Why Pope Francis praised Sister Jeannine Gramick

Sister Jeannine Gramick has a long history of opposing Church teaching on homosexuality, women’s ordination, and abortion. A 1994 commission of the Holy See reported some positive aspects in their apostolate, but noted “serious deficiencies” that were “incompatible with the fullness of Christian morality.” [Source: NCRegister article].

Why then would Pope Francis send a letter praising the work of Gramick over the last 50 years?

The above cited article at NCRegister by Ann Carey proposes the following:

“The only reasonable conclusion that can be drawn from the Pope’s perfunctory 50-year anniversary note to Sister Jeannine is that the staffers who handle his voluminous correspondence apparently failed to do their homework and inform the Holy Father just who this person is. The unfortunate result is that Sister Jeannine and her cohorts are now gleefully celebrating what they claim is the Pope’s endorsement of her radical agenda.”

No, I don’t think that is the reason. Consider the story of the Good Samaritan. The Samaritans practiced an altered version of the Jewish faith. They were not pagans, but rather heretics and schismatics. Samaritans are to Jews as Protestants are to Christians. Now Samaritans and Protestants may well have a sincere but mistaken conscience, as the woman at the well appeared to have, about beliefs on faith and morals. But their beliefs were/are gravely in error.

Yet Christ praised the good Samaritan AND the Holy Spirit placed the story of that good Samaritan in Sacred Scripture, as a perpetual and eternal example to all the faithful. What is the example? Let’s read Scripture:
{10:5} Jesus sent these twelve, instructing them, saying: “Do not travel by the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter into the city of the Samaritans,
{10:6} but instead go to the sheep who have fallen away from the house of Israel.

Samaritans were neither Gentiles (unbelievers, in those days) nor Jews. Some Jews had fallen away from the Jewish faith, just as some Catholics today have fallen away, but still call themselves Catholic. Jesus told the twelve to go first to the Jews, as they were a people chosen to prepare the way for the Messiah.
{9:52} And he sent messengers before his face. And going on, they entered into a city of the Samaritans, to prepare for him.
{9:53} And they would not receive him, because his face was going toward Jerusalem.
{9:54} And when his disciples, James and John, had seen this, they said, “Lord, do you want us to call for fire to descend from heaven and consume them?”
{9:55} And turning, he rebuked them, saying: “Do you not know of whose spirit you are?
{9:56} The Son of man came, not to destroy lives, but to save them.” And they went into another town.

Jesus was traveling toward Jerusalem, and the Samaritans did not believe in worshiping in the temple there, but in other places related to Abraham and his descendants. The woman at the well mentions this to Jesus. It was a point of doctrinal disagreement between Jews and Samaritans, which caused the latter to reject Jews traveling to Jerusalem.

The Apostles, James and John (brothers), suggested destroying a Samaritan town because they would not receive the Lord Jesus. But Jesus rebuked them. Do you not know that you are made in the image of God? You are of the spirit of God, since God has given you immortal souls, which can understand transcendent truths and can truly love others. God is love. The Son of God came to save souls for eternal life, not to destroy. James and John were quick to suggest destroying the town because of the grave doctrinal errors of the Samaritans.

{10:25} And behold, a certain expert in the law rose up, testing him and saying, “Teacher, what must I do to possess eternal life?”
{10:26} But he said to him: “What is written in the law? How do you read it?”
{10:27} In response, he said: “You shall love the Lord your God from your whole heart, and from your whole soul, and from all your strength, and from all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”
{10:28} And he said to him: “You have answered correctly. Do this, and you will live.”
{10:29} But since he wanted to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
{10:30} Then Jesus, taking this up, said: “A certain man descended from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he happened upon robbers, who now also plundered him. And inflicting him with wounds, they went away, leaving him behind, half-alive.
{10:31} And it happened that a certain priest was descending along the same way. And seeing him, he passed by.
{10:32} And similarly a Levite, when he was near the place, also saw him, and he passed by.
{10:33} But a certain Samaritan, being on a journey, came near him. And seeing him, he was moved by mercy.
{10:34} And approaching him, he bound up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them. And setting him on his pack animal, he brought him to an inn, and he took care of him.
{10:35} And the next day, he took out two denarii, and he gave them to the proprietor, and he said: ‘Take care of him. And whatever extra you will have spent, I will repay to you at my return.’
{10:36} Which of these three, does it seem to you, was a neighbor to him who fell among the robbers?”
{10:37} Then he said, “The one who acted with mercy toward him.” And Jesus said to him, “Go, and act similarly.”

