Dignity-USA, an organization of approximately 4500 Catholic homosexuals and lesbians, has formally rejected Catholic Church teaching on homosexuality.  The document “Sexual Ethics:  Experience, growth, challenge,” was approved in August 1989 at the organization’s twentieth anniversary national convention in San Francisco and published in full in the December 1989 newsletter.

The teaching of the Catholic Church is that homosexual activity is sinful and that the homosexual condition is a moral disorder which should be overcome rather than encouraged.  (The pastoral care of homosexuals, Vatican, 1986.  See Christian pamphlet No. 6 page 24 of this issue.)

The Dignity document states “we cannot accept” the position of church officials that “our sexual identity is an objective disorder, a tendency toward an intrinsic moral evil, and that any genital expression of it is absolutely forbidden.”

Rather, Dignity said, “we see sexuality as an intrinsic, integral and essential aspect of our human personhood, not a separate one.  We reclaim our sexuality and its genital expression as intrinsically good.”

Dignity supporters include priests and nuns such as Sr. Jeanine Gramick and Fr. Robert Nugent (who run the supporting agency New Ways Ministry), Sr. Fran Ferder, Seattle, Fr. Bernard Lynch, Roland Calvert, O.S.F.S., John McNeill and others.  McNeill was expelled from the Jesuits in 1987.

Facilitators at the convention were Jim and Evelyn Whitehead, a husband and wife team from Chicago, one a theologian, the other a psychologist, who led workshops on Dignity’s “journey,” comparing it to the pilgrimage of the People of God in Jewish and Christian times.

The document was drawn up over a five year period by a Taskforce which presented it to the 200 strong National House of Delegates, the governing legislative body of Dignity, which accepted it unanimously.

It posits the view that “we can live responsibly as gay and lesbian Christians and grow in likeness to Christ.  Our own experience is that we can express our sexuality in a manner consonant with Christ’s teaching.

The document rejects the idea that homosexual activity is wrong or that the homosexual condition is something to be overcome.  “We have come to realize that being gay or lesbian is God’s blessing and gift,” the document says.  “The overwhelming majority of us are able to say that we are both sexually active and comfortable in our relationship with Christ.”

Freedom of conscience

The document also reflects the new strategy recommended for use within the Church, namely an emphasis on the individual’s freedom of conscience which, Dignity says, allows its members to practice the homosexual lifestyle in good conscience despite church teaching.

The document declared, “According to Catholic tradition, individuals are not only free to go against authority’s morally required to do so if they have responsibly concluded that it is mistaken and that dissent . . . does not violate other’s right or endanger the common good.”

Areas of “serious ethical concern” in sexual morality must be discussed,” they added.  “We cannot shy away from controversy if we are genuinely trying to see Christ in the sacramental reality of our lives.”

In Canada, Dignity is organized in 13 chapters with a current membership of 230.  Until 1985 it formed the XI Region of Dignity-USA but became independent at that time.

One of the early defenders of homosexuality was Fr. Gregory Baum, who left the priesthood in 1975.  In Toronto, Dignity members meet at Our Lady of Lourdes; in Ottawa, Dignity members attend as a group at the noon Sunday mass at St. Joseph’s parish, the English University parish where Dignity literature is available at the back of the Church.