Sister Jeannine Gramick talks: “in United States there is gap between bishops and faithful”
In 1977 Sister Gramick co-founded, with father Robert Nugent, New Ways Ministry, a Catholic social justice center working for the reconciliation of lesbian/gay people and the Church.
She advocates the acceptance of gay and lesbian people as full and equal members of religious, civil, and social groups. She believes that only if all people are treated with dignity and respect will there be peace and harmony in the world.
She received the 2005 Peace Prize from the Santa Claus Foundation in Turkey for her work with sexual minorities.
She was named a 2006 Laureate of the International Mother Teresa Awards for her role as a human rights activist.
In 1999, the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith approved a Notification in which Sister Gramick is “permanently prohibited from any pastoral work involving homosexual persons and are ineligible, for an undetermined period, for any office in their respective religious institutes”.
After 40 years in the School Sisters of Notre Dame, she is now a member of Sisters of Loretto.
Living far from Rome, how would you describe today what you have called the “service of authority” in the contemporary church? Do you see advantages and disadvantages?
I believe authority, whether ecclesiastical or civil, is intended to serve the people who give over their personal authority to those who represent or lead them.
Jesus exercised authority according to a “servant leadership” model. He invited people to place their own trust and authority in him and then he used this authority to serve those in need.
Our Church leaders today need to be concerned, as Jesus was, about healing the bodies of the sick, soothing the spirits of those lost or bewildered, providing food, clothing, and shelter, and advocating for prison reform (Mt. 25:34-40).
Jesus had no concern for doctrine or dogmas; rather, he lived and preached the beatitudes. We need bishops who are meek, poor in spirit, merciful, pure of heart; we need bishops who comfort those who mourn, who hunger and thirst for justice, who are peacemakers, and who may suffer for the sake of integrity (Mt. 5:3-10).
We do not need bishops who seek power, status, or material gain for themselves or for the institution. Our church deserves to be led by those who follow in the humble footsteps of the Fisherman.
Beyond the worldwide notoriety of the Pope, how do people in a US parish view the Vatican?
Most Catholics in US parishes have little interest in the Vatican, except for those whose parishes have been closed (who are petitioning the Vatican to keep their parishes open) and those who have been sexually abused by priests (whose lawyers are trying to sue the Vatican for financial compensation).
According to recent polls, most US. Catholics think of the pope as a holy man and a center of unity, but they rely on their own conscience as the final arbiter of authority in making moral decisions. Most US Catholic parishioners give little thought to the Vatican.
-Can you tell us something about the relations among believers and hierarchy in the United States?
There has been an increasing gulf between US Catholics and the hierarchy since the mid 1980’s. After the Second Vatican Council, the US hierarchy generally encouraged lay participation in church life, thus forging bonds between the bishops and the faithful.
With the pontificate of John Paul II, progressive bishops, who consulted the faithful, were replaced by authoritarian ones, who are acting in rigid and dictatorial ways.
The gradual alienation between the faithful and US bishops has been aggravated by the clerical sexual abuse crisis.
-Does the US hierarchy publicly speak on political and social issues? What is the impact of these statements on society?
The US bishops have been speaking on political and social issues for over a century. In the last several decades, some vocal bishops have made statements that support the Republican Party, the party favoring tax cuts for the rich, more military spending, and cutting domestic programs for the poor and working class.
Presumably, these bishops favor the Republican Party because it opposes abortion and rights for lesbian and gay persons.
The political impact of the US bishops is waning. This was clear in 2008 when these bishops supported John McCain against Barack Obama in the presidential race. More than 50% of Catholics voted for Obama, showing that the US Church does not think or vote like the US bishops.
Similarly, in 2010, Congress passed a Health Care bill, despite opposition from the US bishops. Many politicians are now aware that US Catholics do not necessarily agree, or vote in line, with the US bishops.
The influence of US bishops on politicians and on the Catholic faithful is greatly diminished.
Does the church in the United States work for social justice?
The US bishops have issued statements supporting justice for immigrants, workers, and the poor. Unfortunately, they see lesbian and gay people only through the lens of sexual ethics and fail to see them as part of a family or to understand that their human rights are a matter of social justice.
Similarly, they see abortion only as “murder” and fail pastorally to understand the plight of women who are forced to make this decision.
Many US Catholics have forgotten their immigrant past in rising from their economically poor status to being part of the dominant US culture.
They are divided on social justice issues like support for immigrants, legislation to help the poor, and support for workers’ rights. They disagree with the US bishops on homosexuality and abortion.
The latest polls show that the majority of US Catholics believe that homosexual behavior is not sinful and almost ¾ support same-sex civil marriage. The majority of US Catholics believe that abortion is a private matter and should be legal in all or most cases.
How do US Catholics feel about the fact that their country is militarily engaged in various areas across the world?
While I am not aware of polls showing US Catholic attitudes about US military engagement in various areas of the world, I feel that most US people, including Catholics, are not troubled by US intervention outside of its own borders.
They fail to see this foreign intrusion as colonialism or economic exploitation, preferring to view themselves as liberators or protectors. One problem is the media, which fails to report the opinions of the political left. Centrist positions are often regarded as “left” in the US media.
What does New Ways Ministry think of the Barack Obama policies targeted to glbtq citizens?
New Ways Ministry is optimistic that the Obama administration will continue to make strides for GLBTQ equality, such as the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and the refusal to enforce the “Defense of Marriage Act.”
Do you think that the United States should adopt a law allowing same-sex marriages?
Yes, I think the US should adopt a law allowing same-sex marriages. In 2004, the board of the National Coalition of American Nuns stated that “love, care, and commitment to another human being, not gender or procreation, form the essence or meaning of marriage…
If heterosexual unions or marriages are recognized by the state, not recognizing same-sex unions or marriages is unfair.
Such unfairness is politically and morally wrong.” I am a board member of the National Coalition of American Nuns and participated in passing this resolution.
Many observers have said that in contemporary societies human relations are “liquid” and “changeable”. Do you think that an institution like marriage, based on a permanent commitment, is still important?
I believe it is very important to affirm marriage and other institutions, such as a vowed religious life, that are based on a permanent commitment. A permanent commitment is founded on a conviction of love and trust in another person and on a belief that one’s love is returned.
Like an anchor, it offers an emotional security that contributes to one’s sense of confidence, inner peace, and happiness. It requires, and is a sign of, maturity.
This does not mean that permanent commitments should be upheld if one would be physically or psychologically irreparably harmed. But a permanent commitment implies a willingness to sacrifice and a determination to persevere in the face of ordinary hardships.
For the Christian, a commitment is a reflection of God’s covenant or promise of fidelity with humanity.
Italian translation: Suor Gramick: «negli Usa, frattura crescente tra episcopato e fedeli»