News broke yesterday that Pope Francis has been in correspondence with New Ways Ministry this past year, thanking the group for its work and affirming its co-founder.
According to the National Catholic Reporter:
“In two letters to New Ways Ministry this year, Pope Francis commended the organization for its outreach to the LGBTQ community and referred to one of its co-founders, Loretto Sr. Jeannine Gramick, as ‘a valiant woman’ who had suffered much for her ministry.
“Written in Spanish on official Vatican stationary, Francis’ letters mention that the pope is aware that New Ways Ministry’s ‘history has not been an easy one,’ but that loving one’s neighbor is still the second commandment, tied ‘necessarily’ to the first commandment to love God.
“‘Thank you for your neighborly work,’ Francis wrote in a June 17 letter addressed to Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, which is based in Mount. Rainier, Maryland.”
In a previous letter on May 3, Pope Francis replied to DeBernardo, saying, “”It helped me a lot to know the full story you tell me” about New Ways Ministry’s history. The pope added, “Sometimes we receive partial information about people and organizations, and this doesn’t help. Your letter, as it narrates with objectivity its history, gives me light to better understand certain situations.”
Commenting on the work of Sister Jeannine Gramick, the organization’s co-founder who once faced Vatican censure, Francis commented, “I know how much she has suffered. . .She is a valiant woman who makes her decisions in prayer.”
The correspondence became public the same week that a New Ways Ministry webinar about the Synod on Synodality was posted and subsequently removed from a Vatican website. The removal was reportedly prompted by an intervention from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
That removal by church officials is what lead New Ways Ministry to share its correspondence. DeBernardo said doing so was a “big mistake” on the part of church officials because “having our video up there was a way of showing that the Vatican was serious about reaching out to marginalized people, LGBTQ people in particular.” He told NCR further:
“‘We weren’t planning on making the [pope’s] correspondence public, but given this situation, it’s important for people to know. We do believe [Francis] wants LGBTQ people speaking, and we think it’d be helpful for him and helpful for his message and his invitation of inclusion, that people know that he has been corresponding with us.'”
Fr. James Martin, S.J., who initially posted about the New Ways Ministry webinar video appearing on an official church website, said:
“‘The Holy Father’s warm letter to New Ways Ministry is not only another step in his outreach to LGBTQ people, but the beginning of a kind of rehabilitation for New Ways, and for [New Ways cofounder] Sister Jeannine [Gramick] as well, in recognition of their important ministry in our church. . .There is no Vatican Dicastery for LGBTQ People or USCCB Office for LGBTQ People, so official channels are more or less nonexistent.'”
But, bolstered by the correspondence with Pope Francis, New Ways Ministry is undeterred from encouraging LGBTQ and ally Catholics from participating in the synodal process. DeBernardo explained:
“‘Despite what some church leaders might say or think of us, it appears that Pope Francis is happy that we’re reaching out and helping to bring LGBTQ people into the church, and helping those who are here to stay. . .
“‘We at New Ways Ministry have made a commitment to promote the synod experience, and we’re going to continue to do so, but it just makes our work, which we believe is in service to the pope’s mission, that much harder to do.'”
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, December 9, 2021