During the first weekend of September, the Los Angeles Archdiocese hosted the fourth annual conference of the National Association of Catholic Diocesan Lesbian & Gay Ministries (NACDLGM). This group, headed by Fr. Jim Schexnayder, promotes the formation of homosexual ministries in dioceses throughout the United States. The NACDLGM conference featured Cahal Cardinal Mahony as the principal celebrant at a Mass on September 6.
The conference featured various seminars ranging from “The Gay Person as Spiritual Being” to “Women Power: Women’s Spirituality and the Lesbian Woman.” One seminar, aimed at Hispanic youth, was facilitated by the director of the Los Angeles chapter of Dignity, a group ministering to homosexuals that has been denounced by the Vatican. The director, openly homosexual former Jesuit priest Jim Meir, hosted a seminar to discuss the needs of these young people. A reporter from the National Catholic Reporter covered the session, adding supportive comments when she felt it was necessary. When one young man asked about Courage, the Vatican-approved ministry that supports chastity for homosexuals, the Dignity director responded, “We don’t send anyone to Courage, they merely try to change us.” The representative from the Reporter echoed these sentiments.
Another seminar at the conference featured Fr. Kenneth Waibel of Richmond, Kentucky, who is not only openly homosexual, but even vehemently disdainful of heterosexuals. Fr. Waibel laughingly described how he prepares the heterosexuals for their “unequal nuptial rituals.” Fr. Waibel remarked that he felt that it was “impossible for a heterosexual man to fall in love with Jesus Christ because of his homophobia. Jesus wants us to be erotically in love with him.”
Although not a speaker, Jeannine Gramick, S.S.N.D., cofounder of New Ways Ministry and now with the Catholic Parents Network, was included as a lector during the cardinal’s Mass. Sr. Gramick, along with New Ways Ministries cofounder Robert Nugent, S.D.S., is currently being investigated by the Vatican for promoting views on the practice of homosexuality that are in direct conflict with the official teachings of the Church.
In the week prior to the conference, the Los Angeles Times interviewed Peter Liuzzi, O.Carm., a full-time minister to homosexuals. The reporter asked Fr. Liuzzi how the ministry balances the Church’s teachings on homosexuality with pastoral sensitivity to homosexuals. Fr. Liuzzi’s response: “It’s a clear mandate from the Cardinal . . . that part of my work . . . is to make sure people understand exactly what our teaching is . . . [T]he only thing we agree on is that sexual activity outside of marriage would be immoral.” Later, Fr. Liuzzi elaborated, “While we would be uncompromising with doctrine, I think we would recognize the fact that people on a faith journey are in various places of approaching and wrestling with that teaching—from rejecting it completely to wrestling with it to maybe coming closer to approaching it . . . A lot of gay people are confronted with difficult questions.”
When dealing with homosexuals who cannot give up their lifestyle, he says he counsels them, “It seems to me that you have really struggled with this and you’re doing the best you can.”
Dignity USA showed up in force to the cardinal’s conference. The group’s website listed the event on its calendar, noting that Cardinal Mahony would be the principal celebrant at the Mass. The website stressed how important it was for members to show up in numbers—and show they did. Dignity was one of many groups represented at the exhibitors’ hall; Courage, however, was notably absent.
Following on the heels of the Long Beach conference, a seminar was held on September 10 in Orange, California, sponsored by New Ways cofounders Sr. Gramick and Fr. Nugent. New Ways Ministries openly defies the Church’s teachings on homosexuality, stating that a person can be a practicing homosexual and a Catholic in good standing. The seminar, entitled “Voices of Hope,” was aimed at the parents of homosexuals. Under the auspices of Catholic Parents Network, the team of Nugent and Gramick continue the work they started with New Ways Ministries.
It was at this seminar that Fr. Nugent outlined the upcoming pastoral Always Our Children. Fr. Nugent revealed that the drafting committee including himself, Fr. Liuzzi, and Fr. Schexnayder of NACDLGM. While outlining the pastoral letter, Fr. Nugent warned that influential bishops could block the publication of the pastoral letter if the contents were revealed before publication. Fr. Nugent urged that the letter must not be perceived as too radical, to avoid the criticism of people like Courage founder John Harvey, O.S.F.S.