The “priest” of the story is a Jewish priest. The Samaritan can be viewed as comparable to a Protestant today, and the priest and Levite can be compared to Catholic clergy and Catholic religious or devout laity. The religious persons in the story did not help the injured man. Perhaps the reason was that touching blood would make them ritually impure. But note that the priest and the injured man were both descending from Jerusalem, implying that perhaps both attended the same religious festival, which would have now ended. This suggests the possibility of some other reason for avoiding helping the injured man, aside from ritual impurity (cf. Jn 18:28).

Whatever the excuse, the priest and the Levite did not have compassion on the injured man. But the Samaritan, who held grave errors on matters of faith and perhaps morals also, did have mercy on him. That Jewish priest and Levite may have committed an actual mortal sin of omission; one of both of them might possibly have lost their salvation, if they did not repent. You can have the right beliefs on faith and morals, and supernatural faith, and yet end up in Hell for actual mortal sin causing the loss of love and hope. All actual mortal sins are contrary to the love of God or the love of neighbor, in some way, directly or indirectly.

We must always remember, in doctrinal disputes, that love of God and love of neighbor are the first and second commandment, and they are indispensable. Those who reject the doctrines of Vatican I and II, and who reject Pope Francis might have a sincere but mistaken conscience. But if they choose malice, hatred, and scandalous words/behavior in response to their disagreements with the Popes and Councils, they could end up in Hell for sins against love, rather than for sins against faith. And the same applies to we who believe what the Church teaches.

I used to know a man who spent his whole life, from childhood to his elder years, working with and helping disabled persons. When I knew him, he was an atheist. (He may still be so today.) But in his work with the disabled, he treated them like friends and even like family members. He worked in a school system, with the disabled. And in summers he ran a summer camp for handicapped children and adults. He and his wife and daughters lived at the camp in summer and they all worked and lived with the disabled campers. He truly love and helped those who had difficult lives. Yet he was an atheist.

Could he be in a state of grace? Yes. An atheist can have implicit faith. And the true selfless love of neighbor always includes, at least implicitly, the love of God. An atheist can go to Heaven for loving his neighbor, while some Catholics can go to Hell for sins against love (or against faith for those Catholics who culpably reject Church teaching).

Back to the case of Sister Gramick: Pope Francis was clearly praising her work with suffering persons, especially those who suffer because their sexual orientation results in persecution or discriminatory treatment (perhaps more so 50 years ago than today). He was praising her the way that Christ praised the good Samaritan, not for her grave errors on doctrine, but for her example of being merciful (despite the misguided aspects of that work). Pope Francis did not fall into the common error found among we conservatives, that of over-emphasis on purity of doctrine — so much so that some accuse Popes and Councils of doctrinal error for not conforming to their personal understanding. Rather, he saw past Sister Gramick’s doctrinal errors and praised her longstanding efforts to help others.

God will judge each of us, including Sister Gramick. Whether she is culpable, to one degree or another, for her doctrinal errors is for God to judge. But persons who err gravely on doctrine can still do good works and be, in some respects, a good example to others.

{17:11} And it happened that, while he was traveling to Jerusalem, he passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee.
{17:12} And as he was entering a certain town, ten leprous men met him, and they stood at a distance.
{17:13} And they lifted up their voice, saying, “Jesus, Teacher, take pity on us.”
{17:14} And when he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And it happened that, as they were going, they were cleansed.
{17:15} And one of them, when he saw that he was cleansed, returned, magnifying God with a loud voice.
{17:16} And he fell face down before his feet, giving thanks. And this one was a Samaritan.
{17:17} And in response, Jesus said: “Were not ten made clean? And so where are the nine?
{17:18} Was no one found who would return and give glory to God, except this foreigner?”
{17:19} And he said to him: “Rise up, go forth. For your faith has saved you.”

