Dignity Canada Dignité

Opening Remarks at Press Conference on February 14, 2019

A Position Paper prepared by Dignity Canada Dignité to the Most Rev. Lionel Gendron, P.S.S., President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops

Cultivating Justice Love:

Toward a Revision of Catholic Sexual Ethics

February 11, 2019

1.      The purpose of this paper

In preparation for the upcoming meeting of Pope Francis with the presidents of bishops’ conferences to discuss the sexual abuse scandal, we of Dignity Canada Dignité (DCD) offer our perspectives on one of the root causes of abuse – the church’s official teachings on sexual ethics.  We do so as people in solidarity with victims of sexual abuse and as people who want to see an end to centuries of abuse and their causes. As lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and other sexual minority (LGBTQ+) Catholics who are members of the Body of Christ, we have a valuable perspective on human sexuality and sexual ethics. We unite our voices with retired auxiliary bishop of Sydney, Australia, Geoffrey Robinson, who in his 2013 book For Christ's Sake End Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church for Good identified some of the underlying systemic causes of clergy sex abuse. 


2.      We offer our perspective as wounded healers who delight in how God made us.

DCD has provided pastoral care to LGBTQ+ Christians and has attempted to be a prophetic voice in the Catholic Church for almost four decades. Indeed we provide care to one another so that we may heal from the trauma inflicted on us by members of the church including its pastors. We are what gay Catholic priest Henri Nouwen termed “wounded healers.” We are also, in one respect, more than Nouwen could dare to be - free to clearly state that our sexual orientations and gender identities are entirely good, true and beautiful, and reflect our created wholeness.  Nouwen was trapped in the clerical closet. With our siblings of Dignity USA and many similar groups and organizations around the world, we have long called for a revision to the church’s official teachings on sexual ethics. In 1985, we and Dignity USA co-authored “Sexual Ethics: Experience, Growth, and Challenge - A Pastoral Reflection for Lesbian and Gay Catholics.”

3.      We offer our perspective in solidarity with the abused.

We feel deep empathy with the victims of sexual abuse because we have also been sexually injured; indeed some of us have suffered multiple sexual injuries from Catholic institutions, teachings, policies, and personnel. News reports in 2018 included several examples of gay men who were sexual abused as children by priests. In a particularly disturbing story summarized by New Ways Ministry, the Archbishop of Paris restricted Monsignor Tony Anatrella, a much-lauded priest expert and Vatican consultant in so-called sexual conversion therapy who was sexually abusing his LGBTQ+ clients.[1]

4.      We offer our perspective as people who persevere in recognizing the Divine dwelling within and among us.

Against unfavorable odds, members of DCD have journeyed through life discerning in many graced communities the will of God for us as LGBTQ+ Catholics. With God’s grace, we have strived to live and love with integrity. We have shared the journey with numerous Catholic pastoral ministers, theologians, other LGBTQ+ organizations and Catholic families, as well as Christians from many denominations. Through the years, many members of DCD have continued to attend Mass. This is in spite of statistics that say that 88% of Catholics in Canada do not believe it is necessary to go to church in order to be moral, and 81% of Catholics who believe it is not important to believe in God in order to be moral.[2] Some have been mistreated or forced out of their parishes and others have quietly endured what is generally a second-class status in what remains, despite Vatican II, a patriarchal tradition-bound church that embodies and teaches contempt for women and the LGBTQ+ sexual minorities. A pastoral associate in Edmonton was fired from his parish because he is in a relationship with a man, and because he started a welcoming ministry.[3] A gay married couple in another city reports that while they attend Mass together regularly wearing civil wedding bands, they have sometimes felt excluded by various looks of other parishioners, by being invited more than once to a singles’ program, and by the knowledge that their relationship receives no support from the church although the church provides marriage preparation, couples’ programming, and troubled marriage retreats to straight couples. Many LGBTQ+ Catholics would hesitate even to honestly discuss certain aspects of their lives with a priest in the sacrament of reconciliation.

5.      We offer our perspective in the spirit of synodality.

Because of the particulars of our oppression, God has gifted us with unique liberating insights.[4] In the spirit of synodality, we present what God has freely given us to the upcoming meeting of bishops who will be discussing clergy sexual abuse. We offer our insights not as institutional theologians, episcopal teachers or authorized catechists, but as everyday Catholics who confidently assert what we know of the things of God in our lives, specifically in our sexual lives and those of our loved ones. The Catechism affirms that God continues to reveal Godself through the people of God[5] and as the International Theological Commission has said, “vast multitudes of humble Christian believers… have privileged access… to the deep truths of God.”[6] If these assertions are true, then we who are LGBTQ+ Christians also reveal the work of God in our lives. We call on our bishops to listen to LGBTQ+ Christians with respect, compassion and sensitivity.

