Dignity Canada Dignité
Ethics: Experience, Growth, and Challenge
On the weekend of May 17-19, 1985, ten members of Dignity USA, with input
from Dignity Canada Dignité and others, met together in
San Francisco to begin the process of fulfilling the mandate of a motion
passed by the House of Delegates in Seattle in 1983. That mandate was "in
partial recognition of Dignity's twentieth anniversary, to present a document
to the Executive House of Delegates for approval at that body's meeting on the
occasion of the 1989 National Convention."
Out of that first meeting, the Task Force on Sexual Ethics issued the
following message to the entire Dignity membership:
"As members of your Task Force on Sexual Ethics, our first act is to
address ourselves to the prayer, reflection, and study that are essential to
success. With the guidance and support of Jesus' Spirit, we can discern
together and dedicate ourselves to an expression of our sexuality 'in a
manner that is consonant with Christ's teaching.' We commit ourselves to
listening to you and to your experience."
Over the next four and a half years the Task Force met eight times,
visiting the cities of New York, Vancouver, Philadelphia, Chicago, Miami,
Indianapolis, and Cincinnati. An initial draft of the document was presented
to the Dignity membership in Miami in July, 1987, and a final edition was
completed in March, 1989, under the careful scrutiny of a professional editor.
The Task Force is grateful and proud to pass on to you its final report — "Sexual
Ethics — Experience, Growth, Challenge." The House of Delegates voted in
1989 to "fully accept and endorse the document...."
It should be noted and emphasized that in reality what the Dignity
membership has thereby accepted and endorsed is nothing other than its own
lived experience. It was at the Vancouver meeting in February, 1986, that the
Task Force determined to take a decisively non-authoritarian, non-hierarchical
approach to dealing with the subject of sexual ethics. The operative principle
here was that the Church must be instructed by the lived experience of its
people. The Task Force also decided, however, not to see the hierarchy as the
primary audience of the document.
Instead, the document was defined as communication from the people of God
to the people of God. As such, the document was seen as filling a pastoral
role, and was therefore intended to be a source of "conscience formation and
spiritual growth." It was to that end that the Task Force set itself to the
task of listening to the Dignity membership via the two survey sources which
it had developed. The end result, we believe, is a document on sexual ethics
which reflects what you, the Dignity membership, have experienced in the
ongoing task of finding expressions of sexuality which are, as the Dignity Statement
of Position and Purpose says "consonant with Christ's teaching."
Let it not be said, however, that the process is finished. Your Task Force
on Sexual Ethics wants to say most emphatically that if we have learned
nothing else over these past years, we certainly have come to know the
immensity of this task not only for the Dignity organization as a whole, but
also for each on of us individually. The work of the Task Force has just been
a beginning. "Sexual Ethics Experience, Growth, Challenge" is just a
beginning. The Experience goes on, the Growth continues, and the Challenge is
always before us as we strive to become always more Christ like in all our
actions, including those that are a part of our sexual conduct. So let the
discussions continue, let the ideas, thoughts, and insights be put into
–Nate Gruel, Chair, Dignity Task Force on Sexual Ethics
Sexual Ethics: Experience, Growth, and Challenge
A Pastoral Reflection for Lesbian and Gay Catholics
Dignity Task Force on Sexual Ethics, 1989
We are Dignity: gay and lesbian Catholics families, and friends. We speak
in a pastoral spirit, to provide a caring and compassionate service that will
meet needs according to Christ's will especially the needs of lesbian and gay
Catholics. We speak in conversation with all the faithful and to strengthen
the bonds of communion with the whole church.
We speak publicly because of our responsibility for one another and to the
Church. Responsibility to the reign of God requires us to speak of what God is
doing in our lives and in the world. All of us, not just Church officials, are
the Church being formed by God. Not to include the contributions of all the
People of God impoverishes the Church and hinders the coming of God's reign.
We believe that we have a particular perspective on human sexuality and
relationships which, as it unfolds, enriches the world and, in its own way,
anticipates the reign of God. Stating and sharing our faith and experience as
gay and lesbian Christians will enrich us and the wider Church and allow the
Good News of Jesus Christ to be heard more clearly in the lesbian and gay
We meet the special challenge to be sexual persons and disciples of Jesus,
and we stand firm in the conviction that we can live responsibly as gay and
lesbian Christians and grow in likeness to Christ. We have felt this challenge
more deeply than many of our brothers and sisters because Church officials
have not only condemned the genital expression of our sexuality but have even
regarded our sexuality as disordered. Despite our commitment to the Church, we
are convinced that such condemnation is not the word of God. Our own
experience is that we can express our sexuality in a manner consonant with
For years we have prayed and talked together about how we integrate our
faith and our sexuality. We have tried to listen to what Christ says to
lesbian and gay disciples. Though we cannot speak for all gays and lesbians in
the Catholic tradition, we must speak of what we know (see Acts 4:1-20). The
love of Christ requires it, for in the accents of lesbian and gay Catholics we
hear the voice of Christ who continues God's work in our midst.
