Keynote speaker at our annual Quest conference 2017, on the theme, “Act justly, Love Mercy”, was Sr Jeannine Grammick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry in the USA. Here follow some notes I made of her talk, interspersed with my personal response.
Sr Jeannine began with a valuable quotation from St Theresa of Avila:
“Trust God, where you are meant to be”
There’s surely no need to spell out the implications for LGBT Catholics, who find themselves “where they are meant to be”. This has certainly been my own experience – where I have found the institutional church difficult, help has come in trusting God,in deep prayer.
With reference to the conference theme, “Act justly, love mercy”, Sr Jeannine repeated an observation about Pope Francis that she has frequently made before, “This pope gives me hope”. She noted that he is most notably a man open to change, There remains much about him that is still open to criticism, for example on his responses to women in the church, and to the topic of gender, but he has shown that he is at least willing to learn – and accepts that the “development” of church doctrine is both necessary and inevitable.
There has not yet been any formal shift in core church doctrine, but there has been a notable shift in emphasis. This in itself, is “development” in Vatican doctrine, which has particular relevance to pastoral practice, given concrete expression in “Amoris Laetitia”, with its emphasis on accompaniment, discernment, and “the interior forum” (in effect, conscience”.. In talking about marriage and relationships, Pope Francis is notably more concerned with the people involved and their situations, than he is with the formal rules and sexual doctrines.
Unlike previous popes and some bishops, Pope Francis demonstrates an appreciation for the whole range of church teaching on homosexuality, including the much neglected injunction to demonstrate towards us, “respect, sensitivity and compassion”, He has notably put this into practice by naming us as people who are “lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender”. As one of his proteges, Cardinal Blaise Cupich of Chicago has observed, referring to our community in the terms we use ourselves, is an important sign of respect – very different to the usage by previous popes and some bishops to the offensive, demeaning terminology, “same-sex attracted”.
It is gratifying to note that since Pope Francis’ lead, an increasing number of other Catholic leaders have adopting a more supportive tone in pastoral practice. As already noted, For Cardinal Cupich, using the language of “LGBT” is a sign of simple respect. Another of Pope Francis, recent appointments, Cardinal Tobin of Newark, has specifically and publicly invited LGBT Catholics to attend and feel welcome in his cathedral. In this way, Sr Jeannine suggested, Pope Francis is subtly but substantially “changing the landscape” for LGBT Catholics. At this year’s New Ways conference, she reported, one of the speakers was Bishop Spokane, who told them that in addition to the widely reported examples, many more bishops were becoming more open and outspoken in support.
- Sr Jeannine Gramick, on Doctrine
- Sr Jeannine Gramick: What Can WE do?