New Oral History Project Collects LGBTQ+ and Ally Catholics’ Stories

An oral history project gathering the stories of queer Catholics is underway at the Center for LGBTQ & Gender Studies in Religion at the Pacific School of Religion, California. Launched in July 2022, the project includes an interview with New Ways Ministry’s co-founder, Sister Jeannine Gramick.

The project is directed by Emma Cieslik, a queer woman brought up Catholic. According to the project’s website, she is an oral historian interested in the intersection of religion, gender, and sexuality, “with a passion for activist-oriented public history.”

Queer and Catholic: A CLGS Oral History Project gathers the stories of LGBTQIA+ individuals who are current or former Catholics, LGBTQ vowed religious, and culturally Catholic people.

Emma Cieslik

The project’s homepage states that while queer Catholics have existed for as long as the religion has, belonging to a tradition that does not bless same-sex unions or affirm transgender and nonbinary identities can cause crises of faith. “Now is an especially critical time to record the stories of Catholic LGBTQIA+ individuals, including advocates, activists, and allies, both lay and religious, for future researchers and to increase representation,” the homepage states.

As evidence of the importance of Catholic LGBTQ+ advocacy, the homepage notes that despite official church teaching, the majority of U.S. Catholics support marriage equality, and an even larger share, 76%, says society should be accepting of gay and lesbian people. Statistics like this are part of what drove Cieslik to create the oral history project.

Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, is quoted to explain Catholic support. In a 2021 interview, DeBernardo said, “Catholic people recognize the holiness of the love between committed same-sex couples and recognize this love as divinely inspired and divinely supported.”

The oral history project’s description explains that given this increased recognition of the diversity of Catholics, now is the time to record the stories of LGBTQ+ Catholics:

“Given this recent push, especially in the last fifty years, it is important to document LGBTQIA+ individuals who identified and continue to identify in the Catholic Church and catholic religious communities both in the past and present. Not only will this establish a historical record for future researchers to study how current LGBTQ+ individuals identify, but it will also serve to affirm the existence and uplift and celebrate representation of LGBTQIA+ individuals in catholic communities in the U.S. and abroad.”

The oral histories, including the interview with Sister Jeannine, are available on the project’s website, with more histories coming soon.

Grace Doerfler (she/her), New Ways Ministry, October 31, 2023

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