Notice
 

ASSOCIATION FOR THE RIGHTS OF CATHOLICS IN THE CHURCH

Statements of Fr. Robert Nugent, S.D.S.

 


 
Personal comment:  I have rarely been more appalled than at the Vatican censure of of Father Bob Nugent and Sister Jeannine Gramick for doing precisely what as Catholics we are called to do: bring God's love into the world by ministering to those in need and subject to persecution. This step aligns the institutional leadership of the Church with the kind of homophobia that rewards discriminating against our homosexual brothers and sisters and lays the foundation for irrational hatred and deadly attacks.  By submitting to Roman power Father Nugent joins Marie Joseph Lagrange, John Courtney Murray, Teilhard de Chardin, Tissa Balasuriya, Bernard Häring, and all the other victims of the index-librorum-prohibitorum mentality who are martyrs to Vatican intransigence and precisely in their submission to injustice give testimony to the enormity of that injustice. This is the way of Gandhi, of satyagraha, of suffering, so the light of truth can shine ever brighter and the forces of this latter day inquisition can be fully exposed. 

Ingrid Shafer


 

Rome 
July 14, 1999 
(revised 7/15/99) 

The primary focus of my educational and pastoral ministry to Catholic homosexual people, their parents and families since 1971 has been the promotion of justice and reconciliation in Church and society through research, writing, lectures, workshops, seminars, retreats and counseling. This ministry has always been based on authentic teachings of the Church and traditional theological and pastoral principles. I have utilized documents from Vatican and other magisterial sources as the basis for my writings and lectures. Most bishops have permitted my programs to be held in Catholic facilities in their dioceses. Some bishops have either sponsored or attended my programs.. Very few have disallowed the use of diocesan facilities. Complaints about my ministry came from a few influential ecclesiastics and organized opposition by reactionary Catholic groups and individuals.  I am trained in the theological disciplines, I am primarily a pastoral minister, not a professional theologian. 

Since 1977 I have co-operated respectfully and fully in five major studies of my ministry at various ecclesiastical levels. These have included: three internal studies undertaken by my Religious Congregation between 1977 and 1985 at the request of the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and Secular Institutes (CICL); one public study by the Maida Commission appointed by the CICL in 1988 which was mandated to "render a judgment as to the clarity and orthodoxy of the public presentations with respect to the Church's teaching on homosexuality;” and the separate 1998 study undertaken by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) which resulted in an extensive contestatio of criticisms and questions. The most serious charge raised about my pastoral ministry during the entire twenty-five years has been a perception by some of “ambiguity.” 

From 1988 to 1994 the Maida Commission examined the methodology and certain expressions in Building Bridges (1992) in a lengthy and detailed study involving extensive written communications and three day-long meetings with the Commission in Detroit.  From the very beginning I felt the make up of the Commission lacked a balanced and broad representation of theological views on the topic and academic theological expertise in the field of homosexuality. I urged the implementation of Doctrinal Responsibilities (1989) which says that experts “should be knowledgeable about the matter under discussion, should be representative of the variety of views within Catholic tradition” and that they should be “professional theologians or persons versed in pastoral ministry”.  Despite the fact that the Commission lacked certain  fundamental  requirements for basic fairness and that my requests to the CICL to enlarge and balance the Commission with members suggested by the SSND and the SDS failed, I co-operated fully with each stage of that investigative process and each request made by the Commission or the CICL  When the complete texts of certain official documents pertaining to the acta of the case and the mandate of the Commission were withheld from my canonical consultant, putting me at a great disadvantage, I continued to cooperate.  I also expressed concern about outside influence on the Commission because of a copy of a letter given to me by a bishop that a highly-placed U.S. ecclesiastic has asked the Commission to bring the case to a “swift and final conclusion.” Despite these troubling elements, however, I responded fully and truthfully to the written and oral questions and comments of the Commission about any expressions that were considered questionable. I carefully explained and clarified both orally and in writing, each problematic statement so as to indicate clearly what I actually meant or intended to convey.  My collaboration with the Maida Commission required great amounts of time and energy for personal prayer, serious reflection and study, as well as extensive consultation with bishops, theologians and canon lawyers. In October 1994, the 12-page final report of the Maida Commission, though not its recommendations to the Vatican, was given to me.  In January 1995, my colleague, Sr. Jeannine Gramick, SSND, and I responded jointly to the Commission's findings. In December 1995 I was requested, through the Maida Commission, to answer three additional questions posed to me by the CICL.  In February 1996, I sent my response to those three questions. 