As detailed in the appendices, this document is based on surveys,
interviews, discussions at the local, regional, and national level, and
responses to a preliminary draft of this document. It is the living word of
people who are journeying through life together as a lesbian and gay People of
In speaking of sexual ethics, we speak of the experience, the growth, and
the challenge that we know. The first section of this document describes the
experience of Catholic gays and lesbians associated with Dignity. The second
section offers pastoral assistance to gays and lesbians in their growth as
sexual Christians. The third section states the challenge and hope of the
That challenge we accept. We will continue to work to develop a common
understanding of sexual ethics, to be Church in the lesbian and gay community,
to integrate spirituality and sexuality, and to achieve the deeper communion
that is the gift of the Spirit. As part of that work, this pastoral reflection
on sexual ethics is a gift to ourselves, to our sisters and brothers in the
lesbian and gay community, and to the wider Church. We offer it with the hope
that it will stimulate thought, promote discussion, and support the growth of
all who seek the full life that Jesus offers (see John 10:10).
Section One: The Experience of a Gay and Lesbian
People of God
The Voice of the Oppressed
Invoking God's name, Church officials have forbidden us to live as God
made us. They have told us to feel shame and guilt for who we are and what
we do as sexual beings. They have commanded us not to speak of the truth
that we know. The validity of our experience is denied — the most subtle and
damaging form of oppression.
Our experience of oppression began as children when we were denied models
to which we could look as we struggled to grow and mature sexually. Some of
us were betrayed and abused when we sought guidance. More often, we were
simply told that what made us different was disgusting and forbidden. The
only hope we were offered was that we would grow out of what we felt, or
that marriage would cure us, or that God would heal us if we prayed with
faith, or that God's grace would enable us to endure life without sex and
Fear and internalized homophobia had their effect. Some of us tried to
change. We used counseling, spiritual direction, heterosexual dating, and
even marriage. Some of us tried to deny or repress our feelings. We acted as
though we were not sexual and put up barriers to intimacy and affection.
Some of us tried to live a double life. Some of us reached the point where
life was unbearable. We sought relief in compulsive sex, or alcohol and
drugs, or suicide.
Some of us overcame fear and came out to friends and family or a more
public world. We were able to step outside the facade that was built as a
defense but had become a prison. We were able to be honest with those who
mattered to us. That was a liberating experience, even though it sometimes
meant the loss of family, friends, employment, and Church.
Under the weight of prohibition, rejection, derision, and hate, many of
us have felt estranged from God, Church, society, friends, family - even
from ourselves. Our Church told us to comply or leave. Society warned us to
hide our love and not flaunt our sexuality. Friends were distant. Family
members were unable to understand. The need to deny feeling and affection
left some among us less than whole, lacking in self-esteem, unable to trust.
Despite clear signs of progress, we still experience direct oppression
within the Church. Groups that call attention to such oppression or seek the
development of church teachings on sexuality are forbidden the use of church
property. Some bishops oppose legislation protecting our civil rights. Even
those Church officials who empathize with our struggle hardly dare to risk
public gestures of fellowship and support.
The Strength of the Powerless
We are stronger, both as persons and as Christians, because we make
hard moral decisions. That strength grows as we share the convictions and
commitment that develop out of reflection on our experience as lesbian and
gay People of God.
We have come to realize that being gay or lesbian is God's blessing and
gift. All that God has created is good. All humans are created in God's
own image and likeness. Since humans were not made to be alone (see
Genesis 2:18), as we seek and express intimacy and love we show God's
image in action. We strive to make that image clearer by together acting
justly, loving tenderly, and walking humbly with our God (Micah 6:8).
In our struggle to recognize and affirm the rightness to exist as we
were made, we discovered something that was distinctly ours: our ability
to accept and to nurture the divine gift of selfhood. Self empowerment
brings growth. We grow stronger in our commitment to live a Christian
life. Our identification with Christ and with the Catholic tradition is
the stronger because of the conscious decision and commitment to stay with
our Church. We have the same faith, the same life of grace, and the same
call to discipleship. The values we try to live by are values we have
received through the Church. We are the persons and the believers that we
are because we are the Church. Many of our brothers and sisters feel
rejected by the Church and can no longer identify with the Church or with
Christianity. We share their pain, anger, and disappointment. Still, we
are convinced that God has been with us in our struggles and that it is
God who strengthens us.
Not all who are leaders in the Church speak harshly. Some stand with us
and proclaim the same good news that we learn from our experience. Today
the Word of God speaks ever more clearly through preachers and prophets,
theologians and teachers, proclaiming our dignity and rejecting the
prejudice formerly sustained in the name of God. These disciples, like
Jesus, suffer for speaking and living the truth. Their struggle for
justice, like our own, gives birth to hope and new life.
Even though some Church officials have tried to exclude us, we exercise
our responsibility to redeem the Church from its prejudices. As our models
we have the gentile woman whose insistent faith led Jesus to look beyond
the Chosen People (Matthew 15:21-28) and the Roman centurion whose quiet
faith was recognized in the healing of his beloved boy (Matthew 8:5-13).
