By PAUL LIKOUDIS
Fr. Robert Nugent, SDS, an influential priest who did more to bring about widespread acceptance of the homosexual agenda in the U.S. Church and broader society, as co-founder of New Ways Ministry in 1977, with Sr. Jeannine Gramick, SSND, died January 1 at a hospice in Milwaukee. He was 76. Fr. Nugent had been suffering from cancer.
For more than 25 years, Nugent and Gramick campaigned across the country, in dioceses and numerous Catholic venues, including seminaries, convents, universities, colleges, chanceries and pastoral centers, conferences and congresses, in an effort to change the beliefs and attitudes of Catholics toward homosexual behavior and relationships.
A key component of this agenda was language manipulation, and convincing Catholics that “homophobia” was the great sin in society and especially in the Catholic Church. “Homophobia” needed to be extirpated with the greatest vigor and dedication, according to Nugent.
A major milestone in Fr. Nugent’s career as a change agent and social revolutionary was his role in helping to produce the U.S. bishops’ 1997 “pastoral letter” Always Our Children, along with the assistance of other known dissidents. This was at a time when Nugent was embroiled in a decades-long investigation by the Holy See over his dissident militancy on behalf of the homosexualist agenda.
Earlier that year, in March, New Ways Ministry celebrated its 20th anniversary with a conference in Pittsburgh, at which then-Bishop Matthew Clark of Rochester spoke and presided at the liturgy. Detroit Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton called the failure of homosexual priests to “come out” a “loss” to the Church.
That Catholic attitudes toward homosexuality have shifted in 30 years from disapproval to acceptance to support, as documented by numerous polls and surveys — as well as by state legislatures — is a testimony to Nugent’s success in subverting the Church teaching in the minds of Catholic leaders and laity, and through them reaching the wider society.
As Fr. Enrique Rueda explained in his 1982 study, The Homosexual Network, New Ways Ministry (NWM), “is the dream of the homosexual movement come true . . . situated at the doors of the nation’s capital . . . with easy access to the highest concentration of seminaries and religious houses in the United States. The group specializes in publishing pro-homosexual literature with a Catholic flavor, lobbying for pro-homosexual legislation, holding educational and religious meetings for homosexuals and their sympathizers, and generally promoting the movement’s ideology.
“One of the group’s most important activities is serving as a center for a very extensive network of homosexual and pro-homosexual activists within the Church. . . .
“NWM,” Rueda continued, “describes itself as ‘an organization founded in 1977 to serve as a bridge between gay and non-gay groups…which has provided educational programs, resources, and consultation services for a wide variety of dioceses, seminaries, colleges, religious orders, universities, peace and justice groups, and has published documents from Holland and England.’ The pro-homosexual character of this organization is apparent to anyone reading its materials.”
“It is impossible,” Rueda wrote, “to examine the homosexual movement within the Roman Catholic Church without taking NWM into consideration, but the status of the organization within the Church is far from clear. In June 1979” — two years after NWM was founded by Nugent and Gramick — “R. Adam DeBaugh reported that Fr. Nugent’s faculties to exercise the ministry had been suspended and that he was under canonical discipline on account of his outspokenness within the homosexual movement. . . .
“Fr. Nugent does not have faculties in the Archdiocese of Washington, where he resides and where New Ways Ministry is located. Church authorities in Washington have circulated a letter clarifying that, in spite of its name and purported religious affiliation, New Ways Ministry has no official status as a Church organization.”
Those facts notwithstanding, and despite a 1981 letter from Washington’s Archbishop James Hickey to all his fellow U.S. bishops that New Ways Ministry’s position on homosexuality was unacceptable for Catholics, Nugent and Gramick and New Ways Ministry had the loyal, open support of at least 19 bishops, and conducted their seminars and other programs in over 100 U.S. dioceses with apparent episcopal approval.
A Lifetime Of Activism
The future Salvatorian priest was born on July 31, 1937 and educated in Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. He was ordained for that archdiocese on May 22, 1965. But within five years he was without a parish assignment. John Cardinal Krol gave Nugent the boot after Nugent testified in favor of a city council “gay rights” bill, and Nugent decided to join the Society of the Divine Savior (SDS), professing his vows in June 1977.
Even before he professed his vows, Nugent was present at the founding of the Quixote Center, a hard-left, pro-Marxist, pro-homosexual, pro-abortion Catholic organization founded by Jesuit William R. Callahan, Dolores “Dolly” Pomerleau, and Eileen Olsen. A year later, the Quixote Center gave birth to New Ways Ministry, which, in turn, gave birth to the Catholic Coalition for Gay and Civil Rights, which was supported by 150 organizations, including 606 Catholic priests, 747 Catholic nuns, and 50 Catholic religious orders.
