September 14-20, 2003
Time After Pentecost
vol 14, no. 36

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Cardinal Ratzinger: A Toothless Lion

    Editor's Note: Where is modern Rome in exacting compliance to the censoring of Gramick and Nugent for promoting the sodomy mentality? Sadly missing in action. Despite growing acceptance of all things sinful, the Vatican must stand firmly against those things which directly contradict Faith and Morals, and yet, just as they turned the other way in respect to the notorious Hans Küng, so also the conservatives' favorite poster boy Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger doesn't even lift a paw or pause to think of the scandal from such lack of follow-through and failure to enforce and uphold the Faith.

    In the last 20 years Sr. Jeannine Gramick, SSND, and Fr. Robert Nugent, SDS have been two lead American religious stars in the Catholic "ministry" with gay 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 Faith. Among the principal targets were the two books co-authored by Gramick-Nugent: Building Bridges: Gay and Lesbian Reality and the Catholic Church 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/right as a true lion: an implacable new Torquemada who took special pleasure in burning "such heretics." Feeling quite secure with the protection of such an efficient "guard of orthodoxy," countless American conservatives smiled, turned away, and took a good nap.

    In July 2003, only four years later, Sr. Gramick landed in Rome again. What was she doing there? Perhaps preparing to sign another 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 the center of the controversy in 1999. Here are some questions and answers of 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 [her order] 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 to 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 gay 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. The past of the Sisters of Loreto shows that the Sisters of Loreto have a great respect for the personal consciences of their Sisters. In 1967 they held a general assembly in 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.

    Therefore - and this is my comment - on the practical level it is clear 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 himself.

    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 facts:

  • Fr. Hans Küng also handled a famous 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. By some bureaucratic maneuverings, the Institute of Catholic Theology that he directed was simply transferred part and parcel 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 in the same institutewhich remained precisely in the same place (for details, check my Animus Delendi I, pp. 158-160).

  • 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 become a diocesan priest (for details check my In the Murky Waters of Vatican II, MAETA, pp. 384-7).

    In face of these three clamorous but meaningless 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 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 effect, that is to say, that his lion is clawless and toothless.

Atila Sinke Guimarães

For past columns by Atila in his column "On the BattleLine", see Archives

      September 14-20, 2003
      Time After Pentecost
      vol 14, no. 36