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Cardinal bars Pax Christi meeting

NCR Staff

Cardinal Adam Maida of Detroit barred Pax Christi Michigan from holding its annual conference in a Catholic church because speakers included a priest and nun whose efforts on behalf of gays and lesbians are under Vatican investigation.

Maida has played a key role in a Vatican investigation of the two speakers, School Sister of Notre Dame Jeannine Gramick and Salvatoran Fr. Robert Nugent, founders of New Ways Ministry. The Vatican has issued no rulings related to the investigation.

The meeting, scheduled to be held April 17 at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Detroit, was moved to Central Methodist Church. The theme was “Voices of Hope: Lesbians and Gays in the Church.”

Besides Maida’s action, two offices of the Lansing, Mich., diocese, under orders from Bishop Carl S. Mengeling, withdrew their sponsorship of the Pax Christi event.

Ned McGrath, director of communications for the Detroit archdiocese, said Maida was concerned that, because of the ongoing investigation, “there could be some confusion” resulting from allowing Gramick and Nugent to speak in a Catholic church. “It had nothing to do with Pax Christi,” he said.

In a letter to Joan Tirak, Pax Christi coordinator in Michigan, Msgr. John P. Zenz, moderator of the curia in Detroit, wrote, “There are serious questions about exactly what the scheduled presenters say with regard to the church’s teaching on human sexuality.” Zenz said he was writing on Maida’s behalf.

Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, auxiliary bishop of Detroit and past president of Pax Christi USA, said he was surprised and disappointed at the cardinal’s stand.

“I didn’t think we were into censorship of this sort,” he said. “Jeannine and Bob have not been condemned by anybody in the church. I also feel that if a speaker does say something contrary to Catholic teaching or something questionable, people are mature and adult enough to hear it and not be scandalized or driven out of the church.”

Gumbleton, an advocate of justice for gays in the church, was a speaker at the conference that, he said, focused mostly on building awareness of violence against gays and getting Pax Christi involved in helping to prevent it.

Gumbleton said the change in venue, if anything, gave the conference “more intensity.”

Gramick said actions like Maida’s ban “happen more often than we would like, but are the exception rather than the rule.” Still, she said, “When it does happen it’s painful.”

Gramick said she and Nugent had three hearings with Maida in 1994. The pair has been under Vatican investigation continually, almost since the founding of the ministry in 1977, Gramick said. Yet, she said, they are often allowed to speak in Catholic facilities because the Vatican has issued no judgments.

“The Vatican doesn’t seem to issue Good Housekeeping Seals of Approval,” she said. “If they don’t have anything bad to say, they don’t say anything.” Of Maida, she said, “I would say he’s jumping the gun.”

Further, she said, “not just in this presentation, but overall, we’re very careful to present the church’s teachings.”

Conference organizers saw Mengeling’s actions as related to the conference’s topics and speakers. However, Michael Diebold, director of communications in Lansing, said the bishop’s directive derived only from failure of the two diocesan offices named as conference sponsors -- the offices of youth ministry and of peace and justice -- to get his permission to sponsor the event.

Bill Carry, a coordinator of Pax Christi Michigan, said he deeply regretted the lack of support from both dioceses. “It seems to be totally counterproductive” to efforts “to investigate ways we as Catholics and Christians can try to bring reconciliation to those outside the church,” he said. “In the long run, it severely hurts the church if it continues.”

Gramick said her address had focused on nonviolence toward gays and lesbians, with extensive use of church documents denouncing both discrimination and violence. Specifically, she said, she had stressed the point that nonviolence “hinges on neighborliness -- not just avoiding beating and killing, arsons and bomb threats and verbal harassment,” but “deeply respecting the life of another person and identifying fully with that person ... walking in the other person’s shoes.”

She said her talk had been based entirely on church teaching.

Fr. Thomas Duffey, pastor of St. Patrick’s, the original conference site, and some 14 parishioners were among the 200 conference participants, volunteering services in a variety of ways. In a statement in the parish bulletin, parishioners said they had been “honored” to take an active part.

Gramick and Nugent “speak of the worth of each individual, of our status as a child of God, and of Jesus’ acceptance and welcoming spirit for all,” the statement said.

National Catholic Reporter, April 30, 1999