.

One of the founders of Catholics for Equality, Father Tony Adams, regarded Cardinal George's statement as "retaliation" for the creation of an organization dedicated to changing Church teaching on homosexuality and marriage. The article quoted from Adams' blog, where the cleric wrote, "We aren't here to discuss just gay marriage, folks, although our losses on those state battlefields have awakened us to the need for a united voice that will help all Catholics guide their clueless bishops back onto the path of goodness and grace. Those bishops, the supposed shepherds of the flock, have lost their way, and it is up to the sheep to repair the damage they have done."

The article also recounted how a California cleric, the Rev. Geoffrey Farrow, opposed the church's supportive stance toward Proposition 8 and a similar ballot initiative in Maine a year later. In both instances, the legal rights of gay and lesbian families were put up to a popular vote, with the result being that their right to marriage was revoked at the ballot box. When Farrow, who came out as gay himself, criticized a bishop for instructing parish priests in Maine to make anti-marriage equality messages central to their homilies, he was relieved of his position as a clergyman.

The author of the Inside Catholic article, Deal W. Hudson, wrote, "What's particularly interesting about reading these blogs is the refrain that the bishops don't represent the majority view of the Catholic laity. Both Father Farrow and Father Tony... believe they are the spearheads of an inevitable Catholic uprising." Added Hudson, "I'm unaware of any polling that shows that the majority of active Catholics no longer regard homosexual acts as sinful, or that same-sex marriage should be legalized. But even if such data could be produced, it would only prove the need for the Church to be more forthright in arguing its position on those issues. Catholic doctrine is not defined by polling--not yet, anyway."

The anti-gay religious site LifeSiteNews retraced the background of the conflict between New Ways Ministry, which was founded in 1977, and the church hierarchy in a Feb. 9 article. The site quoted from Cardinal George's statement, in which George recounted, "In 1984, the [Archbishop James Hickey] of Washington denied New Ways Ministry any official authorization or approval of its activities. At that time, [he] forbade the two co-founders of New Ways Ministry," Sister Jeannine Gramick and Father Robert Nugent, "to continue their activities in the Archdiocese of Washington."

LifeSiteNews also quoted Father John Harvey, who created another Catholic group, Courage, which is dedicated to assisting gay Catholics who wish to live celibate lives in accordance with Church teachings on human sexuality and homosexuality. Harvey recollected that Gramick and Nugent had been pressured by the church to sign a statement that declared "homosexual acts are intrinsically evil, evil by their very nature." Both resisted, with Gramick flatly declining to sign, and Nugent trying to have the statement's language toned down--to no avail. The church then forbade them both from working with gay and lesbian Catholics, purportedly to spare them the "confusion" of hearing supportive words from Gramick and Nugent while church doctrine assured them of the "intrinsically evil" nature of their mode of sexual intimacy.

"The promotion of errors and ambiguities is not consistent with a Christian attitude of true respect and compassion," the church stated in barring the two from ministering to the gay faithful. "Persons who are struggling with homosexuality no less than any others have the right to receive the authentic teaching of the Church from those who minister to them." Once again, Gramick resisted, declaring that she would not "collaborate in my own oppression."

The Courage Web site promises gay people of faith that, "By developing an interior life of chastity, which is the universal call to all Christians, one can move beyond the confines of the homosexual identity to a more complete one in Christ."

The New Ways Ministry site says that the group is "a gay-positive ministry of advocacy and justice for lesbian and gay Catholics and reconciliation within the larger Christian and civil communities.

"Through research, publication and education about homosexuality, we foster dialogue among groups and individuals, identify and combat personal and structural homophobia, work for changes in attitudes and promote the acceptance of gay and lesbian people as full and equal members of church and society," text at the site continues.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.