The Gospel of Jesus, baptism, and the Eucharist are central influences in
our lives. We align ourselves with the Catholic faith community and its
broader teachings on justice, respect, compassion, and human dignity.
Dignity and communities like us are Church on a grass-roots level.
These gatherings are the sacramental sign that we can be lesbian and gay
and Catholic. Here we listen together to God's Word and make room for one
another at Christ's Table. Here we minister to one another, proclaiming
the good news: God's love for Jesus lives within us.
These communities also are places where we can support one another in
the continuing struggle to integral our sexuality and our spirituality. We
do so by asking ourselves difficult questions and sharing honest answers.
We see our sexuality and its expression as the holy gift of God. The
overwhelming majority of us are able to say that we are both sexually
active and comfortable in our relationship with Christ. Being sexually
active enables us to be more at ease with ourselves, more fulfilled in our
relationships, more productive in our work and service. The Spirit is
evident in a warmer and more peaceful prayer-life.
We acknowledge as well that sexual abstinence freely and positively
chosen is good. Many of us, for various reasons, have attempted a
lifestyle of sexual abstinence. Some have chosen sexual abstinence as a
lifelong way of being sexual in the world, either as part of a formal
religious commitment or as a way to pursue nonsexual interests more
freely. Others have chosen to be sexually abstinent temporarily in order
to pursue certain goals or to reassess or reestablish priorities.
However, when sexual abstinence has been imposed by an outside force
life circumstances, institutional mandate, social pressures — the effect
on our lives has generally been unhealthy, destructive, and alienating.
The energy expended in maintaining an abstinent lifestyle left us too
drained personally to enter into relationships with others or to grow
spiritually. Abstinence attempted out of fear — fear of intimacy, fear of
disease, fear of divine retribution — diminished our humanness, made us
preoccupied with sex, left us hungering for the intimate love of another
Like our heterosexual sisters and brothers, we have had to transcend
centuries of teachings that not only separated spirituality and sexuality
but also considered sexual expression, if not less than human, then at
least a concession to human weakness. We have learned that the living
Christian tradition has more to offer than prohibition and condemnation,
that through the values and ideals of our faith communities we can create
a positive and human sexual ethic. We want our faith to enter more
directly into our sexual decisions and activity as that there well be a
closer integration of sexuality and spirituality.
How We Make Our Decisions
We ask ourselves not only how our spirituality and sexuality relate but
also how we make ethical decisions regarding the physical expression of
our sexuality. As we reflect together on our resources and criteria for
making decisions, we discover that we frequently agree on the general
criteria, the values we want to live by, even though we differ on the
motivation for using them and the conclusions reached in applying them.
What resources have we been using to make decisions that will be
responsible and Christian? Our primary resource, because of our isolation,
has been our individual experience and reflection. Health concerns
influence our sexual decisions because of possible consequences to
ourselves and others. Reading and prayer, traditional resources for making
decisions, are next in importance. Most of us regard other traditional
resources - scripture study, advice from confessor or spiritual mentor,
formal religious education - as less helpful. Most of us have not found
official teaching on sexuality at all helpful in making decisions.
Although we agree that a sexual ethic centered solely on procreation in
the context of heterosexual marriage is not relevant to our experience as
gays and lesbians, the criteria we use for sexual decisions are not so
easily identified. We say that we respond to Christ's call to be loving
when our primary concern is for the quality of our relationships. The
values on which we base our relationships come through clearly: mutual
respect, caring, compassion, trust. understanding, and generosity. What
emerges from our experience and reflection is an emphasis on persons and
on actions that further personal and spiritual growth. We hear a call to
an intimacy in relationships that links sexuality and spirituality. It is
a call that Christians identify with Jesus, who challenged the disciples
to love God totally and to love all others as themselves (Matthew
22:34-40). It is a call that Christians recognize as the ongoing presence
of the Spirit.
Generally, we seek relationships that are whole and not just the
expression of genital sexuality. Most of us almost instinctively reject
sexual activity that is selfish or manipulative, that harms or exploits.
Some prefer to reserve sexual lovemaking for one person in the context of
a lifelong commitment, and many regard lifelong fidelity in a monogamous
relationship as the ideal to strive for. Other couples have remained
faithful to one another while allowing for some sexual expression outside
their relationship, and some attempt completely open relationships. Others
of us are sexually active as singles, either because we choose to be
single, or because we have not yet found a companion. Some of us abstain
from sexual activity for a variety of reasons.
What motivates our use of these criteria? Some base their decisions on
values that they believe contribute to a good human life. Some base their
decisions on what they see as God's will for them. Some base their
decisions on how they identify as disciples of Jesus. Whatever the
motivation and rationale, the actual criteria differ very little.