6.      We offer our perspective in spite of being silenced.

LGBTQ+ Christians have not been listened to. Our voices have been silenced, rejected and demonized. [7] A legalistic, authoritarian mindset that tends to reject and disrespect others has governed the actions and pronouncements of many priests and bishops (and a few religious sisters), leaving too many of us orphaned from communities and families that should have shown us the unconditional mercy of God. We ask now, as we have continuously since the Dignity movement began in 1969, to be heard as who and what we are. We speak our truths as children of the source of all truth, called to live in truth. Our sexual identities are important truths. To live in truth is to be honest about our sexual identities. We reject the sin of clericalism because it asserts that the church’s pastors have the sole possession of truth and have the right to silence the voices of other church members. We reject the sin of clericalism because it privileges being high on a hierarchical structure. We reject the sin of clericalism because it stifles the unfolding of mystery and the development of doctrine. True discipleship trusts in the new promptings of a God who is young.[8]


7.      We rejoice when pastors are truly conformed to Christ.

In the ordination rite, we pray that the newly ordained becomes more conformed to Christ. And so we rejoice when pastors take the risk to hear us (as Jesus did with Zacchaeus) and go out to meet us where we are (as the father did with his prodigal son in Luke’s parable). Pope Francis reminds us that a good pastor has the smell of the sheep.[9] We applaud Cardinal Blase Cupich for his careful disciplining of the priest who burned a welcoming ministry flag that included the cross and a rainbow in 2018, and for clearly expressing support for the LGBTQ+ community after the mass murder at the PULSE nightclub in Orlando in 2016. We applaud other courageous bishops in the United States, Canada, the Philippines and other parts of the world who did the same. Gratefully, the All Inclusive Ministries (AIM) at Our Lady of Lourdes parish in Toronto worked with the parish to produce a special liturgy of mourning in response to this tragic event, which touched LGBTQ+ people in many nations. Cardinal Cupich has an LGBTQ+ welcoming ministry in Chicago, and has stood with Fr. James Martin in calling for more such ministries and for a general overhaul in the way the church treats LGBTQ+ people.

8.      We have suffered for generations and continue to suffer when teachers and pastors act out of fear rather than faith.

Saints John Chrysostom, Ambrose and Augustine misinterpreted the story of the destruction of Sodom from the Bible, reading it very differently from authorities no less than Jesus Christ himself. Thus began an intense tradition of contempt, which was amplified in a work by Saint Peter Damian and led eventually to persecutions and the criminalization of “sodomites” in harsh legal codes that were spread around the world through European imperialism. While there were seasons of relative tolerance documented in 1980 by historian and gay Catholic John Boswell, the church has failed us pastorally through most of its history, but especially in a series of Vatican documents issued beginning in 1986. The ill-considered reassertion and further development of doctrinal contempt, without respect for our faithful discernment, formation of consciences and the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives and relationships, has caused serious harm. The church called by God to exercise an option for the poor has too often and in too many ways impoverished us. In saying this we do not mean to position ourselves as outside the church. We are present in a hidden or more open way in every human group, tribe, nation, culture, and institution. As church we are called to exercise the option for the poor with all categories of the poor, including ourselves as LGBTQ+ Christians. Many of us struggle to love ourselves, and the Catholic Church like many churches has made that very difficult. Some of us have been harmed by programs for the “same-sex attracted” that make us hate ourselves by demanding that we live extraordinary lives of sexual renunciation based on the assumption that no matter how illogical or antagonistic, church teaching is divine. In our discernment based on decades of struggle and reflection, if it is not a teaching of love, it cannot be the authentic teaching of Christ or Christ’s church. And as Sister Margaret Farley teaches, justice and love are inseparable. If we as the Catholic Church are to act with preferential love for the poor, then the needs of LGBTQ+ Christians must be addressed. We call on our bishops to act with charity[10] by building a bridge with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.

9.      We call for a re-examination of traditional interpretations of biblical passages used to justify anti-LGBTQ+ attitudes and teachings.