In 1996 I learned that the case had been transferred from the jurisdiction of CICL to the CDF and another examination had been undertaken by the CDF which included an examination of Voices of Hope, a collection of positive Catholic statements on homosexuality, including official documents, published in 1995.  In December 1997, my Religious Superiors informed me that the CDF study had found "erroneous" and "dangerous" views in Building Bridges and Voices of Hope. These were communicated to me by the CDF in a formal and technical contestatio. I was asked to respond to it personally and independently.  I gave the contents of this unsigned 6-page document serious attention and my wholehearted co-operation in the hope of finally bringing this case to a positive and fruitful conclusion. In this spirit I undertook another exhaustive project of formulating a lengthy and detailed response to the contestatio as requested. I explicitly clarified and corrected, in accordance with Church teachings, each of those views judged as “dangerous” or “erroneous.” Furthermore, I stated that I accepted and respected the teachings of the Church on homosexuality as contained in Church documents and rejected any contrary views. I carefully sought, once more, to explain my pastoral and educational views as clearly as possible because of the misunderstandings that had arisen. I acknowledged that these problems arose from a lack of precision or clarity in my expressions or an imbalance in my methodology. I also acknowledged that these had caused misunderstandings in certain quarters. I expressed my personal regret for that situation. I responded within the canonical period of two months as mandated by the CDF. Throughout each of these studies and processes, I maintained strict confidentiality as requested by the Roman Congregations and my Religious superiors. 

In June 1998 I was informed that the corrections, retractions and apology I had made in responding to the charges of the contestatio were not acceptable to the CDF, though no specifics were provided. Consequently, I was asked within one month, to formulate a declaration of personal assent to church teaching on homosexuality, acknowledge my responsibility for any errors contained in my books and ask pardon. In response, I traveled to Rome and made the following written declaration dated 6 August 1998: 

     "I have never deliberately denied or placed in doubt any Catholic teaching which requires the assent of theological faith. I have never publicly rejected or opposed any proposition that is to be held definitively. I have never been charged with public dissent from magisterial teaching. Certain propositions in my public writings on pastoral issues of homosexuality have been qualified as 'erroneous' and 'dangerous.' As such, these propositions are contrary to certain doctrines of the authentic magisterium that require religious submission of will and intellect ('Commentary on Profession of Faith's Concluding Paragraphs,' No. 10). I take full responsibility for any failure in my writings. I regret any harm that might have come and I ask pardon. I accept the doctrine contained in Persona humana (1975), Homosexualitatis problema (1986), and the Catechism of the Catholic Church  (1994) and the adherence which is due to it."
On 22 December 1998 I received from the CDF, through my Superior General, a Profession of Faith which I was requested to sign and return within two weeks. I was informed by my Superior General that,  although the CDF had found “various positive elements” in my declaration of 6 August 1998, some “ambiguity” remained because it did not express with the necessary clarity my “internal adherence to the various aspects of the teaching of the Church on homosexuality.” The Profession of Faith contained six paragraphs of Church doctrine on homosexuality arranged in accordance with the three levels of Church teachings outlined in Ad Tuendam Fidem. I was requested to sign the Profession of Faith before the Congregation proceeded  “to the definitive determination for the disciplinary measures.” The goal of the entire exercise, it appeared to me, had shifted gradually but methodically from a determination of the orthodoxy of my public presentations on homosexuality which was the stated object of the Maida Commission to an examination of my interior, personal assent.   I believe that at the conclusion of the ten-year process no compelling evidence has been forthcoming to substantiate any charge of public, persistent dissent from any level of Church teaching on homosexuality which would merit such a severe punishment. Having found no serious objections in my public presentations which were not clarified and corrected in my response to the contestatio, the primary goal had now become an attempt, through a uniquely crafted Profession of Faith, to elicit my internal adherence to the intrinsic evil of homosexual acts, a second-level, definitive doctrine considered infallible by a non-defining act of the ordinary and universal magisterium. Since I was concluding a six-month pastoral sabbatical in England and unable to utilize important resources or consult with trusted advisors in formulating my response, my Superior General informed the CDF that my response would be forthcoming by the end of January 1999. 

After weeks of intense consultation with theologians and canon lawyers, I forwarded to the CDF, through my Superior General, a signed RESPONSE TO A PROFESSION OF FAITH SUBMITTED TO ME BY THE CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH, dated 25 January 1999, the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul.  In a cover letter to the CDF’s Secretary, Archbishop Tarcisio  Bertone, I explained my concerns about the technical theological language of the Profession of Faith which I was asked to sign and the impact of this document on the pastoral life of the Church in English-speaking countries. I made several emendations to the original text employing terminology of the US bishops in their teaching on the morality of homosexual acts. The changes in language that I suggested preserved the integral teaching of the Church as contained in the original Profession of Faith. My emendations avoided the more technical theological language of “evil” and “disorder” that would be heard by many as pastorally insensitive and a cause of further pain and alienation for homosexual Catholics and their families with whom I have ministered for twenty-five years. My alternate text maintained respect for the intent and purpose of the original text while expressing pastoral sensitivity. In doing so I felt I was applying the teaching of the Pontifical Council for the Family in the 1996 document, The Truth and Meaning of Homosexuality, which says that young people should be helped to distinguish between “subjective guilt and objective disorder, avoiding what would arouse hostility (emphases added).” 

