Catholic Gay Group to Honor Nun, Priest Silenced by the Vatican

Washington, DC, May 16, 2001 — Leaders of DignityUSA, the nation's leading group of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered Catholics and their supporters, announced today that they will present Lifetime Achievement Awards to Sister Jeannine Gramick and Father Robert Nugent during the group's Fifteenth Biennial Convention this summer in Chicago. Nugent and Gramick are cofounders of New Ways Ministry, a gay-positive ministry of advocacy and justice for lesbian and gay Catholics, and have a long history of advocacy on behalf of gay people within the Catholic Church.

In 2000, after an eleven-year investigation into their work, the Vatican's Congregation for Religious forbade the two from speaking or writing on homosexuality. A year earlier, they were ordered to cease all ministry with the gay community. They were also prohibited from speaking about the ecclesiastical process leading to these injunctions or the orders themselves.

Gramick and Nugent chose different responses to the Vatican directives. Nugent agreed to abide by the restrictions placed upon him in order to continue his ministry as a priest and to honor his vow of obedience to his religious superiors. He continues to write and lecture on a variety of topics including Vatican Council II and is engaged in parish work.

Gramick, while suspending her ministry with gay and lesbian people and their parents, has spoken publicly many times in the past year about the Vatican's investigation and censure. In a statement issued shortly after the silencing, she declared, "I choose not to collaborate in my own oppression by restricting a basic human right."

DignityUSA President Mary Louise Cervone said that the organization decided to recognize Gramick and Nugent for both the groundbreaking nature of their ministry and for their faithfulness in light of official persecution. "Bob and Jeannine stood with gay Catholics and our families long before others would, and at great personal cost throughout their careers," she said. "I think we represent the vast majority of Catholics, who are appalled at how the Vatican has treated them."

Cervone continued, "In presenting our Lifetime Achievement Awards to Jeannine and Bob, DignityUSA is recognizing people who have truly followed Jesus' footsteps in reaching out to people scorned by religious and civil authorities. Their lives and ministry give true witness to the Gospel."

Jeannine Gramick is a member of the School Sisters of Notre Dame. She holds a Doctorate in Education from the University of Pennsylvania and is co-founder of Dignity/Philadelphia. She has written and spoken extensively on issues of homosexuality and religion and co-edited Voices of Hope: A Collection of Positive Catholic Writings on Gay and Lesbian Issues with Robert Nugent. She has served as co-chair of the National Coalition of American Nuns and on the Board of the Women's Ordination Conference. She is currently studying and speaking on issues of conscience and due process in the Roman Catholic Church.

Father Robert Nugent was ordained in 1965 and is a member of the Society of the Divine Savior. Fr. Nugent holds degrees in theology and religious education from the Yale Divinity School and the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium. He is the co-author, with Gramick, of Building Bridges: Gay and Lesbian Reality and the Catholic Church, the editor of The Vatican and Homosexuality and author of Prayer Journey for Persons with AIDS.

DignityUSA established its Lifetime Achievement Award to recognize extraordinary advocacy on behalf of and service to the Catholic gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community in 1996. It has only been awarded once prior to this year. In 1997 it was presented to Fr. John McNeill, a theologian, author and psychotherapist, who was expelled from the Jesuits for refusing to obey an order to end his ministry with gay men and lesbians.

DignityUSA is the nation's oldest and largest organization of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered Catholics and their friends. It is an independent nonprofit organization founded in 1969 and has members and chapters throughout the United States.