Throughout the centuries, opponents of same-gender love and gender variation have used the Bible to justify their views. LGBTQ+ activists refer to these as the “clobber passages.” This term conveys the feeling of being beaten over the head with the Bible. Numerous Protestant scholars have critiqued anti-queer interpretations and offered queer liberating perspectives, and Catholic biblical scholars such as Gina Hens Piazza have laid the groundwork for similar Catholic approaches. American Catholic priest and theologian Daniel A. Helminiak published his groundbreaking What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality in 1994, and revised it in 2000. Helminiak finds that the Bible is essentially indifferent to same-gender relationships. In his 2002 book Faith Beyond Resentment and many works since, English Catholic priest and theologian James Alison teaches us to read the Bible contextually and spiritually, without shame, as self-accepting queer people.


10.  The chasm between the beliefs of ordinary Catholics on LGBTQ+ issues and the official teaching continues to widen.

As of 2018, 28 countries recognized same-gender marriage or civil unions. These include nations with deep Catholic roots such as Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Ireland, Malta, Mexico, Portugal, and Spain. Fr. Paul F. Morrissey argues that this is for two reasons.[11] The first has to do with the erosion of the credibility of the Catholic Church on sexual matters, especially in the face of clergy sexual abuse. The second has to do with the Catholic sense of sacramentality that sees an outpouring of grace in all good things even beyond the seven sacraments. In the US and Canada, the majority of Catholics accept and approve of same-gender marriage. 60% in Canada in 2015, and 67% in the US in 2017 expressed support for same-gender marriage.[12] At the recent synod on youth, the consulted generation even in a rigged consultation expressed LGBT support, but the final document crafted by bishops silenced that support. According to paragraph 150 of the final document, “There are questions relating to the body, affectivity and sexuality which require a deeper anthropological, theological and pastoral elaboration, to be carried out in the most appropriate ways and at the most appropriate levels, from the local to the universal.”[13] While we support immediate, contextual and local pastoral measures in favor of the LGBTQ+ minorities throughout the church, we agree with Daniel Horan, OFM, who calls for Pope Francis to write a prophetic post-synodal apostolic exhortation to the whole church in which he improves on the final document and uses the acronym LGBT.[14]

11.  We have a moral obligation to protect LGBTQ+ Christians from violence and discrimination.

Paragraph 150 of the final synod document “reaffirms that God loves every person and so does the Church, renewing its commitment against all discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation.” There are still over 70 countries in the world in which LGBTQ+ people have no rights. In 12 of them, homosexuality is punishable by death. In countries that have Catholic communities, we have an obligation to speak up for the rights of LGBTQ+ minorities as Cardinal Oswald Gracias did in the debate that led to the decriminalization of homosexuality in India in September 2018. In Canada there are groups who have been sponsoring LGBTQ+ refugees from countries in which their lives are in danger. In Edmonton, these include Anglican, Evangelical Lutheran, United Church, Presbyterian, Mennonite and Unitarian congregations. We call on Catholic individuals, parishes and bishops in Canada and throughout the world to advocate for the decriminalization of LGBTQ+ sexual minorities and to lend concrete support to LGBTQ+ refugees.

12.  We call for a commitment to synodality.

As LGBTQ+ Christians, we rejoice in Pope Francis’ recovery of a more authentic synod process. Synodality is “the specific modus vivendi et operandi of the Church, the People of God, which reveals and gives substance to our being as communion when all journey together, gather in assembly and take an active part in evangelising mission.”[15] Sadly, many pastors and others have silenced, rejected and demonized LGBTQ+ Christians. Rather than journeying in faith with LGBTQ+ siblings, they have often reacted to us with anger and fear. Those in positions of authority, though sometimes unintentionally, have used their “formidable legislative responsibility” to drive many from the shared road. Their actions tend to reflect that little or no “appropriate prior consultation”[16] was taken, even if their office demanded it. This has caused many LGBTQ+ Catholics and their families to question their Catholic faith. The entire People of God must live out its synodal calling.[17] We call on our bishops to journey synodaly with LGBTQ+ Christians.

13.  We call for concrete action to enable synodality.

There are many ways the Canadian bishops could do this, beyond the February meeting. To list some examples, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops could convene a committee that would include LGBTQ+ Catholics who may in good conscience object to Catholic teachings, to discern authentic and effective approaches to ministry with LGBTQ+ Catholics and our families, schools, parishes, and dioceses. This committee could study the history of Catholic LGBTQ+ ministry in Canada and issue a document of truth and reconciliation that would lead to projects of reconciliation and bridge building with LGBTQ+ Catholics and our families. Dioceses could open offices of LGBTQ+ ministry and employ LGBTQ+ pastoral workers whose aim would be to develop ministries with LGBTQ+ Catholics and our families in schools and parishes. Such ministries would include LGBTQ+ Catholics who in good conscience object to anti-LGBTQ+ Catholic teachings. Parish leaders, seminarians, lay pastoral workers and pastors could receive mandatory training from LGBTQ+ Catholic leaders in best practices for listening with respect and charity to LGBTQ+ Catholics. Dioceses could establish listening circles in which Catholics who are not LGBTQ+ hear, reflect and pray with their LGBTQ+ Catholic siblings. We would gather in such circles with an understanding that listening is not a gift the hierarchy bestows on the people, but an ordinary practice of communion without which we are by definition failing to live together as we ought.