Most of us have said that we developed decision-making criteria
ourselves, but, when we discuss them together, we find that our faith in
Jesus Christ and our identification with the Christian community strongly
influence our lifestyles as lesbians and gays. We recognize wrongdoing and
sin in our sexual activity when we realize that we have violated our
personal convictions or that our relationship with God has been harmed.
Social convention and Church regulations have little impact. Our
understanding of sexual ethics thus seems to be centered more on character
and personal values than on rules.
Diversity of sexual and genital behaviour is more visible and more
openly discussed in the gay and lesbian community than it is among
heterosexuals. We differ among ourselves in evaluating some of these
practices. As we discuss them together, we are challenged to recognize the
quality of each relationship and to find within it the presence of God. In
doing so, we find that we can come to a greater understanding of sexual
rituals that are not part of our own lovemaking. We see this as a valuable
way of continuing to learn from one another and to care for one another.
As Catholic lesbians and gays we have struggled to affirm our place in
the divine plan for salvation. We have emerged from our struggle strong in
our faith, respectful of the human person, tolerant of diversity,
supportive of the struggles of others, and strongly committed to seeking
justice for ourselves and all our sisters and brothers.
Our struggles are not yet finished. We must continue to speak frankly
of our experience as gay and lesbian Catholics in order to live and grow
in Christ while helping others. We have often been too much in awe of the
Church as institution to speak. We have listened to Church officials -
sometimes abiding by their restrictions, sometimes rejecting them.
Sometimes, like children seeking a parent's approval, we have asked our
leaders to change their positions and accept us. Too rarely have we gone
Fear makes us hesitate: fear of publicity, fear that greater visibility
will cost us what we have gained, fear of further reprisals form Church
authorities, fear that what we say will divide us. But greater fears have
been overcome, and we are the better for it. To remain faithful, we must
Section Two: Living and Growing as Sexual
Spiritual growth contains the responsibility to take risks. We risk when
we speak and act without the encouragement and support of the wider
community of faith. We risk when we state our experience despite those who
reject it. We risk when we deepen our understanding in faith of that
experience. We risk when we discern the truth of that experience even though
the truth may challenge us to deal with our own differences and prejudices.
Only by taking such risks can we commit ourselves to a fuller life as
lesbian and gay Christians.
Engaging ourselves wholeheartedly in the process of spiritual growth
requires us to accept the challenge of being sexual as responsible
Christians. That not only entails acknowledging the discrepancy between
official Church teaching and our own experience as gay and lesbian
Christians but also includes the responsibility of forming our consciences
as Christians. Only then can we be free from sinful structures - including
those of our own making - and thereby faithful to the Christ whose disciples
The struggle for justice and peace is not limited to seeking equality for
sexual minorities nor to developing a whole and healthy sexuality and sexual
ethic. We recognize that these are partial manifestations of God's reign.
Yet they are particular tasks we accept as lesbian and gay Christians. As
members of Dignity, we have committed ourselves to the struggle for justice
in the Church and in society.
The Challenge to be Sexual
In our culture individuals are often reluctant to relate sexuality and
spirituality to one another or to discuss questions of sexual ethics
because such discussions frequently deteriorate into condemnations and
prohibitions. Explaining how we understand and use key terms in this
document may therefore be helpful for the discussion we hope it will
SEXUALITY is the human ability to be attracted to one another
and to enter into relationships by which we receive and give life.
GENITALITY is that aspect of human sexuality by which we, as
bodily beings, use our sexual organs to give and receive pleasure as
part of the expression and creation of union and intimacy. Genitality is
not simply a biological function but is a component of human intimacy.
INTIMACY is that experience of comfortable closeness in which
individuals lower their barriers and enter into each others' lives
through acts of trust, respect, affection, and love.
SPIRITUALITY is the way we experience and respond to God's
call to grow personally in relationship with God and others. Spiritual
growth itself involves integration, a process of achieving wholeness.
For Christians the source, model, and context for this growth is Jesus
ETHICS is the analysis of decisions as to their rightness or
wrongness; it is also the assessment of the values upon which those
decisions are based.
SEXUAL ETHICS deals with decisions and values in the area of
sexuality and genitality. Since ethics serves spiritual growth, an
authentic sexual ethic requires as its foundation an integration of
spirituality and sexuality, an element that has been missing from the
Catholic Christian experience.
PERSONAL INTEGRATION is the process of becoming aware of the
various components of one's life, examining them in the light of
available knowledge and experience, and accepting them as one's own. All
this, for Christians, is to allow the Spirit to fill our lives ever more
fully so that Christ may be revealed in us and we in Christ.
The traditional understanding of sexuality and its genital expression
has often been fragmented and limited. Our own experience suggests a sense
of wholeness. Sexuality and its genital expression are indeed
multifaceted. It is communication and intimacy. It is fun, and it is
vulnerability. It is ritual. It is power, and it is tenderness. The
dimensions of sexuality's tremendous potential lead us, almost inevitably,
to risk the uncertainty and fear of ongoing exploration. What we know and
realize may hold other facets of meaning and expression yet to be
As we continue to deepen our understanding, we realize the challenge is
not to explain or defend who we are. It is to understand ourselves as
graced and our sexuality as a gift. The further challenge is to discover
how to cherish this gift with gratitude and to enrich our lives by a
genital activity, or an abstinence from activity, which respects
individuality and reveals the presence of God in our lives as Christians.
