Non-pastoral care for gay Catholics

The Catholic Web has been buzzing this week because of what seems to be a unprovoked attack by Cardinal Francis George of Chicago against Maryland-based New Ways Ministry, which tries to help gay and lesbian Catholics and their families "build bridges" with the church.

The National Catholic Reporter has a good summary of George's statement and the response of New Ways Ministry director Frank DeBernardo, but I've got another question altogether.

As apparently yet another door is being slammed in the face of gay Catholics who remain engaged in a conversation with Catholic church leaders, I can’t help but ask: Just what have the U.S. bishops done to take care of gay Catholics and their families? My answer: Next to nothing. In fact, the bishops have had nothing but harsh words for gay Catholics and their families in recent years, opposing even the most basic civil protections for their families and relationships. Can they offer any pastoral care at all, other than condemnation? There are many gay and lesbian people who are Catholic after all, many of whom are struggling.

George says in his statement that "New Ways Ministry has no approval or recognition from the Catholic Church and … cannot speak on behalf of the Catholic faithful in the United States." The first part may be true; but as for the second, I think New Ways speaks for many Catholics in finding the church's approach to the issue of homosexuality to be unnecessarily punitive. As I argued in my January column, many Catholics struggle with the divergence between Catholic teaching and their own experience of gays and lesbians and their families. Can there be no conversation on this matter?

New Ways Ministry has sought that conversation in charity, and it hasn't been easy to walk the tightrope, as they discovered when their founders Sister Jeanine Gramick and Father Robert Nugent were forbidden by the Vatican in 1999 from ministry with gay and lesbian people. New Ways may not be an "official" Catholic ministry, but I find its efforts at reconciliation to reflect the best of our Catholic moral and spiritual tradition.