14.  We call for repentance and reconciliation.

The church must repudiate and/or revise the worst of its teachings on sexual ethics. Reacting to the U.S. bishops’ interpretation of Humana persona in To Live in Christ Jesus, where they claim that queer rights are human rights, and that same-gender loving persons like all people should be accorded respect, friendship and justice, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in its 1986 Letter on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons says the “pro-homosexual” movement is deceitful and dangerous to families, and describes violence against same-gender loving minorities not as oppression, but as a consequence of liberation.[18] This counterintuitive and unsubstantiated claim is unconvincingly explained in a follow-up 1992 CDF document on queer rights entitled Some Considerations Concerning the Response to Legislative Proposals on the Non-Discrimination of Homosexual Persons. In 2003, the Vatican issued Some Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons and in 2004, the anti-feminist and anti-queer Letter to the Bishops of the Church on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World. In November 2005, Pope Benedict XVI’s Vatican issued its Instruction Concerning the Criteria for the Discernment of Vocations with Regard to Persons with Homosexual Tendencies in View of Their Admission to the Seminary and to Holy Orders, whose anti-queer paragraphs were defended in the Vatican press by the sex abuser Father Tony Anatrella. The Vatican of Pope Francis reproduced these paragraphs word for word in The Gift of the Priestly Vocation in December 2016.[19]

No expression of contempt for any person is a word of God or an authentic teaching of the church. The church that played a significant historical role in our oppression is wrong, and must change its teaching as part of its efforts to make amends with those it has deeply wronged. As we continue to learn of the negative physiological and psychological effects of homophobia, the church has a duty to revise and repudiate its teachings of contempt, and to work towards healing and reconciliation.[20] Pope John Paul II made many apologies to various groups including the Jewish people, and he changed the teaching on slavery to “clarify” that it was always intrinsically evil. He attempted to respond to feminist critiques with new doctrines on women that in most respects made things worse. Words must be the right words, and they must be joined to deeds. We are one of the groups historically injured by the church up to this very moment. We need the church to repudiate its historic teaching of contempt for same-gender loving and gender variant sexual minorities, especially as formulated beginning in 1986, and to begin to make reparations with affirming teaching. The necessary scholarly work has already been done. Unfortunately, the Vatican has marginalized and sometimes attempted to silence the best theologians. Now under and with Pope Francis, let a more synodal church avail itself of the riches of their research and discoveries.

15.  We call for affirmation.

We seek not only inclusion, but also affirmation within our church as Christ's LGBTQ+ disciples. Affirmation means recognizing our existence, naming us how we wish to be named, extending friendship to us, welcoming us into the life of the church, and celebrating and mourning with us. As church, we commit ourselves to maintaining and strengthening the bonds of communion that unite us with all disciples of the Risen Savior. If we are united and live in peace, the God of love and peace will be with us (2 Corinthians 13:11). 

16.  We call for a revision of the Catholic theology of LGBTQ+ persons.

The Catechism’s paragraphs 2357-59 regarding same-gender loving people and relationships summarize and restate harmful elements of the teaching of contempt, and do not reflect reliable contemporary knowledge from the social and medical sciences, and the humanities. While we join James Martin in citing the few positive lines in the Catechism, we know these lines are in direct contradiction to the surrounding text, and to the bulk of church teaching specific to us throughout Christian history and especially in Vatican documents since 1986. The experience of LGBTQ+ communities and current scholarly consensus regarding biological sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression must inform this revision of Catholic theology.

17.  We call for an end to sexual conversion therapies.

Sexual conversion therapies do not work, and they cause immense suffering. Research has long proven the uselessness and damaging effects of such therapy, sometimes called “ex-gay” therapy, “reparative” therapy or “deprogramming.”[21] All of the world’s reputable associations of psychologists, psychiatrists and medical experts have repudiated sexual conversion therapy. The bishop of Colorado, however, recently had priests trained to facilitate small groups based on such approaches. We demand that all Canadian and world bishops oppose sexual conversion therapy, which attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity based on the mistaken view that all persons are made and meant to be heterosexual and cisgender men or women, and support legislative efforts to ban it.