Basic to this challenge is the need to experience our sexuality and its
genital expression as a sacramental encounter with our Creator. In such
playful, enriched, and graced moments, we experience our God as close,
active, and all encompassing, present in and through the other who loves
and is loved. We recognize that dishonesty or selfish holding-back in
these moments distorts the activity and disrupts our deeper relationship
with God. Experiencing sexuality and genitality as a sacramental encounter
with God is at the heart of a fully Christian sexual life.
We emerge from a flawed tradition that often dichotomizes body and soul
and consequently separates sexuality from spirituality. In the past,
Church officials have taught that we, as gays and lesbians, had made a
free choice contrary to nature. We were told that our attraction to
members of our own gender was a refusal to accept God's will for sexual
union. Now Church officials admit that our sexual identity may not be the
result of deliberate choice. To some extent they distinguish between
sexual orientation and genital activity. Yet they still insist 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.
This we cannot accept. 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.
We are not alone in regarding official teachings on issues of sexuality
as not in touch with human experience. At the core of official teaching on
sexuality is the prohibition of any genital expression of sexuality
outside marriage and of any genital sexual expression within marriage not
open to procreation. This ethic increasingly is regarded as irrelevant and
unacceptable by heterosexuals, both those who are married in the Church
and those, like the divorced, the widowed, the handicapped, and the
single, who are sexually disenfranchised.
Scholars have shown the inadequacy of an ethic that regards sexual
intimacy essentially as an agreement to procreate. Vatican Council II
implicitly acknowledged this inadequacy when, in speaking of the purpose
of marriage, it refused to subordinate mutual love and companionship to
the procreation and education of children (Constitution on the Church
in the Modern World, 50).
We believe that we remain fundamentally sexual at all times, whether we
choose to be genitally active or genitally abstinent. We find that the
more sexuality is integrated into the totality of our lives, the more
joyful and peaceful is its genital expression. Thus, we are Christians
both at prayer and at play. We are equally the temple of the Holy Spirit
when we worship and when we make love.
Forming Christian Conscience
We have a responsibility as members of the Christian community to seek
common understanding and communion in that which makes us Christian. We
therefore reaffirm the primacy of the individual conscience and accept the
responsibility for its continuing formation in community. From that
attentiveness to conscience and its continuing formation in community
emerges a shared ethic.
We use the word "conscience" in several ways, corresponding to the
various dimensions of conscience. Broadly, conscience is our experience of
responsibility as we exercise our freedom. One dimension of this is our
attraction to what is good. Another dimension is the body of knowledge and
values we use in making our decisions. A third, the most practical
expression of conscience, is the personal, considered judgment that
individuals have to make on what they ought to do or not do. Christians
see themselves making this judgment in the gracious presence of God as
they seek to be like Christ.
Such attention to conscience and its formation is important if we
indeed claim to remain Catholic while disagreeing with Church authorities.
The Catholic tradition neither identifies nor separates authority and
conscience: since both authority and conscience depend upon God, neither
can dominate or ignore the other.
In the Catholic tradition, "authority" refers to the sources presumed
able to give instruction on God's will; e.g., scripture, tradition, Church
officials, various experts, and collective human experience. Authority is
always presumed to have insight into God's will because it represents the
accumulated wisdom of the Christian people under the guidance of the Holy
Spirit. Yet authorities can obviously disagree on how the Spirit is
guiding God's people. They can also make mistakes in identifying the
movement of the Spirit. Thus, according to Catholic tradition, individuals
are not only free to go against authority's recommendation but also
morally required to do so if they have responsibly concluded that it is
mistaken and that dissent, in theory or in practice, does not violate
others' rights or endanger the common good. As Vatican Council II stated,
"Deep within conscience humans discover a law which they have not laid
upon themselves but which they must obey. Its voice, ever calling them to
love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, tells them inwardly at the
right moment: do this, shun that. For humans have in their heart a law
inscribed by God. Their dignity lies in observing this law, and by it they
will be judged." (Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, 16).
Forming conscience goes deeper than decisions or knowledge and values.
It reaches to the heart of how we become the persons we are and want to
be. A formed conscience consists of the freely made commitments and the
freely established loyalties by which we shape character and become
virtuous. For us as Christians it means that we do not live without a
model or in isolation. We commit ourselves to Jesus Christ, and we remain
loyal to the community of faith, in which we are caught up in the mystery
We strive in Christ who lived and died and rose to include us in a
communion so filled with life that we are called members of the Body of
Christ. We accept the Christ who is vulnerable and sensitive. We
experience the Christ who promises and comforts and consoles. We rely on
the Christ who liberates and supports and heals. We commit ourselves to
the Christ who is ever faithful and truthful and open. We live the Christ
who loves and sustains and fulfills life.
