Sr. Jeannine Gramick’s visit to Colby College in Waterville, Maine, last week, prompted criticism from the school’s Catholic chaplain and a larger conversation on LGBT justice for the campus.
According to the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, Sr. Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry and a longtime Catholic advocate for LGBT peopel, was keynoting a weeklong Pride celebration on campus by talking about “Signs of Hope for LGBT Ministry” in an event co-sponsored by student organizations, interfaith groups, and the Religious Studies department. Yet, Colby’s Newman Center chaplain had a negative reaction to the visit. Julianna Haubner, co-editor of campus’ newspaper The Colby Echo, reported what happened when she attended Easter Sunday Mass at the Newman Center:
“It was a lovely way to spend an afternoon. Until, that is, the last three minutes of the service, when the campus minster and priest announced that this week was Pride Week, and that Sister Jeannine Gramick, a controversial figure, was slated to be the Keynote speaker. They reminded us that Sister Gramick did not speak for the Church, and that if we wanted to hear about the Catholic perspective on ‘same-sex attraction,’ we could meet in the Pugh Center for an event with the Newman Council; I find it only mildly ironic that this was said immediately after another announcement that thanked students for coming, and informed them that the campus ministry was always available for support and guidance in our individual spiritual journeys and relationships with God. A couple of students looked around with discomfort. Another walked out. All I could think was: you were so close. So close to having one Mass that didn’t get political. But, there it was, and here I am.”
In the campus newspaper essay, Haubner, who identifies as an active Catholic, believes the campus minister’s negative comments will alienate students, an experience she herself had:
“I was not taught to discriminate, neither by my parents nor by the people in my congregation…I have a really hard time believing that someone who went up on a cross for three days to suffer and die for us would be okay with someone standing in his name, denouncing others who may have come to pay tribute to that sacrifice. But that’s just me…
“For a split second this Sunday, I thought that even after an hour of praying, singing and receiving communion, I didn’t belong in that chapel because I didn’t agree with one statement that lasted less than a minute. And when I got home, what did I tell my roommates—and later my parents? Not about the nice feeling of being back in church, of having a friend come with me, or of finally feeling connected again to the faith I’ve been raised in; I bitched for 10 minutes about how they had been so close, and blew it.”
Haubner is also concerned that Colby community members are being given a false impression of most Catholics as anti-gay. She cites anti-Catholic Church comments on the campus’ electronic discussion board as evidence of this impression. Haubner asked Colby students to separate how they view other Catholics, or even the Church, from ther comments of campus minister Joshua Houde and chaplain Fr. Paul Marquis.
Haubner was not the only voice joining an emerging conversation at Colby after Sr. Gramick’s visit. In a letter included in the campus’ daily opinion email digest, one student wrote about merging Catholic and gay identities:
“Ever since coming out, I have had a lot of trouble being part of a religion that has spent so much time and money lobbying against my right to love. Despite such internal conflict, I decided to attend Easter Day service at the chapel…before the end of service, both of you, Joshua Houde and Fr. Paul Marquis, decided to take some time to tell everyone not to go to the upcoming pride week keynote speaker, Sister Jeannine Gramick.“I wish I could repeat exactly what was said, but I was filled with such rage and profound hurt that I could barely control myself while walking out…Fr. Marquis reminding us that the church has ‘forbidden’ Sister Jeannine from speaking publicly regarding Catholicism. Forbidden. Silenced. Censored. Simply because she is talking about something the church lectures on weekly: love…I am struggling to understand why you use your positions of power to openly tell an audience of students, professors, and community members not to attend a lecture simply because it conflicts with your own perception of our religion. Acceptance and inclusion are core values of the church, and the longer you hold out against accepting this, the harder it will be for me and many others to regain respect for our church.”