Such was Nugent’s reputation for pro-homosexual activism that within years of founding New Ways Ministry, his “apostolate” was banned from the Archdioceses of Washington, Chicago, Boston, Newark, and New York. In 1983, at the prompting of Archbishop (later Cardinal) Hickey of Washington, the Holy See initiated its first investigation of Gramick and Nugent, under the auspices of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and for Societies of Apostolic Life.
After a nearly five-year investigation, the congregation established a new, three-member commission, at the prompting of the apostolic nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Pio Laghi, led by Bishop (later Cardinal) Adam Maida of Green Bay, to investigate New Ways.
From 1988 to 1994, as the Maida commission investigated New Ways Ministry publications and carried on an extensive dialogue with Nugent and Gramick, the pair continued publishing and carrying on an extensive series of “homosexual road shows” in dioceses across the country, in defiance of an order from the Holy See that the pair cease all public speaking engagements, well documented at the time in the pages of The Wanderer.
In October 1994, the Maida commission released its report, praising the duo for their “courage and zeal,” but criticizing them for presenting doctrinally deficient or erroneous positions. In January 1994, Nugent and Gramick submitted letters from 19 U.S. bishops to the commission stating their support and objecting to their “inquisition.”
In 1996, the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life decided to turn the case over to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, headed by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, the future Benedict XVI, to examine doctrinal issues involved.
Finally, in May 1999, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) released a “notification” regarding Gramick and Nugent, issued with the approval of Pope John Paul II.
The notification detailed the history of New Ways Ministry and its conflicts with Archbishop Hickey, and the defiance of Gramick and Nugent.
“From the beginning, in presenting the Church’s teaching on homosexuality, Fr. Nugent and Sr. Gramick have continually called central elements of that teaching into question. For this reason, in 1984, James Cardinal Hickey, the Archbishop of Washington, following the failure of a number of attempts at clarification, informed them that they could no longer undertake their activities in that Archdiocese.
“At the same time, the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and for Societies of Apostolic Life ordered them to separate themselves totally and completely from New Ways Ministry, adding that they were not to exercise any apostolate without faithfully presenting the Church’s teaching regarding the intrinsic evil of homosexual acts.
“Despite this action by the Holy See, Fr. Nugent and Sr. Gramick continued their involvement in activities organized by New Ways Ministry, though removing themselves from leadership positions. They also continued to maintain and promote ambiguous positions on homosexuality and explicitly criticized documents of the Church’s Magisterium on this issue.
“Because of their statements and activities, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and for Societies of Apostolic Life received numerous complaints and urgent requests for clarification from Bishops and others in the United States of America. It was clear that the activities of Sr. Gramick and Fr. Nugent were causing difficulties in not a few Dioceses and that they were continuing to present the teaching of the Church as one possible option among others and as open to fundamental change. . . .
“Given the failure of the repeated attempts of the Church’s legitimate authorities to resolve the problems presented by the writings and pastoral activities of the two authors, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is obliged to declare for the good of the Catholic faithful that the positions advanced by Sr. Jeannine Gramick and Fr. Robert Nugent regarding the intrinsic evil of homosexual acts and the objective disorder of the homosexual inclination are doctrinally unacceptable because they do not faithfully convey the clear and constant teaching of the Catholic Church in this area.”
Despite the notification’s emphatic statement that Gramick and Nugent “are permanently prohibited from any pastoral work involving homosexual persons and are ineligible, for an undetermined period, for any office in their respective religious institutes,” the pair continued their public tours across the country, speaking against the CDF’s ban on their activities.
On May 24, 2000, Nugent formally accepted the Holy See’s request that he refrain from all “pastoral initiatives” regarding homosexuals. Gramick did not; and to avoid censure from her religious superiors in the School Sisters of Notre Dame, she joined the Denver-based Sisters of Loretto.
Francis DeBernardo, the executive director of New Ways Ministry, eulogized Fr. Nugent in a statement released after his death.
“When few priests would do more than whisper about homosexuality, Fr. Nugent was meeting with lesbian and gay people and encouraging them to claim their rightful place in the Catholic Church. During a time of intense homophobia in both Church and society, he exhibited uncommon courage and foresight in welcoming and affirming the goodness of God’s lesbian and gay children.”
“It is impossible to overestimate the impact and value of Fr. Nugent’s lesbian and gay ministry,” DeBernardo added. “He educated a generation of pastoral leaders who began to put into practice the inclusive ideals that he taught. A tireless researcher and writer, he produced a number of important works on pastoral care that helped to shape the movement in Catholicism of gay-friendly parishes.”
On the other hand, the career of Fr. Nugent exemplifies the radical moral corruption in the U.S. Church over a decades-long period, when rebellion against the Holy See and the Magisterium was a ticket to worldly success.
Pray for his soul.