The story of Jesus' life and death shapes our vision as Christians. We
are challenged to live as Jesus lived and do what he did (see John 13:15).
Jesus discussed scripture with others and challenged interpretations which
contradicted his own insights. Jesus shared his faith and prayer with many
different people. By conscience he judged his actions and he concluded how
God wanted him to act. Through these means, both personal and communal,
Jesus envisioned and then lived according to that vision in order to
realize God's reign.
We form conscience in community, not in isolation, and so we must
reconsider and reclaim the resources that the community of faith has found
helpful over the centuries. When we study scripture together, we grow in
knowledge and wisdom. When we seek each other's counsel, or when we
identify individuals whose lives reflect holiness and commitment to the
Gospel, we test the validity of our individual reflections and find that
they become stronger for having been challenged. When we, as People of
God, engage in dialogue over questions of ultimate meaning and when we
worship together, we reflect on our experience and find communal wisdom
under the guidance of the Holy Spirit who has anointed us (Constitution
on the Church, 12).
Forming conscience is the lifelong process of becoming like Christ. We
are called to love one another as Christ loves us (John 13:34). That is
always more than we are capable of doing, but that is no reason for
discouragement. As we renew our own determination to live as Christ, we
realize and accept the reality of the imperfect, the partial, the human.
Section Three: The Challenge of the Future
As we reflect together on our experience
as a lesbian and gay People of God and how to help one another grow as
faithful disciples of Jesus, we recognize ways in which the Spirit leads us
to a fuller experience of God's reign. This recognition is the basis of our
hope, but it also contains challenges. Most important among those challenges
are to accept responsibility for formulating a gay and lesbian sexual ethic,
to develop the experience of Church that we have, and to continue to seek
personal, communal, and ecclesial integration.
We are working toward a profound assessment of our sexual expression
within the context of our spirituality. Struggling with difficult
questions — even with the lack of clarity and certainty is for us
life-affirming. This is why we commit ourselves to wrestling with the
unresolved questions in the light of Gospel values.
We believe we share a vital role in formulating a sexual ethic
comprehensive enough to apply to all persons. Our part is to ensure that
the lesbian and gay experience of sexuality and genitality is represented.
We must speak of what we know, and we must learn together with our
heterosexual brothers and sisters what Christ is teaching Christians.
We must continue to identify the values that are expressed or sought in
the sharing of this life-affirming sexual ethic and to clarify them in the
light of the Gospel. We invite gay and lesbian Christians to consider
their experience and to correct or validate what we say here. Much of what
we have shared about our experience and our convictions is not yet
complete, and so we invite the members of our community to continue their
exploration of sexual ethics.
We can tolerate diversity. Nevertheless, we must explore together and
learn from one another about issues of justice and morality. That includes
such areas of serious ethical concern as pornography, prostitution, sex
with minors, multiple partners, anonymous sex, bondage and discipline, and
how to have sex safely. We cannot shy away from controversy if we are
genuinely trying to see Christ in the sacramental reality of our lives.
The authors of Human Sexuality: New Directions in American Catholic
Thought, a study commissioned by The Catholic Theological Society of
America, identify seven significant values in sexual behavior which
promote "creative growth and human integration." We offer questions based
on these values with the hope that they may be helpful as we continue to
seek growth as sexual Christians and especially as we discuss areas of
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' well-being? 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
SOCIALLY RESPONSIBLE: Does it express a realization of
relationship to wider communities and of service to their interests?
Does it contribute to an atmosphere of exploitation or
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?
A new pattern of sexual life is developing in our world, one that is
more human and humane, in tune with people's experience. We want to help
ensure that the new pattern is balanced with responsibility and
recognition of the value of intimacy.
Being Church in the Lesbian and Gay Community
While many of us feel unwelcome in traditional parish communities, we
do not pursue our Christian vocations alone. There are smaller communities
of men and women who, united in Christian faith and worship, choose to be
accountable to the Almighty together and consequently to each other.
Together, as a People of God, we need to minister to one another and to
pursue the ethics of our sexual expression, emerging as men and women
strengthened in our faith, our commitment, and our love.
Dignity and the communities like us have been sources of faith and
strength. They have made it possible for us to come together as gay and
lesbian Christians and to realize that we are linked with believing
brothers and sisters of all times and places. Together we discuss basic
issues of faith and sexuality with our friends. We listen together to what
God is saying. Together we minister to the sick, the needy, the lonely,
the alienated, and to one another. We play together, cry together, pray
together, and work together.
The Dignity community and others like us are experiences of being
Church. Although generally organized on the foundation of shared sexual
identity, these communities go beyond that single issue. They are a source
of peace, healing, and reconciliation, signs of the Spirit's presence.