The Jews who were miraculously healed rushed to return to society by showing themselves to the priests, who would confirm that they no longer had “leprosy” (which was probably not Hanson’s disease). Only the Samaritan, who held grave doctrinal errors returned to thank Jesus. You don’t automatically go to Heaven for having the correct beliefs. Nor do you automatically go to Hell for having the wrong beliefs.

See also the story of the woman at the well here.

{4:16} Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and return here.”
{4:17} The woman responded and said, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her: “You have spoken well, in saying, ‘I have no husband.’
{4:18} For you have had five husbands, but he whom you have now is not your husband. You have spoken this in truth.”

{4:39} Now many of the Samaritans from that city believed in him, because of the word of the woman who was offering testimony: “For he told me all the things that I have done.”
{4:40} Therefore, when the Samaritans had come to him, they petitioned him to lodge there. And he lodged there for two days.

Jesus stayed with the Samaritans, despite their doctrinal errors. He spoke with the woman at the well and made her an example for all Christians for all time, despite her grave moral errors on sexuality: “he whom you have now is not your husband.” And Jesus praises her for speaking the truth about this grave moral error.

Certain website often complain about Pope Francis meeting with one person or another who holds the wrong beliefs on morality. These are often the same persons who reject the teachings of Popes and Councils on matters of faith. So not only are they hypocrites, but they also are ignoring the examples of Jesus discussed above. The Pope should meet with a wide range of persons, even those who hold grave errors on beliefs. And the Pope should praise those who do good and console those who are suffering, even if they hold grave doctrinal errors.

God is the judge over each person’s soul.

Ronald L Conte Jr

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6 Responses to Why Pope Francis praised Sister Jeannine Gramick

  1. PJ says:

    It’s good that you tackle difficult issues like this head-on. I was very dismayed by the photos of Pope Francis clutching Nancy Pelosi’s hand and beaming at her. As someone who has worked for the pro-life cause for decades, to me the photos were like a dagger to the heart. Your thoughtful input helps.

  2. Penanoke says:

    Then why not make clear in a press release following Sr. Gramick’s ideologically motivated publication of the Pope’s private letter to her that the Pope was doing exactly what you suppose he was doing, and that the appreciation that Pope Francis expressed in the letter has no doctrinal implications? That would avoid confusion and would avoid giving scandal.

    Fr. James Martin did something similarly ideologically motivated by releasing similar private correspondence sent to him by Pope Francis.

    If the Holy See would clap back at those who attempt to use the Pope’s private letters to them to undermine confidence in the stability of Catholic doctrine, then maybe these people and others in the future wouldn’t make public what the Pope intended to be kept private. They make the letters public because they think it will gain support for themselves, for their pet causes, and for their hopes that the Church will change her doctrine regarding the immorality of homosexual unions and homosexual genital acts.

  3. Matt says:

    I know a person who was married with three young kids and left his wife and married a divorced woman with 2 children. He stopped going to Catholic Church. I have never met a person like him who would go out of his way to help a friend or neighbor. In fact, I observed and learned how he is always on the look out to help the poor and downtrodden. I see him as truly loving his neighbor and always anticipating to help someone in need and those that society rejected.

    However, he left a sacramental marriage because he could not stand his wife anymore. I Don’t know the details of why the marriage fell apart.

    My point here is that it is all good that a person always loves his neighbors as that means the person implicitly loves God. However, this person committed a very grave moral sin by leaving his wife and marrying a divorced woman. His first wife married and divorced several men since then.

    Doesn’t this one major immoral incident negate his love of neighbor? It’s like the 10
    Commandments. You love God with your whole being and love your neighbor as yourself. But meanwhile you leave your spouse, (adultery) never attend Mass, and can be supposedly saved?

    I think critics of Pope Francis feel demoralized when the Pope meets with Catholics that support or commit many gravely immoral acts. I wish I could read a headline that Pope Frances told Nancy Pelosi that her support of abortion will lead her to eternal damnation.

    • Ron Conte says:

      Those who truly love others must have the state of grace with supernatural love. A person who commits an objectively grave sin might not have the full culpability of actual mortal sin. On the other hand, you might be mistaken about the love of neighbor that this person shows. It is for God to judge souls.

  4. Philip says:

    personal question: have you considered to become a priest or are you a priest?

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