18.  We call for better Catholic approaches to the mystery of the human person.

Instead of relying on the Catechism and outdated, often toxic church tradition, let the church trust the insights of LGBTQ+ theorists and theologians. First, it is theologically sound and respectful to do so. The rite of baptism celebrates the gift of the individual by God to the community. By ignoring and discounting the uniqueness of a person, we dishonor God and God’s creation. The Bible contains multiple stories in which one’s name is of great significance. As LGBTQ+ people, we do not want to be referred to as people with gender issues or as those who experience same-sex attraction. While the names we assert for our sexual identities are not our only names, we must be allowed to use them. Martin in Building a Bridge has a good theological argument regarding naming. Transgender people often change their names to reflect their true gender identities. We must use each person’s preferred names and pronouns. Second, we now know more about human sexuality than any generation before us. Facts from scholarship and human experience must continue to be used to revise official teaching. Third, pastors, psychologists and parents have witnessed the damaging effects of a lack of recognition and support. Transgender people, for example, face much higher rates of suicide compared to lesbian, gay and bisexual people.[22] Hilary Howe is among those doing important, groundbreaking work in transgender Catholic ministry.[23] Christians have a moral obligation to stand in solidarity with transgender persons. We applaud Jesuit Father Gilles Mongeau for publicly supporting Canada’s transgender rights law. We wish that Canada’s bishops had done the same. Catholic leaders must protect all LGBTQ+ persons from “unjust discrimination”[24] and physical violence. In our view, all social discrimination on the basis of gender and sexual orientation is unjust. We call on our bishops to change church teachings to recognize the human person as an unfolding mystery, and sexual identity as encompassing biological sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. We commend the notion of “sexual personhood” expounded by Catholic sexual ethicists Michael Lawler and Todd Salzman.


19.  We call for an honouring of diversity in unity but not uniformity.

In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis elaborates an integral ecology which sees the interconnectedness of environmental, economic, political, social, cultural, and ethical issues. Our interconnectedness demands a mutual exchange of gifts so that the needs of all members of present and future generations will be met. We have something to contribute. Sometimes we feel as LGBTQ+ Christians that our gifts are being refused because our uniqueness does not fit anti-queer interpretations of Christian anthropology. This impoverishes all of us. We are not disposable; no one is disposable. We believe that we must realize and freely express who we are in order to achieve the common good, “the sum of those conditions of social life which allow social groups and their individual members relatively thorough and ready access to their own fulfillment.”[25] As Leonardo Boff and Catherine LaCugna teach, the Holy Trinity is a model and powerful help for building just and loving communities in which diverse persons and groups of persons thrive.

20.  We call for an honouring of queer saints and authentic holiness.

The Catechism acknowledges that homosexuality has been around “through the centuries and in different cultures.”[26] We know that there are many LGBTQ+ Christian laypeople, clergy and religious, and we can assume that there have been many queer saints through the ages. Church historians and theologians have discovered many of them.[27] As queer theologians continue to bring new perspectives and insights to theology, we will find more. LGBTQ+ saints are models of discipleship to all people including LGBTQ+ Christians. Their stories must be told and the stories of ordinary LGBTQ+ Christians who strive for holiness must also be told. LGBTQ+ Christians face unique challenges; we have also received unique gifts. James Martin enumerates some of these gifts, including perseverance. We call on bishops to recognize the gifts that LGBTQ+ Christians bring to the church, find a place for those gifts, and to honour queer saints. Mark D. Jordan has argued that the witness of queer saints can be a basis for revising church teaching. Any consideration that helps overturn the teaching of contempt is more than welcome. We also caution against a view that expects the poor to be more righteous than others because they are poor, even if sometimes that is the case. The brutal reality is that impoverishment and marginalization cause deep and sometimes irreparable harm. If we insist that the church acknowledge queer saints, we at the same time demand that the bishops stop harming us through violent teaching, and by their support of anti-LGBTQ+ political campaigns. We should not have to be saints in order to be treated with respect, compassion and sensitivity.

21.  We call for a theology of creation.

In the wake of Vatican II, Catholic sexual teaching should have improved with Humanae Vitae, but for reasons that remain opaque, Saint Paul VI refused to listen to the lay people advising him and blundered into repeating inherited rules based on a medieval natural law framework. Integral ecology suggests a new framework for all of Catholic thought, including reflection on sexual ethics. As James Alison argued years ago, we are moving toward a theology of creation to which queer experience is uniquely gifted and called to speak. Specialists will always revisit and creatively rework older teachings and frameworks, and liberation, feminist, and queer theologians may come up with inspiring new accounts of problematic traditions such as natural law and complementarity. For now, we urge the bishops to critique or set aside those traditional frameworks and speak from the theology of creation. As Pope Francis has shown in Laudato Si’, we are fundamentally social beings in a community of creation, and theological anthropology must read scripture and the book of nature with that in mind, rather than continuing to make negative pronouncements from tradition about so-called unnatural acts. The see-judge-act method of Catholic Action and liberation theology that Pope Francis favors begins not with tradition, but with seeing the reality of who and what we are in creation.