They enable us to rediscover our own worth and to minister to one another
and to the world. In them we have a grassroots experience of Church where
we are able to realize and to express our responsibility to and for one
another. We can together be agents, like Jesus, through whom the Spirit
continues to bring good news to the poor and to set captives free (see
This is an experience of Church as a community of disciples where
traditional barriers are taken down, where all are welcome and able to
contribute. Our communities must provide this experience of living,
liberating, and reconciling Church where Christians come together as
equals, knowing that they are disciples of Christ. As Dignity we accept
responsibility for one another and for Christ's work of justice and unity
in the world. Together we strive to discern God's will and God's presence
in the lives of all.
We acknowledge our deep human need for symbols and rituals and we
celebrate the sacramental dimension of our lives in communal worship. We
welcome new members into our community, including baptizing our natural
and adoptive children. We continue to break bread in the name of Jesus. We
forgive and seek forgiveness. We celebrate God's call to service through
affirmation of those who are called to minister among us. We bless and
console those who bless and console us as they face illness and death.
We need the affirmation and validation of a loving community when we
make commitments to one another as couples. Through ritual, as witness to
our unions, our community becomes a presence of grace and symbol of God's
blessing. We commit ourselves to support each other in the continued
celebration of our love. We also need to recognize and celebrate the
choice of a single life style and to ritualize other significant moments
of our lives. In our tradition, for example, loss and separation and
break-up are rarely acknowledged and celebrated in rituals other than
funeral and memorial services. Yet these are probably the moments when we
most need the consolation that a loving gathering can provide.
We seek the integration of our sexuality and our spirituality. We seek
the integration of women and men of all races and ways of life into our
communities. We seek integration into the whole of society and into the
Church of which we are a part. The basis for all this is the
reconciliation that is God's gift to us in Christ and which makes us
ambassadors of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:17–20).
Our particular concern here has been the integration of sexuality and
spirituality. We share with all Christians the life-long struggle to unify
all aspects of our lives, including our genital expression, under the
reality of the Christian Gospel and the values to which that Gospel urges
us — love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, generosity, faithfulness,
and self-control (Galatians 5:22). The development and growth of these
values is a life-long endeavor; there is no point at which we stop and say
that we have all the answers or that we have done all that we can.
We are not the only people who seek to integrate their genital
expression with their lived Christian experience. Our brothers and sisters
who are bisexual face a similar, if not more difficult, challenge of
integration. Yet this challenge is shared by all the People of God —
lesbian, gay, bisexual, and heterosexual. That shared challenge can be
used as a means to end the segregation that exists among the People of
God. It can help bring us together to become an expression of the true
message of Christ — love in unity with each other and, through Christ,
We must welcome into our communities all who seek this integration. In
order to provide a context for integrating spirituality and sexuality and
for promoting growth, we must root out from our midst whatever divides us.
Racism, sexism, ageism, and any other ideology or practice that separates
and alienates can have no place. We must learn to understand and respect
ways that differ from our own. We cannot complain of societal and
ecclesiastical oppression and then lay unnecessary burdens on one another.
Furthermore, we must stand in solidarity with those who seek to eradicate
all forms of injustice and oppression.
We meet together as Christians on the basis of our shared sexual
identity, and so, in many of our communities, denominational boundaries
have been transcended. Gay and lesbian Christians from different churches
have been able to be together, respecting one another's traditions while
acknowledging unity in faith and baptism. We must deepen this unity in
fidelity to the Spirit of the Gospel.
We will continue to reach out to those who are alienated from the
Church. We feel a responsibility toward those who have shared the faith
and love of Christ but who no longer walk with us. We must show them
understanding and compassion and the love of a God who cares too deeply
ever to let go. We grieve especially for those who despair of God's love
because they have not felt Christians' love and for those who have died
without the Eucharist because they felt excluded from the Church.
We must reach out to those who cannot understand why we remain part of
a faith community that seems to have no room for us. We must speak to them
the Gospel message and show that the Church's truth is greater than its
error. We have a special responsibility to lesbians and gays, believers or
not, who, in whatever way, show in their persons the suffering Christ,
especially those with AIDS. God's love for them must be evident in our
concern and compassion.
Finally, we seek integration within our Church as Christ's gay and
lesbian disciples. We offer forgiveness to those who have misjudged and
hurt us, and we ask forgiveness of those whom we have hurt. 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 (see 2
Appendix One: Chronology
The House of Delegates established a Task Force on Sexual Ethics:
Whereas: The Dignity "Statement of Position and Purpose"
confesses the belief that gay and lesbian sexuality can be expressed in a
manner that is consonant with Christ's teaching and should be exercised in
an ethically responsible and unselfish way; and
Whereas: Since 1980 members of Dignity have been encouraged to
discuss the implications of that belief along with the general subject of
sexual ethics; and
Whereas: It is crucial to the development of a positive and
harmonious relationship with the Church that the Dignity organization
define and clarify its position in regard to the ethics of gay and lesbian
sexual expression; and
Whereas: It has become apparent that members of Dignity
throughout the United States and Canada do have an interest in receiving
sound theological direction on the subject of gay and lesbian sexual
Therefore, be it resolved:
That Dignity establish an Ad Hoc Study Committee with the following
title: "Dignity Task Force on Sexual Ethics ": and be it further resolved:
That representation on the Task Force be comprised by lay and
religious, women and men; and be further resolved:
That implementation of procedures for the establishment and financial
support of this Task Force be carried out by the Executive Board of
Dignity, Inc., provided that funding can be found; and be it further
That the "Dignity Task Force on Sexual Ethics, " in conjunction with
the efforts of other groups studying this issue, formulate and publish a
preliminary study document to be presented to the Dignity membership on
the occasion of the 1987 Convention; and be it finally resolved:
That in partial recognition of Dignity's 20th Anniversary, a document
be presented to the Executive House of Delegates for approval at that
Body's meeting on the occasion of the 1989 International Convention.
