Father Robert Nugent is a Roman Catholic priest and a member of the Religious Order, the Society of the Divine Savior. He was born, educated in Norristown, Pennsylvania, and ordained for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in 1965. He was engaged in various ministries in Philadelphia until 1975 when he joined the Salvatorians and relocated to Maryland. He was a co-director of the Quixote Center in Mt. Rainier, Maryland, a Catholic peace and justice group, and also served for two years as Chaplain at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland.
In 1967, with Sister Jeannine Gramick, Nugent co-founded New Ways Ministry, a national Catholic center for research and advocacy ministry in the area of Catholicism and homosexuality also located in Mt. Rainier, in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area. Until 1984 he was engaged in counseling, consultation, writing, lecturing, retreats, workshops and seminars dealing with gay and lesbian issues and religion. He traveled widely both throughout the U.S. and abroad educating church professionals, pastoral ministers and parents and families about homosexuality.
In 1984, under pressure from the Archbishop of Washington, D.C., Nugent was forced to resign from New Ways Ministry but continued his work as a private individual or under various auspices. He is the founder of Catholic Parents Network for parents of Catholic gay and lesbian individuals. He is the author of numerous academic and popular journal articles in Catholic and other publications, including contributions to several anthologies. He is also the author or coeditor of several books including A Challenge to Love: Gay and Lesbian Catholics in the Church; Prayer Journey for Persons with AIDS; Building Bridges: Gay and Lesbian Reality and the Catholic Church and Voices of Hope: a collection of positive Catholic writings on gay and lesbian issues.
Nugent's pioneering work has been recognized with awards from many groups including Washington P-FLAG, Yale Divinity School, the Paulist Center in Boston, Dignity USA and several Dignity chapters. He has spoken in parishes, colleges and universities, military installations and professional organizations of chaplains. He holds degrees in theology and religious education from Yale Divinity School and the Catholic University of Louvain (Belgium) and a degree in Library Science from Villanova University. In 1999, after a ten-year Vatican initiated study of his work, he was forced by the Vatican to withdraw from ministry to gay and lesbian people and their families. One year later, he was silenced from speaking or writing about homosexuality. He remains a priest in good standing and is, with Church approval, engaged in parish ministry in Pennsylvania and other locations throughout the country.
Nugent was diagnosed with cancer in late 2013 and died on January 1, 2014, at a Catholic retirement community in Milwaukee, Wisconsin,
(This statement was provided by Fr. Robert Nugent.)
Biography Date: December, 2003
Catholic (Roman) | Gramick, Jeannine | New Ways Ministry | Activist (church change) | Church Trials | Clergy Activist | Nugent, Robert
“Robert Nugent who died Jan. 1 was a scholar and writer, He was also an old fashioned priest with a new fangled congregation. His pioneering support for lesbian and gay, later bisexual and transgender Catholics opened a new chapter in church history. I daresay he heard and accepted more stories of sexual experimentation than the average priest. And I know that he handled it all with grace and care. He was a priest’s priest.
Two examples of his pastoral insight stay with me. The first was when Bob came for dinner shortly after my partner and I bought our home twenty-seven years ago. His house-warming gift was a brass doorplate that said “Hunt-Neu.” This was long before same-sex marriage was in our imaginations. My first thought was that it made us sound like a law firm. But I realized quickly that the lovely sign was his way of blessing our union. And so it has been in the ensuing decades.
The second was my call to Bob when I was asked to be a godmother. Rules required that prospective godparents present a note indicating that they are Catholics in good standing in a local parish. Bob knew full well that I worship in a women-church base community. But he was happy to provide me with the requisite paperwork attesting to my membership as a “practical Catholic” in a parish where he had access to such forms. I gave the baptizing priest a photocopy, saving the original for another occasion when I might need it. The priest observed that such forms can be hard to get. If he only knew! The important thing is that the baby is now a marvelous, caring, giving young adult so something worked.
History will record that Bob Nugent, with his longtime colleague Jeannine Gramick, co-founded New Ways Ministry that continues to push the Roman Catholic Church toward equality and justice for same-sex loving people. It will also show that he was silenced with some other distinguished theologians, and for reasons known only to God, accepted the sanctions of an institution mired in its own homohatred. But let the record also show that he was a priest who ministered with people that others despised. In so doing, he gave the Roman Catholic Church a better name than it sometimes deserved.
(This remembrance was published in the National Catholic Reporter Today on January 17, 2014.)”
– as remembered by Mary E. Hunt on March 11, 2014
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