The Stonewall riots happened in June of 1969, and before the year was out, Dignity was formed, first in Los
Angeles and a couple months later in New York City. The birth of Dignity coincides with the birth of the ‘LGBTQI’
community—our community we know today. I think it was always known that our community yearned for meaningful,
positive ministry. Dignity offered the Catholics of our community hope, healing, support, solidarity and love at a time when
few churches (of any denomination) were willing or ready to reach out to us.
Though the seventies were an exhilarating time for our community, it was by no means easy. Though the APA
removed homosexuality from their list of “pathologies” in 1973, reparative therapy persisted and is still even
recently doing harm. Though sodomy laws were being overturned, it wouldn’t be till 2003 that such laws were overturned
on a federal level (11 states still had such laws). Though antidiscrimination laws were being passed, there are, even today,
33 states where they can fire someone because of their sexuality, and no one anywhere is safe if they work in a ‘religious
institution’. I would not wish the seventies on anyone. (Their fashion sense alone was a nightmare!, but I digress.)
But, Dignity was there through it all. They were a part of that change. Chapters flourished throughout the country.
The number of welcoming parishes grew.
In 1977, Pope Paul VI acknowledged that homosexuality is something that you are born with and that, in itself,
homosexuality therefore is not inherently evil. But Paul died in 1979, and Pope Saint John Paul II eventually took
over. While Pope Saint John Paul II was riding around in his pope-mobile saying ‘I love you’ in twelve different
languages, his henchmen—Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger foremost among them—set about taking back anything positive
said about gay men and lesbians and dismantling Vatican II in general.
Dignity was there to show the Church that Gay Men and lesbians too were members of Christ’s mystical
body; It’s in their Statement of Position and Purpose (SPP). As Dignity/USA became more established they tried harder
to dialog with the Church. In 1985, at their annual convention, they added to their SPP that ‘gay men and lesbians
can express their sexuality in a manner consonant with Christ’s teaching.’ In 1986—at the height
of the AIDS epidemic—Ratzinger issued a letter ordering Dignity chapters off church property. And so the Church
turned its back to our community. From that time to the present, the RC Church has pretended that Dignity doesn’t exist.
(Although Ratzinger’s name is on the worst of the homophobic documents, I consider John Paul II equally responsible
for the homophobic oppression of that time.)
The homophobia of the JPII/BXVI era has been consistent: They wouldn’t call homosexuality evil—they
wouldn’t contradict Paul VI—so they instead called it an “objective disorder”, which to too many people
means the same thing (evil in sheep’s clothing), and of course, acting on your sexuality was evil. The Church replaced
Dignity with Courage, which is essentially a 12-step program to help lesbians and gay men remain celibate. (i.e. God will
love/accept you but only if you live a self-loathing, sexually tormented life.) Courage (though today I’m told their
presence is very limited) is still advertised as the Church’s diocesan-sponsored ministry to our community. The Church
also said our community did not deserve civil rights (the argument: criminals don’t have rights, insane people don’t
have rights, why should homosexuals have rights?). And of course, same-sex marriage is the greatest sin of all; the Church
spent huge amounts of money fighting that legislation. And in some states the Church even shut down their Catholic Charities
offices just so they wouldn’t be forced to offer adoption services to our community. And Dignity was there through
it all holding the Church accountable for, and offering an alternative to the hate. And I value my Catholicism primarily
because Dignity was there for me.
Of course, the welcoming parishes never disappeared, and sincere, positive parish-based ministries have been
appearing—though somewhat under the radar—since the nineties. About 10 years ago, such a group formed
local to D/New Brunswick: In God’s Image (IGI). A former member of Dignity approached his local pastor after
a synod’s call for more faith-based outreach; the bishop approved and IGI was born. So, I had a chance to see
such ministry first-hand. Though I respect and admire their work, and would recommend them to anyone, I do not envy the road
they are on. They are under a lot of scrutiny. They, the group’s leaders, must be very careful of what they say.
I’ve heard stories of political rumor-mongering and complaining to the bishop. Their brochures routinely disappear
en masse from their parish information table. At one meeting, they hosted a priest, Fr. Fell, to speak, and to the
surprise of everyone, he very bluntly spouted “church teaching”; I missed the meeting myself, but there were members
there who could not describe what was said without crying. IGI and other parish-based ministries pay a heavy price just to
have a presence “within the Church.” They must accept a great deal of constraint and yet remain completely vulnerable.
So, though sincere, parish-based ministry is important and worth pursuing, Dignity’s presence and voice is still very
much needed. I’ve heard some argue that, as parish ministry grows, Dignity will no longer be relevant or needed and
will go away. Perhaps, but I don’t see that level of acceptance happening in this century. Dignity is still
very much needed.