22.  We call for a rejection of current teaching on the indivisibility of the unitive and procreative purposes of sexual intimacy.

In response to the sexual abuse crisis, Bishop Geoffrey Robinson critiques Catholic teaching on sexual morality by challenging Humanae Vitae’s teaching that every act of sexual intimacy must be unitive and procreative. Robinson’s first objection is that the refusal to abide by this teaching necessarily produces an image of God as judge, rather than merciful Father. Robinson adds that the church is inconsistent in insisting on applying natural law to sex and not many other areas of life. His second objection is that the unitive and procreative purposes of sex have not been proven sufficiently; his third is that we have focused too much on the God-given nature of acts rather than how such acts affect persons and relationships; and his final objection is that Jesus never said or implied anything with respect to the unitive or procreative purposes of sex.  We call on our bishops to reject the idea that every sexual act must be unitive and procreative, and to focus more on concrete relationships and their qualities and contexts, rather than philosophical arguments about the essences of acts.

23.  We call for a rejection of the theory of natural law.

There are many problems with natural law theory. First, natural law theory has been used to frame LGBTQ+ individuals as objectively disordered. This technical terminology has caused harm to countless LGBTQ+ Catholics, families, and societies. It has damaged and destroyed the faith of many people. Second, natural law theory justifies the prohibition of same-gender intimacy. This prohibition has been the basis of the criminalization of homosexual and other “unnatural” acts between consenting adults, and the refusal to grant social and legal recognition to same-gender relationships. Interestingly, many predominantly Catholic countries, as though throwing off the legacy of the teaching of contempt to make reparations, have led the way in legalizing same-gender marriage. Third, natural law theory has been interpreted to justify the ban on effective contraception, an important instrument of family planning and disease prevention. Half a century after Humanae Vitae, Catholic theologians, pastors and laity continue to struggle to accept the ban on contraception and its natural law justification. We conclude with most that there is no meaningful distinction between “natural” and “unnatural” family planning. Catholic theologian Patrick McCormick sums it up well: “The problem with this kind of natural law reasoning, which tends to show up in church teachings on sexuality, is that it overlooks the big picture of our human nature.”[28] Finally, natural law theory gets in the way of Christian discipleship. Natural law theory obscures the clarity of Jesus’ law of love, and can prevent us from following Christ by loving God and neighbor.


24.  We call for an end to the “silence of Sodom.”

Some have blamed gay and bisexual priests for the sexual abuse crisis, and that analysis is clearly homophobic and wrong. “The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010,” a comprehensive research report authored by Karen J. Terry of John Jay College in 2011 and presented to the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, found that no single psychological, developmental or behavioural characteristic differentiated priests who abused minors from those who did not.[29] Further, priests with a homosexual identity were not more likely to sexually abuse minors than those with a heterosexual orientation. Santa Clara University psychologist Dr. Thomas Plante who has spent more than 30 years researching and treating psychological issues among Catholic clergy, argues that same-gender attraction does not make a priest more likely to sexually abuse children.[30] Many gay and bisexual priests continue to serve the church well, and some have taken great risks to serve LGBTQ+ Catholics. Since the church teaches contempt for LGBTQ+ lives and relationships, gay and bisexual priests have been forced to implicitly or explicitly deny that church teaching, relying on more fundamental church teachings such as universal human dignity; love of neighbor as self; and the prohibition on bearing false witness. Unfortunately, because they are in the clerical closet, their everyday lives and professional futures demand they keep quiet about who they really are. This creates what Mark Jordan calls “the silence of Sodom,” an atmosphere of unspoken truth that has historically been forced upon so-called “sodomites” (a hateful word invented by the church), especially in the all-male priesthood and religious life, and shades everywhere into lying. This silence has given rise to a clerical culture of deceit that as James Alison argues, contributes to abuse.[31]

25.  We call for an end to clericalism.

Clericalism is a structure of heteropatriarchy. Though most members of DCD happen to be men, we believe that a feminist critique of heteropatriarchy and toxic masculinity is indispensable for understanding and responding to the sexual abuse crisis in all the needed ways, including through a reform of sexual theology and doctrine. There are many points of convergence of queer and feminist analyses. For example, as Jamie Manson consistently argues, anti-LGBTQ+ church teaching is inseparable from the ideology of gender complementarity.[32] “Feminist” is a name we who are men should be proud to claim. We are influenced by the teachings of theologians such as Mary E. Hunt and M. Shawn Copeland. We also claim the word “queer,” and commend the work of queer theologians including Patrick Cheng, Marcella Althaus-Reid and Robert E. Shore-Goss. We propose that queer, feminist and liberation theologies can help rid the church of clericalism.


