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c. 2006 Religion News Service

Boundary-pushing Sister Jeannette Normandin Dies at 77

(RNS) Sister Jeannette Normandin, who broke new ground in Massachusetts by opening homes for women with AIDS and broke church rules by assuming roles traditionally held by priests, died Tuesday (May 30). She was 77.

Normandin received numerous awards that lauded her ministry among those marginalized by illness and poverty. But she also drew the ire of church leaders in Boston by advocating a greater role for women within the Catholic church.

In 2000, after the nun annointed a child with oil during baptism ceremony _ a part of the liturgy traditionally performed by priests and deacons _ Normandin was stripped of her duties at the Jesuit Urban Center in Boston, where she had lived and worked for 11 years, and forced to move out.

“I made a decision _ I could have filled my heart with hatred and anger, but instead I’m going to focus myself on prayer and ask the Holy Spirit to guide me not to be bitter,” Normandin told the Boston Globe a few months after she was ousted.

In an obituary submitted to the Boston Globe, members of her order, the Sisters of St. Anne, remembered Normandin as “no stranger to controversy and committed to the role of women in the Catholic Church.”

John Fuller, a medical doctor and Jesuit priest who worked with Normandin at the center for five years, said she “did wonderful work, especially in trying to promote the causes of women, women who were homeless or suffered with HIV.”

After serving years as a counselor to women in prison, in 1994 Normandin founded Ruah, a home for women living with AIDS.

“She was on the front lines during the darkest ages of when AIDS was relentlessly ravaging people in the Boston community,” Jonathan Scott, president a residential treatment agency for AIDS and addiction, told the Boston Globe.

Normandin’s work among AIDS patients brought her into contact with gays and lesbians, each of whom she tended with extraordinary compassion, said Sister Jeannine Gramick, who is active in church ministry to gay and lesbian Catholics.

“I would say she was a woman following the gospel and modeling Jesus’ inclusive approach to people. We’re suffering a great loss with her death,” Gramick said.

Fuller, Normandin’s former colleague, said that the nun, like many people “had a blind side,” when it came to understanding the implications of her actions, such as when she celebrated a marriage while wearing a priest’s stole.

“It was a mixture of agony and ecstasy,” Fuller said of Normandin’s life. “She did great work and she also made some mistakes.”

_ Daniel Burke

Priest Apologizes for Calling Kneeling in Church a `Mortal Sin’

(RNS) A California Catholic priest who implied that kneeling during Mass is a “mortal sin,” expressed regret for “misuse of the term” this week.

At least 55 elderly parishioners at the Orange County, Calif., church where the Rev. Martin Tran is pastor have insisted on kneeling in reverence during some parts of the Mass, a practice in contrast with church norms, according to a May 28 article in the Los Angeles Times.

In a church bulletin, Tran said the kneeling Catholics’ actions were “clearly rebellion, grave disobedience and mortal sin.”

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “mortal sin” is a most serious offense. It “results in the loss of charity and the privation of sanctifying grace,” and, if not repented, “causes exclusion for Christ’s kingdom and the eternal death of hell.”

A statement posted on the Diocese of Orange County’s Web site this week said “Fr. Tran regrets any concern or hurt caused by the misuse of the term `mortal sin’ in this context. The Diocese concurs with Fr. Tran’s clarification.”

For centuries, Catholics knelt during certain parts of the liturgy of the Eucharist. After the liturgical reforms in the 1960s, however, U.S. dioceses have debated whether standing or kneeling is more appropriate.

_ Daniel Burke

Wis. Governor Defies Church on Stem Cell Funding

(RNS) The church and state are at odds again, and this time the battlefield is Wisconsin, the issue is stem cell research, and both parties are members of the Catholic Church.

At the end of April, Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, a Catholic, announced that the state would invest $5 million to recruit companies in the stem cell industry to the state. Doyle’s goal was for Wisconsin to possess at least 10 percent of the market by 2015.

In response, Archbishop Timothy Dolan of Milwaukee and Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison wrote a letter to Doyle expressing concerns with Doyle’s plan to invest in and eventually profit from embryonic stem cell research.

“Generally, support for research that involves destroying human embryos is justified by the potential it holds to treat and cure illness, an understandable, but morally flawed justification,” the May 22 document reads. “However, to justify such research on economic grounds takes the conversation in a disconcerting direction _ a direction that further diminishes human embryos to mere commodities.”

The letter expressed support for non-embryonic adult stem cell research, arguing that it “shows greater promise for treatment and cures.”

Two days later, Doyle issued his own letter to Dolan and Morlino, indicating that he will stay the course.

“The ultimate question isn’t whether embryos will be destroyed, but whether we should allow a few of those unused embryos to be utilized saving lives instead of discarding them,” the May 24 letter reads. “I believe we should come down on the side of saving lives.”

The Vatican has condemned embryonic stem cell research. The issue was a focal talking point for Morlino’s speech early last April at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in Washington.

_ Piet Levy

Quote of the Day: Opus Dei Member Paul Fortunato

(RNS) “So, thank you, Ron Howard, for making it almost impossible not to talk about Opus Dei with my colleagues and acquaintances. You have made my job quite a bit easier. My only request is that next time you leave Jesus and Mary Magdalene out of it.”

_ Paul Fortunato, a member of Opus Dei and professor at the University of Houston-Downtown, writing in The New York Times about how “The Da Vinci Code” has made it easier to tell people about Opus Dei. He disagrees however, with the movie’s claim that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and had children.


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