Last July IGI hosted a talk by Fr. James Martin, author of the recent book Building a Bridge: How the Catholic
Church and the LGBT Community can enter into a relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity. All the talk about his
presentation and his book are what got me to write this essay you see now. What was shocking about the book was what was
absent: literally the last 40 years. The name of Dignity was never once mentioned. Only Pope Francis’ name is mentioned;
none of his predecessors are mentioned. None of the history in this article is mentioned. So basically Martin’s
message is: If everyone ignores the last 40 years then maybe we can talk. The “bridge”, if it can sincerely
be built this way at all, will still entirely exist on the Church’s terms: Dignity is still taboo; “Church teaching”
on homosexuality won’t change anytime soon; the church hasn’t admitted there’s anything wrong with their
homophobic legacy of even the recent past. Nothing has really changed, but if we want ‘in’, we’re
expected not to talk about it. Right now, IGI has what Martin is proposing: a tenuous, voiceless sanctioned, albeit
local presence in the Church. But all it will take is another Cardinal Ratzinger to come along or a Fr. Fell to replace
IGI’s pastor and it will all go south again.
But, we’re still here. Dignity is still here. We are all children of God in a universal
Church, we’re all “at the table.” It’s our human condition. No one is leaving the
Church, no matter what the orthodox may say. If the Church really wants to build a bridge, they should start with
Dignity; we’re right here.
[Press release entitled "Gay Catholic Group DignityUSA Condemns New Vatican Inspection of U.S. Seminaries
for Homosexuality" dated September 16, 2005]
Washington, DC – DignityUSA today strongly condemned the new Vatican apostolic visitations of the 229
Roman Catholic seminaries in the United States in search of "evidence of homosexuality" and faculty members who dissent from
church teaching. A twelve-page document is now being distributed to seminarians and faculty as part of the review, as reported
on the front page of The New York Times on September 15, 2005.
"The Vatican continues to be obsessed about homosexuality, misguided about human sexuality, and misdirected
regarding the sexual abuse crisis in the Church, stated Debbie Weill, Executive Director of DignityUSA. "While a review of
seminary programs may be appropriate in the aftermath of the sexual abuse crisis, an apparent witch hunt for homosexual seminarians
and supportive faculty is not. The Church is fostering a climate of hostility towards some of its very best priests and bishops.
This is not the Church Christ called us to be," Weill added.
"While the Vatican fails to address the core issues relating to the sexual abuse crisis, DignityUSA reminds
Church leaders of several key points:
- sexuality experts have reportedly instructed the Vatican that there is no link between pedophilia and homosexuality,
- gay priests are not the cause of the sexual abuse crisis in the Church,
- Church leaders have not accepted responsi-bility and have not been appropriately reprimanded by the Church for their failures
to deal appropriately with the still ongoing sexual abuse crisis in the Church, and
- candidates for the priesthood should be evaluated in terms of sexual maturity and their likelihood to be celibate, not
sexual orientation," Weill continued.
DignityUSA is the nation's foremost organization of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Catholics, their
families, friends and supporters. Founded in 1969, it is an independent nonprofit organization with members and chapters across
DignityUSA works for full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people in the life of the
Church and Society. For more information contact: www.dignityusa.org, or Debbie Weill, Executive Director of DignityUSA at 202-861-0017 (office), 202-725-5894
The love we experience lives forever.
"Sire," announced the servant to the King. "the saint Narottam has never deigned to enter your royal temple.
"He is singing God’s praise under the trees by the open road. The temple is empty of worshippers.
"They flock round him like bees round the white lotus, leaving the golden jar of honey unheeded."
The King, vexed at heart, went to the spot where Narottam sat on the grass.
He asked him, "Father, why leave my temple of the golden dome and sit on the dust outside to preach God’s
"Because God is not there in your temple," said Narottam.
The King frowned and said, "Do you know twenty millions of gold went to the making of that marvel of art,
and it was consecrated to God with costly rites?"
"Yes, I know it," answered Narottam. "It was in the year when thousands of our people whose houses had been
burned stood vainly asking for help at your door.
"And God said, ‘The poor creature who can give no shelter to his brothers would build my house!’
"And he took his place with the shelterless under the trees by the road.
"And that golden bubble is empty of all but hot vapour of pride."
The King cried in anger, "Leave my land."
Calmly said the saint, "Yes, banish me where you have banished my God."
--By Rabindranath Tagore,
from Fruit Gathering
I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump off. So I ran
over and said "Stop! Don't do it!"
"Why shouldn't I?" he said.
I said, "Well, there's so much to live for!"
He said, "Like what?"
I said, "Well...are you religious or atheist?"
He said, "Religious."
I said, "Me too! Are you Christian or Buddhist?"
He said, "Christian."
I said, "Me too! Are you Catholic or Protestant?"
He said, "Protestant."
I said, "Me too! Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?"
He said, "Baptist!"
I said, "Wow! Me too! Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?"
He said, "Baptist Church of God!"
I said, "Me too! Are you original Baptist Church of God, or are you Reformed Baptist Church of God?"
He said, "Reformed Baptist Church of God!"
I said, "Me too! Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church
of God, reformation of 1915?"
He said, "Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915!"
I said, "Die, heretic scum", and pushed him off.
-- Emo Phillips