26.  Developing an LGBTQ+ Sexual Ethic

In 1985, members of DCD and Dignity USA set out, “With the guidance and support of Jesus' Spirit, [to] discern together and dedicate ourselves to an expression of our sexuality 'in a manner that is consonant with Christ's teaching.'”[33] “Sexual Ethics: Experience, Growth, and Challenge - A Pastoral Reflection for Lesbian and Gay Catholics” was the fruit of a synodal process within the LGBTQ+ community that included over 800 responses to a survey; interviews; discussions at the local, regional, and national level; more reflection; and revisions of the original draft of the document.[34] The sexual ethic is rooted in conscience formation and active discernment that consults scripture, the teachings of the church, human experience, other readings and prayer. The ethic calls LGBTQ+ Catholics to live as faithful followers of Jesus Christ. 

27.  We present from the People of God to the People of God a sexual ethic for LGBTQ+ Catholics.

The sexual ethic builds on a study commissioned by the Catholic Theological Society of America that identifies seven significant values in sexual behavior that promote creative growth and human integration. Dignity offers related questions for reflection with the hope that they may be helpful as LGBTQ+ Christians continue to seek growth as sexual Christians, and as LGBTQ+ Christians confront challenging issues.[35]

SELF-LIBERATING: Does it express one's authentic self and wholesome self-interest as a source and means of growth toward maturity? Does it enslave the self with bonds of compulsion and selfishness?

OTHER-ENRICHING: Does it express a generous interest in, and concern for, others' wellbeing? Does it coerce or violate another person or show cruelty?

HONEST: Does it express the real relationship that exists? Does it seduce and manipulate behind a facade of pretense?

FAITHFUL: Does it express a consistent pattern of interest and concern that can grow deeper and richer? Does it refuse to let intimacy grow?

SOCIALLY RESPONSIBLE: Does it express a realization of relationship to wider communities and is it of service to their interests? Does it contribute to an atmosphere of exploitation or depersonalization?

LIFE-SERVING: Does it express a willingness to share and promote life as well as fulfill one's own needs? Does it allow a relationship to become a mutual or shared selfishness?

JOYOUS: Does it express appreciation for the gift of life and the mystery of love? Does it weaken the other person's self-esteem or ability to enjoy sex and relationships?


28.  We end with a commitment to the “Journey of Faith.”

At the closing Mass on the synod on young people, Pope Francis delivered a homily based on the story in Mark’s Gospel of the healing of the blind beggar, Bartimaeus. The pope calls on Christians to journey in faith with three fundamental steps: to listen, to be a neighbor, and to bear witness. Just as Jesus stopped and listened to the blind man, the first step in the journey of faith is listening. What Pope Francis calls “the apostolate of the ear” involves “listening before speaking.” Many of those with Jesus tried to silence Bartimaeus. For them, this person in need was a nuisance. “They preferred their own timetable above that of the Master, their own talking over listening to others. They were following Jesus, but they had their own plans in mind.” But as the pope teaches, “for Jesus, the cry of those pleading for help is not a nuisance but a challenge.” The second step on the journey of faith is to be a neighbor. Jesus “goes personally” to meet the blind beggar, and “does not delegate someone else” to do so. “That is how God operates. He gets personally involved with preferential love for every person. By his actions, he already communicates his message.” As the pope says, “We are called to carry out God’s work in God’s own way: in closeness, by cleaving to him, in communion with one another, alongside our brothers and sisters.” In Pope Francis’ view, “being a neighbor means bringing the newness of God into the lives of our brothers and sisters” and “serves as an antidote to the temptation of easy answers and fast fixes.” The final step on the journey of faith is to bear witness. In the world today, “so many children, so many young people, like Bartimaeus, are looking for light in their lives. They are looking for true love. And like Bartimaeus who in the midst of that large crowd called out to Jesus alone, they too seek life, but often find only empty promises and few people who really care.” Pope Francis reminds us that “it is not Christian to expect our brothers and sisters who are seekers to knock on our doors; we ought to go out to them, bringing not ourselves but Jesus. He sends us, like those disciples, to encourage others and to raise them up in his name. He sends us forth to say to each person: ‘God is asking you to let yourself be loved by him.’”[36] We of Dignity Canada Dignité see hints in Pope Francis’ homily of what is possible for LGBTQ+ Catholics and the institutional church. We call for open dialogue; for our dignity to be acknowledged; for our lives to be respected; for our wisdom to be received; for teachings to change. We seek respect, friendship, and justice.

