Pope Francis meets with leaders of LGBTQ+ Catholic group

Officials from New Ways Ministry meet with Pope Francis. (Photo courtesy of New Ways Ministry)

In a development they called “remarkable,” four officials with the Mount Rainier, Md., based LGBTQ Catholic organization New Ways Ministry met on Oct. 17 with Pope Francis at the Pope’s official residence in the Vatican.

Among those attending the 50-minute meeting at the Pope’s invitation was Sister Jeannine Gramick, a Catholic nun who co-founded New Ways Ministry in 1977 as a nonprofit group whose mission, among other things, was to build bridges between the Catholic Church and LGBTQ Catholics.

“This meeting is remarkable because it reflects the steady acceptance of Catholic officials to LGBTQ+ issues and ministry,” a statement released by New Ways Ministry says.

“Previous popes and church leaders have opposed Sister Jeannine and New Ways Ministry,” the statement says. “This meeting now represents a new openness to the pastorally motivated, justice-seeking approach which Sister Jeannine and her organization have long-practiced,” it says.

Those attending the meeting in addition to Gramick included Francis DeBernardo, the New Ways Ministry executive director; Robert Shine, the group’s associate director; and Matthew Myers, the group’s staff associate.

Gramick “brought greetings to Pope Francis from LGBTQ+ Catholics in the U.S. church,” the New Ways Ministry statement says. “She thanked him for his openness to blessing same-sex unions, as well as for his opposition to the criminalization of LGBTQ+ people in civil society.”

According to the statement, the meeting with Pope Francis took place about two years after Gramick sent him a letter introducing herself and New Ways Ministry to him, which led to what the group said was a friendly exchange of letters between her and the Pope.

“In one letter, Pope Francis called her a “valiant woman,” and later sent her a handwritten note congratulating her on her 50 years of LGBTQ+ ministry,” the statement says.

The National Catholic Reporter, an independent newspaper that reports on Catholic Church developments, points out in a story about the Pope’s meeting with New Ways Ministry officials that the group had previously come under sharp criticism from the Vatican and American Catholic officials.

It reports that in 1984, at the urging of then Washington, D.C. Archbishop James Hickey, the Vatican ordered Gramick and the late Father Robert Nugent, New Way’s Ministry’s other co-founder, to end their association with the organization they founded.

And in 1999, according to the National Catholic Reporter article, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the head of the Vatican’s doctrinal office who later became Pope Benedict XVI, issued an order prohibiting Gramick and Nugent from engaging in any pastoral work with LGBTQ people on grounds of “errors and ambiguities” in their work.

The New Ways Ministry statement says Pope Francis’s meeting with the group’s leaders this week highlights the significant changes brought about by Francis.

“The meeting was very emotional for me,” Gramick said in the New Ways Ministry statement. “From the day he was elected, I have loved and admired Pope Francis because of his humility, his love for the poor and for those shunned by society,” she said. “He is the human face of Jesus in our era. Pope Francis looks into your heart and his eyes say that God loves you.”

DeBernardo, the New Ways Ministry executive director, said the meeting with the Pope this week was a “great encouragement” for the organization to continue its work within the Catholic Church.

“This meeting was an affirmation not only of Sister Jeannine and New Ways Ministry but of the thousands upon thousands of LGBTQ+ people, parishes, schools, pastoral ministers, and religious communities who have been tirelessly working for equality, and who often experienced the great disapproval and ostracization that New Ways Ministry had experienced,” DeBernardo said.

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