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Gramick on conscience in Lincoln

NCR Staff

Despite Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz’s prohibition against her speaking in the Lincoln, Neb., diocese, Sr. Jeannine Gramick recently addressed a meeting of Call to Action Nebraska, telling those attending they have a right to weigh personal conscience when considering official church teaching.

Gramick, a School Sister of Notre Dame, has kept a busy speaking schedule since the Vatican in July 1999 ordered her and Fr. Robert Nugent to cease ministering to gay and lesbian persons. The two had a long ministry to homosexuals in the church.

In her talk at Camp Kitaki, which is not owned by the church but is within the boundaries of the Lincoln diocese, Gramick told about 60 people who attended the session, “No one has the right to intrude on your conscience. … No one has a right to invade that sacred space between you and God,” according to an April 9 story in the Lincoln Journal Star.

In a telephone interview April 26, Gramick told NCR that she had received a letter in March from Bruskewitz in which he prohibited her from speaking in his diocese. “The Holy See has informed me that as the ordinary of the diocese of Lincoln, I have the right to formally prohibit you from speaking in this diocese. … This is hereby done with this letter,” the bishop wrote.

Bruskewitz argued that the Vatican notification of 1999 “states that positions expressed by you are doctrinally unacceptable and that you are permanently prohibited from any pastoral work involving homosexual persons. As it appears from the title of the talk you are scheduled to give, you intend to offer some kind of defense of your position, which would be in violation of the notification,” he wrote.

In response, Gramick wrote, “I have reflected much on the Vatican notification about the pastoral ministry to lesbian and gay persons that I felt called by God to serve. I have chosen to abide by the prohibition, while hoping, through God’s grace, that it will be reconsidered. The notification does not prohibit me from sharing my experience and what I have learned as a result of the process of the investigation. Indeed, prohibiting discussion of one’s experience would be inappropriate in any context, for how else can we grow as a faith community unless we reflect on our experiences?”

Her talk was titled “Conscience and Development of Doctrine: Whose Responsibility?” She said in her letter that she intended to develop those themes and to use her experience of the 12-year Vatican investigation of her ministry to focus the issues.

“The presentation is not ‘pastoral work involving homosexual persons’ ” and thus did not violate the Vatican order, she wrote. “I may still speak and write, even about homosexuality. It would be unfair to make the prohibition more stringent than it is (Canon 18).”

Gramick also said she had consulted with canon lawyers and was told that because there is no violation of the Vatican notification, “there are no grounds to formally prohibit me from speaking.”

“I would welcome the opportunity to meet with you so that we can better understand the issues that affect the people of God we both are called to serve. Please let me know if this would be possible.” Gramick said Bruskewitz never responded.

An April 14 editorial in Bruskewitz’s diocesan paper, the Southern Nebraska Register, began: “In a failed attempt to infect decent people with their ideological pathologies, the anti-Catholic sect Call to Action has recently reached into a theological sewer and brought to Nebraska Sister Jeannine Gramick, SSND, an apostle of sexual perversion.”

Bruskewitz was in the national spotlight briefly in 1996 when he threatened with excommunication any Catholics who belonged to 11 groups, including Call to Action, a national Catholic reform group that counts among its members hundreds of nuns and priests and at least three bishops.

National Catholic Reporter, May 5, 2000