Although the Profession of Faith was not, in itself, a pastoral document, the potential for its becoming public and its serious pastoral implications caused me great personal concern.  I felt, for example, that some technical terms such as  "intrinsically evil" were not essential for maintaining the authenticity or integrity of Church doctrine on human sexuality, marriage and homosexual acts. Therefore, I proposed, for pastoral reasons, the use of the alternative but theologically sound "objectively immoral."  This wording, found in such episcopal documents as To Live in Christ Jesus (1976), Human Sexuality (1990) and Always Our Children (1997), is fully consonant with magisterial teaching on homosexuality.  My ministry of over 25 years has always included attempts to: foster accurate but balanced and pastorally sensitive theological language in speaking and writing publicly about homosexuality; appreciate and utilize contemporary insights from the human sciences about sexual orientation; and embody the Church's expressed commitment to receive homosexual people with "respect, compassion and sensitivity (Catechism of the Catholic Church)". 

My Profession of Faith included two additional paragraphs. One referred to contemporary theological discussions about the practical difficulties and precise criteria involved in determining whether a particular teaching has, in fact, been taught infallibly by a non-defining act of the universal and ordinary magisterium. I also referenced canon 749.3. which states that no teaching can be considered infallible unless it is explicitly declared to be so.  I acknowledged the authoritative and binding nature of magisterial teachings on homosexuality and promised to continue prayer, study and ongoing communication with the Apostolic See on these matters. 

I also indicated that I was signing the text in the spirit of the 1999 year of forgiveness and reconciliation in preparation for the millennium and with the intent of bringing the ten-year investigation of my ministry to a public and official closure.  I expressed my expectation that my pastoral ministry with homosexual Catholics and their families would continue in accordance with the teachings subscribed to in my response to the Profession of Faith. 

On July 1, 1999 my Superior General informed me that the CDF had reached a final decision. I was asked to come to Rome to meet with him on 9 July to receive the decision. On 9 July 1999 I was given a written explanation as to why the CDF rejected my signed Profession of Faith as inadequate. My changes were said to "obscure" the meaning of the text and that, "even for pastoral motives,” certain terms could not be replaced with far less clear terminology. By expressing my concerns about the difficulties in the process of determining infallible teaching on homosexuality by a non-defining act of the universal and ordinary magisterium, I was said to "call into question" the definitive status of such doctrines and imply that the status of such doctrine is "open to debate."  Although  the doctrine on the “intrinsic evil” of homosexual acts belongs to the second level of definitive, infallible doctrines, the teaching on the “objective disorder” of the homosexual orientation relates to the non-infallible, third level teaching requiring obsequium religiosum which I had already given in my declaration of 6 August 1998. On 14 July 1999 an official notification of the CDF's decision was published in the L'Osservatore Romano stating that I was permanently prohibited from any pastoral ministry with homosexual people. 

As a son of the Church, a presbyter and a member of a Religious Congregation with a vow of obedience I accepted the decision of the CDF and expressed my intention to implement it accordingly. I am grateful for the prayers and personal support of my Religious Superiors and confreres in the Society of the Divine Savior and for their leadership, courage and vision. I have been blessed with the friendship of so many gay and lesbian Catholics and their parents and families who have affirmed and supported my ministry both before and during this protracted and painful process. I continue to pray, hope and believe that, ultimately, my decision will be for the greater good of the Church and for the people to whom I have been privileged to minister to with much joy for so many years. 

Rev. Robert Nugent, S.D.S. 
637 Dover Street 
Baltimore, Maryland 21230 
cnew292@aol.com

This revised version of Father Nugent's statement will be published in Origins and was sent to ARCC by Father Nugent. 
 

Response to the Vatican's May 23, 2000, silencing order.

May 24, 2000

ROME -- On May 23, 2000, I met with my religious superiors in Rome. I was informed that certain of my public academic and pastoral activities subsequent to the July 14, 1999, Notification from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) permanently prohibiting me from pastoral initiatives with homosexual persons and their families were seen by ecclesiastical authorities as lacking the proper attitude required of a member of a religious congregation toward such a directive. I undertook those activities in good faith and in accordance with what I then believed to be a reasonably correct interpretation of the CDF's July directive. As the result of a recent official clarification of the Notification by the CDF and the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, however, I am now prohibited from speaking or writing in the public forum about the Notification itself, about the ecclesiastical processes that led to it or about the issue of homosexuality. 

Rev. Robert J. Nugent, SDS

 

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Posted 14 July1999
Last updated 2 June 2000
Copyright © 1999-2000 Ingrid H. Shafer