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Gay-Friendly Father Robert Nugent Dies on New Year’s Day

by Winnie McCroy
EDGE Editor
Thursday Jan 2, 2014
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Father Robert Nugent, SDS, passed away at 2:10 p.m. on Jan. 1
Father Robert Nugent, SDS, passed away at 2:10 p.m. on Jan. 1  (Source:New Ways Ministry)

A priest who ministered to gay and lesbian Catholics passed away on New Year’s Day after a battle with brain cancer. According to an article in the New Way Ministry, Father Robert Nugent, SDS, passed away at 2:10 p.m. on Jan. 1 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin after a three-month battle with brain cancer. At his side were New Way’s co-fonder, Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL, and Brother John Hauenstein, SDS, a member of his religious congregation, the Salvatorians.

"When few priests would do more than whisper about homosexuality, Father Nugent was meeting with lesbian and gay people and encouraging them to claim their rightful place in the Catholic Church," said Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director in that article. "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."

In the mid-1990s, Nugent served as a consultant to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Marriage and Family Life as they produced their 1997 landmark pastoral document on homosexuality, "Always Our Children." He supported scores of gay priests and brothers as they worked at reconciling their spirituality with their sexuality.

But as reported by RNS, Nugent was silenced by the Vatican for his outreach and work with gay and lesbian Catholics. They ruled that Gramick and Nugent’s work was "erroneous and dangerous," in 1999, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) permanently banned Nugent and Gramick from working with the gay and lesbian community, saying their work had "caused confusion among the Catholic people and have harmed the community of the church."

"The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is obliged to declare for the good of the Catholic faithful that 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 decree said.

A year later, the Vatican issued a second decree barring Gramick and Nugent from speaking about the 11-year investigation into their work; Nugent agreed to comply, but Gramick did not. In 2010, New Ways again drew the ire of U.S. Catholics leaders for criticizing their stance against same-sex marriage.

Still, Nugent’s supporters said it is impossible to underestimate the impact of his ministry toward gays and lesbians as he set out to educate people about the reality and holiness of lesbian and gay lives and build bridges to enlighten Catholic leaders.

"He had the wisdom to know that the real moral problem in the church was not the lives of lesbian and gay people, but the ignorance and fear out of which many church leaders and officials operated," said DeBernardo.

Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women’s news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she writes about local restaurants in her food blog, http://brooklyniscookin.blogspot.com/

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