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  • Banned Priest Forges Ahead

    Fr. Robert Nugent, above, was ordered to halt his ministry to gays and lesbians. (The Washington Post)
    By Stephen Manning
    Associated Press Writer
    Monday, August 2, 1999; 7:25 a.m. EDT

    BALTIMORE (AP) Although he has agreed to stop ministering to gays and lesbians, the Rev. Robert Nugent disagrees with the Vatican's portrayal of his ministry as harmful to the Catholic community.

    ``We've tried to bring the experience of gays and lesbians to the rest of the church,'' Nugent said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. ``We've been trying to build a positive understanding of homosexual orientation.''

    Nugent and Sister Jeannine Gramick the founders of New Ways Ministry last month were barred from ministering to homosexuals by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

    The congregation said Nugent and Gramick ``have caused confusion among the Roman Catholic people and have harmed the community of the church.'' It called their teachings ``erroneous and dangerous.''

    Gay rights groups said the two repeatedly refused to condemn homosexual acts as evil and instead strove for reconciliation for gays with the Roman Catholic Church.

    Nugent at first refused to talk about the decision, saying in a statement he accepted it with heavy heart. Last week, he agreed to an interview.

    Gramick has refused to talk about the decision, saying in a statement that she is ``anguished and deeply troubled'' at being barred from her ministry. She is taking a month's leave from her ministerial commitments to decide whether she will obey the Vatican.

    Nugent met Gramick in 1971, after reading about her work with gays and lesbians in Philadelphia. After receiving a letter of encouragement from Nugent, Gramick asked him to meet with some men who wanted to speak with a priest.

    ``What I found was people who loved the church very much. It was their family, their home,'' he said. ``But they felt like the church didn't want them. There was a great love-hate relationship.''

    They founded the New Ways Ministry in 1977 to ``promote justice and reconciliation of gays and lesbians.'' Their efforts led to seminars as well as books and pamphlets on homosexuality and the church.

    Their work also attracted scrutiny from the church hierarchy.

    In 1988, Nugent and Gramick were told their case was being investigated by a commission which forwarded its recommendations in 1994 to the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith. The panel sent several inquiries to Nugent and Gramick, probing their beliefs on homosexuality.

    The decision to ban their ministry was not made lightly, said Cardinal James A. Hickey, archbishop of Washington, D.C., the diocese where the independent New Ways Ministry is based.

    Hickey said earlier this month that Nugent and Gramick were ``given numerous opportunities over the past 20 years to clarify their beliefs and to assent to the church's full teaching on homosexuality.''

    While the church teaches that homosexual acts are evil, it also says that homosexuals should be treated with ``respect, compassion and sensitivity.''

    Nugent said he doesn't dissent from the core teachings on homosexuality, but with the church's language.

    ``I spent 25 years telling homosexuals that the church cares for you, that it wants you to have a part in it,'' Nugent said. ``How can I talk to them and convince them of that if I use language like evil, depravity and disorder?''

    Nugent said the church focuses too much on homosexuals' acts, rather than their spirituality. With the New Ways Ministry, Nugent and Gramick focused on gays and lesbians as Catholics first, and homosexuals second.

    The decision to obey the Vatican order was excruciating, but Nugent said the stakes were too high disobedience would have led to dismissal from the Catholic community.

    ``I've been a priest for almost 35 years,'' he said. ``I've been happy as a priest and I don't think I could give that up, it's such a part of me. It's who I am.''

    © 1999 The Associated Press

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