Cofounder of Gay-Affirming Catholic Group Dies at 76

Father Robert Nugent helped found New Ways Ministry, which advocates for LGBT equality in the church and society.

BY Trudy Ring

January 03 2014 8:00 PM ET

Father Robert Nugent

Father Robert Nugent, cofounder of New Ways Ministry, a group that works for LGBT equality in the Roman Catholic Church and society at large, has died at age 76.

Nugent died of cancer New Year’s Day in Milwaukee, according to New Ways Ministry’s blog. His cofounder, Sister Jeannine Gramick, was with him, as was Brother John Hauenstein, a member of Nugent’s religious order, the Salvatorians.

Nugent, who was ordained a priest in 1965, founded New Ways with Gramick in 1977. "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," wrote New Ways executive director Francis DeBernardo on the blog. "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. … He and Sister Jeannine set out to educate people about the reality and holiness of lesbian and gay lives."

The Vatican eventually ordered Nugent and Gramick to leave New Ways, but they continued to minister to LGBT people under the auspices of their religious orders. Nugent assisted in parish ministry at St. John the Baptist Church in New Freedom, Pa., for several years, retiring last summer. Shortly after his retirement, he was diagnosed with a rapidly advancing form of lung cancer.

"While we at New Ways Ministry are sad that we will no longer experience his sharp mind, his warm heart, and his delightful wit, we are comforted by the fact that his impact will live on in the lives of those he touched and in the Catholic Church's continued renewal of its welcome and commitment to its lesbian and gay members — a renewal that he played such a large role in effecting," DeBernardo wrote. "We now have another saint to whom we can pray for LGBT equality and justice."

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