Sister Jeannine Gramick Has Not Been ‘Afraid of Closeness’ to Radical Causes

Sister Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, has a 50-year record of dissent from Church doctrine on homosexuality, women’s ordination and abortion.

Sister Jeannine Gramick and Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson attend the premiere of ‘Saint of 9/11’ during the 5th Annual Tribeca Film Festival at Pace University Center of the Arts April 27, 2006, in New York City.
Sister Jeannine Gramick and Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson attend the premiere of ‘Saint of 9/11’ during the 5th Annual Tribeca Film Festival at Pace University Center of the Arts April 27, 2006, in New York City. (photo: Peter Kramer / Getty Images for TFF)

When I first heard that Pope Francis had written a letter to Loretto Sister Jeannine Gramick praising her 50 years of ministry, I immediately thought it had to be a case of mistaken identity. Surely the Pope or his staff had confused her with any one of the thousands of Catholic sisters who have toiled for a half-century to teach and model the truths of the Catholic faith and who deserve such a letter.

After all, Sister Jeannine has spent the last 50 years challenging and defying Church authorities, and just last week told an interviewer, “Sometimes we have to go against what the leaders of our Church say.”

Indeed, that has been her record and mode of operation over the years, and it is a mystery how she has managed to remain a consecrated religious, given her public attacks on Church doctrine and her affiliation with radical organizations. Let us count some of the ways:

In 1977, Sister Jeannine and Salvatorian Father Robert Nugent founded New Ways Ministry to offer gay and lesbian people “messages of justice, acceptance, dialogue, and reconciliation.” After some complaints that their messages and writings called into question the Church’s teachings on homosexual acts and criticized Church documents, some bishops banned them from working in their dioceses.

In 1984, the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life ordered them to separate themselves completely from New Ways Ministry, and told them they must faithfully present the Church’s teaching on homosexual acts. The two gave up their leadership positions but continued their activities.

On Oct. 7, 1984, Respect Life Sunday, Sister Jeannine, then a School Sister of Notre Dame, joined 25 other religious sisters signing a New York Times display ad sponsored by Catholics for a Free Choice. That ad declared that “statements of recent popes and of the Catholic hierarchy” are not the only “legitimate Catholic position” on abortion.

After years of complaints about Sister Jeannine and Father Nugent, in 1988 the Holy See established a commission to evaluate their statements and writings to see if they were faithful to Church teaching. In 1994, the commission reported some positive aspects in their apostolate, but noted “serious deficiencies” that were “incompatible with the fullness of Christian morality.” The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) then got involved, and five years of back-and-forth correspondence ensued, with Sister Jeannine and Father Nugent being asked to “unequivocally” state their positions on the morality of homosexual acts. 

When the pair ultimately refused, in 1999 the CDF issued a notification, ordering them to discontinue completely their ministry. Father Nugent complied, but Sister Jeannine publicly stated that she chose “not to collaborate” in her own “oppression.” 

When her School Sisters of Notre Dame superior told her she could not remain in the order if she defied the CDF’s requirement, she transferred to the Sisters of Loretto in 2001, and after some quiet time at the Kentucky motherhouse, she was soon back in Maryland and re-associated with New Ways Ministry.

A longtime board member of the National Coalition of American Nuns (NCAN), Sister Jeannine became its national coordinator in 2003. The NCAN is made up of a handful of sisters and laity of various or no faiths, and has promoted abortion, women’s ordination and gay marriage since its founding in 1969. Sister Jeannine also was a board member of the now-defunct Women’s Ordination Conference.

In Good Conscience, a documentary film released in 2004 featured Sister Jeannine as she supposedly “seeks some answers in high places [the Vatican] about her silencing or blacklisting,” according to the film’s promotion. But alas, “She never gets her day in court.” Apparently, she considered her five-year correspondence with the CDF to be an inadequate hearing.

In 2012 Sister Jeannine co-wrote a piece in The Washington Post titled “A Catholic case for same-sex marriage.” And she told MSNBC that same year that “we women come from a different conception of ‘Church’ from the Vatican.” About this time, she also started wearing a veil, which seemed to be a prop for her media appearances promoting same-sex marriage.

As national coordinator for NCAN, she signed onto a May 14, 2014, letter to President Barack Obama urging him to allow federal funds to pay for abortions overseas. And in 2016, Sister Jeannine criticized the Pope’s apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love) as “bland” and showing “no understanding of gender identity.”

In a March 21, 2021, op-ed, she urged the Supreme Court to rule against Catholic agencies that refuse to place children in same-sex homes. And a simple search on the New Ways Ministry website provides more examples of Sister Jeannine’s shameful record.

The only reasonable conclusion that can be drawn from the Pope’s perfunctory 50-year anniversary note to Sister Jeannine is that the staffers who handle his voluminous correspondence apparently failed to do their homework and inform the Holy Father just who this person is.

The unfortunate result is that Sister Jeannine and her cohorts are now gleefully celebrating what they claim is the Pope’s endorsement of her radical agenda.

The opening of the Amazon synod at the Vatican's Synod Hall,  Oct. 7, 2019.

Synod of Bishops Removes Resource Page Link to New Ways Ministry

In 2010, Cardinal Francis George, then president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, issued a statement emphasizing that New Ways Ministry “has no approval or recognition from the Catholic Church and that they cannot speak on behalf of the Catholic faithful in the United States.”