Detroit, Mich., Mar 20, 2020 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- A dissenting Catholic LGBT advocacy group rejects Church teaching and confuses the Christian path to holiness, Auxiliary Bishop Gerard Battersby of Detroit has said.
While the bishop’s March 9 letter to the Detroit archdiocese’s priests forbids Mass for Dignity Detroit members, it stresses that the Dignity Detroit members are invited to join the Catholic faithful to affirm Church teaching and “missionary transformation.”
A Mass for the group and its members is not possible “in any parish church, chapel, or diocesan facility,” said the bishop. “This will no doubt be difficult for some to hear, but it arises from heartfelt pastoral concern for members of Dignity Detroit.”
“As you know, Dignity Detroit has long operated its ministry in the Archdiocese of Detroit while rejecting some of the Church’s teachings on sexual morality,” said Bishop Battersby. “These teachings, though challenging, promote human flourishing and bring joy when received with open hearts. This situation is thus a source of sadness, for those who reject the teachings deprive themselves of the blessings that come with living a life in Christ.”
The Dignity Detroit group on its website describes itself as “a faith community of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Catholics, their families and friends who unite to celebrate God’s love for all persons.” It is a chapter of Dignity USA, which is headquartered in Massachusetts.
Dignity USA put out a March 18 statement including responses from both national and chapter leaders.
Dignity Detroit’s leadership council said that Bishop Battersby had contacted the chapter leaders in mid-January and asked to meet with them to discuss the pastoral letter and the archdiocese’s initiatives for people with same-sex attraction. The meeting was set for late March.
Frank D’Amore, President of Dignity Detroit, said it was “extremely disappointing” that the measures were sent out before the meeting.
“We truly believe that it is impossible to learn anything about our community and not be moved by the love our members have for the Catholic faith, and the integrity with which they live their lives,” he said, according to Dignity USA. “It is hard to understand why church officials would cast out people struggling to remain connected with the Church while so many are leaving.”
“Archdiocesan officials clearly do not understand the truth of what it means to be gay or transgender, and how integral these components of our identities are,” D’Amore continued. “For many of us, it took years of struggle with what we’d been taught to be able to embrace our identities as grace, as blessings from our loving God. Dignity Detroit’s work helps save many people from shame, and many families from the kinds of divisions that used to be the rule among Catholics. Our ministry literally saves lives.”
For Battersby, however, the possibility of confusion about holiness is also a paramount issue.
“As we endeavor to provide a culture of empathy and understanding throughout the Archdiocese according to the light of the Gospel, it is essential that the Church not seem to condone Dignity Detroit’s competing vision for growth in holiness,” he said in his letter to priests.
He asked the priests to refrain from offering Mass for Dignity Detroit members anywhere in the archdiocese “lest we confuse the faithful by seeming to endorse an alternative and contradictory path to sanctity.”
While the bishop did not go into detail about the history of Dignity Detroit chapter or its national organization, Dignity USA has called for major changes in the Church and has been backed by major, politically powerful LGBT organizations.
In 2015 Dignity USA called for same-sex unions to be blessed as sacramental marriages in the Catholic Church, a position far at the fringes of historic Christianity. It also advocated for the ordination to the priesthood of women, those of same-sex sexual orientation, and those of variant gender identity. The Church has never recognized the ordination of women as valid and has explicitly barred the ordination of men with deep-seated homosexual tendencies.
Dignity USA’s annual convention in 2015 included as a keynote speaker the pornographic sex columnist Dan Savage, a critic of monogamy and of Benedict XVI.
As of March 20 the Dignity Detroit website publicized a Mass held every Sunday night at Sacred Heart Chapel of Marygrove College. The private graduate college was run by the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary until December 2019, when it announced its closure.
Dignity Detroit said that the chapel is still open despite the college’s closure, though it is unclear whether this information has been updated in light of new closures and other precautions since the coronavirus pandemic began to dominate U.S. life.
The bishop commended Dignity Detroit’s outreach to the poor. However, he said the group’s rejection of Church teaching on chastity is “incompatible with the path of sanctification on which Christ bids his Church to travel and is at odds with the important work of the Courage and EnCourage apostolates.”
Courage is a Catholic apostolate intended for people with same-sex attraction who want to live according to Church teaching. EnCourage is a partner apostolate for parents and families of Courage members.
Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of Dignity USA, said almost all Dignity chapters have been expelled from Catholic space. As far back as the 1970s and 1980s Catholic priests were barred from serving Dignity chapters.
“There are few experiences as devastating as being kicked out of your family home and being told you are not worthy of being fed,” she said.
Duddy-Burke said Dignity USA is supporting the Detroit chapter during the controversy.
Bishop Battersby said he has communicated the problems with Dignity with “respect and genuine affection” for the membership. He has extended to them a “heartfelt invitation” to “join us in our missionary efforts to promote the New Evangelization and to participate in a ministry to the same-sex attracted that is faithful to the teachings of Christ’s Church.”
He said such a step is needed as part of the “missionary pivot” underway in the Archdiocese of Detroit, following its 2016 archdiocesan synod and Archbishop Allen Vigneron’s pastoral letter “Unleash the Gospel.”
“As we seek to leave no one behind in our missionary transformation and to help everyone entrusted to our care find salvation, please know that your support for the Courage and EnCourage apostolates, your prayers, and your pastoral concern for the men and women of Dignity Detroit, are greatly appreciated and will surely bear fruit for the kingdom of God.”
Bishop Battersby, who has been an auxiliary bishop since January 2017, discussed why the matter wasn’t previously addressed. He said he presumed it was addressed in a pastoral approach applying the principle of the “law of graduality.”
While Bishop Battersby did not expand on his meaning, such approaches generally refer to accommodating individuals’ or groups’ gradual growth towards the fullness of morality and living a more consistent Christian life.
“No matter how you view that earlier approach, I pray that you recognize the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the present decision,” he told the archdiocese’s priests.
Bishop Battersby spoke in his role as the archbishop’s delegate for the pastoral implementation of the synod action step dedicated to providing “resources for developing a culture of empathy and understanding throughout the Archdiocese, according to the light of the Gospel” so that people who experience “the challenges of gender identity and same sex attraction will find support for growing as a human person in the virtue of Christ–like chastity.” The action step is numbered 3.3B2 in Vigneron’s pastoral letter.
As CNA has previously reported, Dignity USA has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants from wealthy LGBT funders to support the Equally Blessed Coalition, which currently includes the dissenting Catholic groups Dignity USA, New Ways Ministry, and Call to Action.
Funding has come from the Arcus Foundation, founded by the billionaire heir Jon Stryker, who is not Catholic. Its U.S. strategy includes funding Christian groups which work for pro-LGBT doctrinal change within their denominations. It has funded groups in other Christian communities, including Episcopalian groups and Methodist groups, before and during their churches’ global fracturing over issues such as ecclesial authority and homosexuality.
Darren Walker, president of the deeply influential Ford Foundation, was a longtime board member of the foundation.
A 2014 grant of $200,000 supported Dignity USA and the Equally Blessed Coalition “to support pro-LGBT faith advocates to influence and counter the narrative of the Catholic Church and its ultra-conservative affiliates,” grant listings from the foundation showed. The effort was linked to the Catholic Church’s Synod on the Family and World Youth Day
In 2012 the Equally Blessed Coalition issued a report attacking the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Knights of Columbus for their work to maintain the legal definition of marriage as a union of one man and one woman. The report’s funders included the LGBT advocacy leader the Human Rights Campaign.
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