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VATICAN CITY (LifeSiteNews) – Pope Francis has written to pro-LGBT New Ways Ministry, praising and thanking the group and its founders, despite its long-standing opposition to Church teaching on matters of sexual morality and consequent censorship by Church authorities. 

On December 8, the National Catholic Reporter (NCR) revealed that Pope Francis wrote two letters to the group’s executive director, Francis DeBernardo, on May 3 and June 17. The NCR stated that the letters were on official “Vatican stationary,” and written in Spanish. 

The first letter, dated May 3, was in response to an April 21 letter DeBernardo had written to the Pope, explaining the nature of the pro-homosexual New Ways Ministry (NWM). The organization claims it “educates and advocates for justice and equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) Catholics, and reconciliation within the larger church and civil communities.” 

According to NCR, Francis wrote of a discernible “attitude of shepherd closeness” in NWM, saying that DeBernardo’s letter had “helped me a lot to know the full story you tell me.”  

“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.” 

The second letter from the Pope to DeBernardo – a long-time advocate of homosexuality,  and a 29-year veteran with New Ways Ministry – again praised the NWM head while also honoring NWM’s co-founder Sr. Jeannine Gramick. 

“Thank you for your neighborly work…[your] heart, open to your neighbor,” wrote the Pope, before praising Gramick, who has a long history of dissenting from Catholic teaching on homosexuality and abortion 

“I know how much she has suffered,” the pontiff continued.  

“She is a valiant woman who makes her decisions in prayer.” 

The two letters earned the praise of prominent pro-LGBT Jesuit priest, Father James Martin, who welcomed the letters’ message.  

“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 Sister Jeannine as well, in recognition of their important ministry in our church,” Martin told the NCR.  

Papal letters revealed in political move against Secretariat for Synod of Bishops 

Speaking to the NCR, DeBernardo explained that the communications with the Pontiff had been revealed only now as a strategic move to defend New Ways Ministry, after the Vatican’s General Secretariat for the Synod of Bishops removed a New Ways Ministry video from the list of resources provided for the multi-year Synod on Synodality 

The video was reportedly removed after officials at the Secretariat learned of the group’s condemnation by USCCB president Cardinal Francis George in 2010. 

Following the removal of the video, DeBernardo publicized the papal letters. 

“Given this situation, it’s important for people to know,” he said.  

“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.” 

“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,” DeBernardo added.  

The Secretariat “made a big mistake,” he said. 

Martin, who had previously welcomed the inclusion of NWM’s video in the Synodal resources, attacked the decision to remove the video, saying that “official channels are more or less non-existent” for “LGBTQ People.”  

History of anti-Catholic teaching, condemnation from the CDF 

Pope Francis described New Ways Ministry’s history as having “not been an easy one,” while saying that love of neighbor is “necessarily” linked to the first commandment of loving God.  

The history of NWM and its two founders, Sr. Jeannine Gramick and Fr. Robert Nugent, involves persistent censorship from ecclesiastical authorities. In 1984, Cardinal James Hickey, then Archbishop of Washington, prohibited the group from further activities in the archdiocese. 

After years of examinations and communication with both Gramick and Nugent, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) issued a firm note in 1999, signed by CDF Prefect Cardinal Ratzinger, condemning the group and its founders: 

 The positions advanced by Sister Jeannine Gramick and Father 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…The ambiguities and errors of the approach of Father Nugent and Sister Gramick have caused confusion among the Catholic people and have harmed the community of the Church. For these reasons, Sister Jeannine Gramick, SSND, and Father Robert Nugent, SDS, 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.

In 2010, Cardinal Francis George, Archbishop of Chicago, re-iterated the CDF’s condemnation of the group, writing “like other groups that claim to be Catholic but deny central aspects of Church teaching, New Ways Ministry has no approval or recognition from the Catholic Church and that they cannot speak on behalf of the Catholic faithful in the United States.” 

George was supported one year later by now disgraced Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who attacked New Ways Ministry for being “in no manner…in conformity with Catholic teaching, and in no manner is this organization authorized to speak on behalf of the Catholic Church or to identify itself as a Catholic organization.”