HRC Blog

HRC Honors Life, Legacy of Father Nugent

Post submitted by Diane Martin, HRC Religion and Faith program

With the start of the New Year, many of us took time to reflect on 2013 and the great strides made towards LGBT equality in the Catholic Church, progress that could not have been made without the pioneering ministry of Father Robert Nugent, whose recent death we acknowledge with great sorrow.  Father Nugent co-founded New Ways Ministry, a ministry of advocacy and justice for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Catholics, in 1977.  He did so along with Sister Jeannine Gramick and Brother John Hauenstein, who were by his side at the time of his death on January 1, 2014 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, following a three-month battle with lung cancer.

Long before Pope Francis uttered the words, “Who am I to judge,” and back when just speaking about homosexuality in the Catholic Church seemed a sin in and of itself, Father Robert Nugent was meeting with and ministering to lesbian and gay Catholics, ensuring them of their home within the Catholic Church.  Through New Ways Ministry, Father Nugent spent more than 30 years counseling gay and lesbian Catholics and their families, helping them overcome the hurtful dogma espoused by the Catholic hierarchy, which taught that it was impossible to be both homosexual and remain a good Catholic.

Father Nugent reached out to bishops, theologians, and Catholic leaders across the country, educating them on the realities of the lived experiences of lesbian and gay individuals in America.  While the Catholic hierarchy was insisting that Church teaching on homosexuality was “definitive and unchanging,” Father Nugent was encouraging dialogue, fully believing and promoting the idea that accepting lesbian and gay Catholics as brothers and sisters would not be a departure from, but rather a truer application of the Catholic Church’s highest values: human dignity, love, and equality.

Dr. Sharon Groves, Director of Human Rights Campaign’s Religion & Faith Program, attributes much of the progress we’ve seen in the Catholic Church in the direction of LGBT equality to the work of Father Nugent and New Ways Ministry: “Father Robert Nugent stepped out in support of lesbian and gay Catholics at a time when few others were.  He educated a generation of Catholic laity and leaders on the value of inclusivity in the Church and in doing so helped build a pro-equality lay Catholic voice.” 

We at HRC are deeply saddened by the loss of Father Nugent, but we are inspired by his legacy and steadfastly devoted to continuing his work of creating a more inclusive Catholic Church for all individuals, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity. 

For more information on Father Nugent’s life and ministry, as well as forthcoming details on funeral arrangements, please see the New Ways Ministry blog.

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