[1] https://www.newwaysministry.org/2018/08/06/prominent-anti-gay-priest-removed-from-ministry-for-sexually-abusing-patients.


[2] Reginald Wayne Bibby and Angus Reid, Canada's Catholics: Vitality and Hope In a New Era (Novalis, 2016), 91.

[3] https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/edmonton-catholic-archdiocese-mark-guevarra-fired-pastoral-1.4529164.

[4] Evagelium Gaudium, no. 130.

[5] Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 92-93, 99.

[6] International Theological Commission, Sensus Fidei in the Life of the Church (2014), no. 109.

[7] Dignity USA and Dignity Canada Dignité have been rejected by local bishops. Among others, Sr. Jeannine Grammick has been silenced and her pastoral ministry to LGBTQ+ Catholics curtailed. Today, Catholic websites such as LifeSite and Church Militant vilify LGBTQ+ Catholics and our advocates.

[8] In his book God is Young, Pope Francis presents an image of God who like a young person has the attitude of a prophet who speaks and acts, who denounces and looks forward.

[9] Evangelii Gaudium, no. 24.

[10] International Theological Commission, Sensus Fidei in the Life of the Church, nos. 57-58.

[11] https://theweek.com/articles/557418/why-are-catholics-supportive-gay-marriage.

[12] http://www.pewforum.org/fact-sheet/changing-attitudes-on-gay-marriage; Reginald Wayne Bibby and Angus Reid, Canada's Catholics, 92.

[13] http://www.ncregister.com/blog/edward-pentin/youth-synod-final-document-five-areas-of-concern.

[14] https://www.ncronline.org/news/opinion/faith-seeking-understanding/young-people-deserve-hear-directly-pope-francis-synod.

[15] International Theological Commission, Synodality in the Life and Mission of the Church (2018), no. 6.

[16] International Theological Commission, Select Themes of Ecclesiology on the Occasion of the Twentieth Anniversary of the Closing of the Second Vatican Council (1984), no. VI.2.3.

[17] International Theological Commission, Synodality in the Life and Mission of the Church, no. 72.

[18] Letter on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, nos. 9-10.

[19] The Gift of the Priestly Vocation, nos. 199-201.

[20] See http://www.concordia.ca/cunews/main/releases/2011/02/02/physiological-impacts-of-homophobia.html and https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/all-things-lgbtq/201712/the-dangers-homophobia.

[21] https://www.hrc.org/resources/the-lies-and-dangers-of-reparative-therapy.

[22] https://egale.ca/backgrounder-lgbtq-youth-suicide/.

[23] http://transcatholic.org.

[24] Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2358.

[25] Mater et Magistra, no. 65; Gaudium et spes, no. 26.

[26] Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2357.

[27] Among these theologians is Kittredge Cherry; see http://qspirit.net/saints/.

[28] https://www.newwaysministry.org/2016/05/30/untying-the-knots-and-nots-of-natural-law-theory/.

[29] http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/child-and-youth-protection/upload/The-Causes-and-Context-of-Sexual-Abuse-of-Minors-by-Catholic-Priests-in-the-United-States-1950-2010.pdf.

[30] https://cruxnow.com/church-in-the-usa/2018/09/10/clergy-sex-abuse-not-about-gay-priests-top-psychologist-says/.

[31] https://www.associationofcatholicpriests.ie/2018/08/gay-priests-are-caught-in-a-trap-of-dishonesty/.

[32] https://www.ncronline.org/news/justice/grace-margins/women-and-lgbtq-people-must-find-solidarity-struggle-just-church.

[33] http://www.dignitycanada.org/dcdethic.html.

[34] http://www.dignitycanada.org/dcdethic.html.

[35] http://www.dignitycanada.org/dcdethic.html.

[36] http://www.synod2018.va/content/synod2018/en/news/pope-francis-homily-during-the-mass-for-the-closing-of-the-xv-or.html.

Dignity Canada Dignité is Canada's organization of Roman Catholics who are concerned about our church's sexual theology, particularly as it pertains to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons. We work in collaboration with other Catholic organizations seeking reform in our church's leadership and teachings.

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