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People often express surprise when they meet Sr. Jeannine Gramick. Perhaps it is natural that they would expect a strident and fiery fighter. After all, she has tenaciously advocated for a change in church attitude toward homosexuals and has rigorously upheld the inviolability of individual conscience. In person, however, she is soft-spoken, reserved and elegantly precise.

What folks might not know is that she is a mathematician by training and profession. She is a teacher and one who meticulously attends to detail. She does not come casually to taking up unpopular causes. But when she does, she brings all the discipline of her professional and religious life to the task.

In recent months, Gramick has been thinking a lot about the use of silencing as a tool against dissenting views. She has thought and researched and pondered. Abhorring the use of silencing as a disciplinary technique does not imply that the institutional church cannot make judgments or declare something invalid or wrong. But refusing to allow the discussion of significant issues in the modern era, as she states, does little to alleviate confusion or enforce orthodoxy.

I fully believe that someday Gramick will be celebrated, along with others, for helping the church to arrive at a new understanding of homosexuality, an aspect of life to which the church has remained stubbornly blind for too long. For the moment, however, enjoy some of the results of her recent pondering in the article on page 23.

While talking about courageous women in the church, one cannot overlook Benedictine Prioress Sr. Christine Vladimiroff and the way in which she guided her community through the recent Vatican interventions regarding Sr. Joan Chittister’s appearance at the Women’s Ordination Worldwide gathering in Ireland. It is easy to imagine any number of scenarios -- from panic to anger to fear in receiving the directive to deliver a “precept of obedience” to a member of the order. Instead, Vladimiroff took the long, patient way, holding extended consultations with Chittister and other members of the community (see story page 5). The result was not only disarming but respectful of the Vatican process. What seems to have been preserved in this case is the right to discuss and ponder significant issues. Not a bad model.

NCR’s Vatican correspondent John L. Allen Jr. recently spent an afternoon with Austrian Cardinal Franz König at his residence in Vienna, interviewing him for a forthcoming book on the next conclave. König is the only cardinal alive who has voted in three conclaves (1963 and the two of 1978). Allen reports that König, who turns 96 Aug. 3, is healthy and as dedicated to the kind of Catholic church envisioned by the Second Vatican Council as ever. Here’s a hearty wish from NCR for a happy birthday for König, and a note of thanks for almost a century of devoted service.

The monks at the Abbey of Sept-Fons are depending on contributions from around the world to finance a new monastery in the Czech Republic. So far, about one-third of the approximately $4 million needed has been raised. In the United States, tax-deductible contributions for the construction of the new monastery at Novy Dvur can be sent to Rev. Simon Sansone, O.C.S.O. Cistercian Abbey of Spencer, Inc., 167 North Spencer Road, Spencer, MA 01562

-- Tom Roberts

My e-mail address is troberts@natcath.org

National Catholic Reporter, July 27, 2001