The Rev. Robert Nugent and Sister Jeannine Gramick on Tuesday were barred from ministering to homosexuals by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
The Congregation said Nugent and Gramick "have caused confusion among the Roman Catholic people and have harmed the community of the church." It called their teachings "erroneous and dangerous."
Nugent and Gramick founded the New Ways Ministry in Prince George's County in 1977 and have been under investigation by the church for years. They have repeatedly refused to condemn homosexual acts as evil and instead strove for reconciliation for gays with the Roman Catholic Church.
"Here we have the Vatican trying to silence two people who are preaching tolerance, love and compassion," said Sister Maureen Fiedler, a friend. "I think it's a total contradiction of the Gospel."
Charles Cox, executive director of Dignity USA, the nation's largest organization of gay Catholics, said Nugent and Gramick treated homosexuals with a rare sense of compassion.
"They were trying to help people who are lesbian and gay understand that being gay does not preclude you from having a relationship with God," he said.
Cardinal James A. Hickey, archbishop of Washington, D.C., the diocese where the New Ways Ministry is based, said the Vatican's decision was not made lightly.
"The Holy See was very careful and very patient in undertaking such a serious action," Hickey said. "Both were given numerous opportunities over the past 20 years to clarify their beliefs and to assent to the Church's full teaching on homosexuality."
Nugent said he accepts the Vatican's decision.
"It puzzles me because I have never questioned any dogma of the church," he said in today's New York Times. In a statement today, he said he attempted to incorporate modern scientific though about homosexuality into his teachings, but still considers himself to be in keeping with Catholic dogma.
"My ministry of over 25 years has always included attempts (to) foster accurate but balanced and pastorally sensitive theological language" about homosexuality, he said.
The church makes a distinction between homosexual acts and gays as people, saying homosexuals should be treated with "respect, compassion and sensitivity."
In 1984, Hickey ordered Gramick and Nugent to break with their ministry. They were also told that any pastoral work with homosexuals must include "the church's teaching regarding the intrinsic evil of homosexual acts."
Nugent and Gramick persisted with their message, publishing "Building Bridges: Gay and Lesbian Reality and the Catholic Church" in 1992 and "Voices of Hope: A Collection of Positive Catholic Writing on Gay and Lesbian Issues" in 1995.