A list of interested individuals and their qualifications was presented
to the Board of Directors. interviews were conducted throughout the next
year to form the Task Force. The members of the Task Force began the process
of research and reflection. Their thoughts on the concept of sexual ethics
and on goals for the group were subsequently shared with the membership of
Dignity in a four-page mailing which included questions for reflection and
The Task Force on Sexual Ethics (TFSE) held its first meeting in San
Francisco. The members began to outline goals and procedures for listening
to the experience of the gay and lesbian People of God and for encouraging
communal reflection on that experience. The TFSE met with several experts.
The TFSE reported to the Board of Directors and the House of Delegates
during the New York convention. The members conducted workshops during the
convention. Following the convention, the TFSE conducted interviews with
several experts and developed a format for initiating discussions in the
Dignity chapters. Canadian members continued to be contacted for their
suggestions as Region 11 became Dignity Canada Dignité.
The TFSE met in Vancouver, B.C. and determined that the document called
for by the House of Delegates should take the form of a pastoral letter
geared toward conscience formation and spiritual growth. A survey seeking
Dignity members' experience and encouraging communal reflection was
prepared. The format for personal interviews as developed. Another letter
detailing the work of the Task Force was sent to the membership. The
questionnaires were sent to each local group with an accompanying letter to
the chapter president. The questionnaires were also distributed at the
Dignity Canada Convention. Communications were sent to each Regional
Director. Throughout the next year in depth personal interviews were
conducted and consultation with experts continued. The questionnaires were
returned and the results tabulated.
The TFSE reviewed the results of the surveys and interviews at its
meeting in Philadelphia. The TFSE outlined the pastoral letter and began
writing it. Writing and editing continued in smaller meetings and through
The TFSE met in Chicago to complete the draft document. The revision and
editing process continued.
The preliminary study document, in the form of a pastoral letter, was
given to the Board of Directors and the House of Delegates at the Miami
convention, prior to presentation to the membership of Dignity. The members
of Dignity began the process of reflection, discussion, and revision with
the help of a study guide. The responses were subsequently reviewed and
collated. Members of the Task Force attended various regional conventions
and meetings to receive further input and continued their work through
Members of the Task Force met in Indianapolis to rewrite the document.
This was then further critiqued and revised over the next several months. It
was then given to a professional editor.
The Task Force met in Cincinnati with the editor to discuss proposed
revisions. Members of the Task Force critiqued and revised the resulting
The document, in its final form, was made available to the membership of
Dignity prior to its presentation to the House of Delegates at the San
The document was adopted by the House of Delegates at the San Francisco
Whereas the Dignity USA Task Force on Sexual Ethics has
presented, as mandated, a document entitled "Sexual Ethics: Experience,
Growth, Challenge" to the organization's membership on the occasion of
Dignity's 20th Anniversary being observed in San Francisco; and
Whereas this document faithfully reflects the lived experience
of the membership of Dignity;
Therefore, be it resolved that on behalf of the entire
membership of DignityUSA, this House of Delegates gathered in San
Francisco (August 29-31, 1989) fully accept and endorse the document
entitled "Sexual Ethics: Experience, Growth, Challenge"; and be it further
resolved, that the DignityUSA Board of Directors distribute this document
to each member and the President of Dignity Canada Dignité no later than
December 1, 1989.
The following resolution was also adopted:
Whereas the House of Delegates meeting in Seattle in 1983
established a Task Force on Sexual Ethics to present a document on gay and
lesbian sexual expression to this twentieth anniversary convention; and
Whereas Kevin Calegari, Mari Castellanos, James D., Ed Dempsey, Nate
Gruel, James Mallon, Diana Raffle, Ron Schulte, Wayne W., and Sue W. have
dedicated themselves to the fulfillment of this mission; and
Whereas the final document "Sexual Ethics: Experience, Growth,
Challenge" has been accepted and endorsed by this House;
Therefore, be it resolved that the Task Force on Sexual Ethics
be commended for their exceptional accomplishments in reflecting the
experience of a lesbian and gay People of God and challenging us to growth
on our pilgrimage of hope.
Appendix Two: Survey Results
|The survey was not intended to duplicate the
research and findings of more rigorously scientific studies but was
designed to further the goal of a pastoral document presenting, and
speaking to, the experience of the gay and lesbian People of God.
Participants were asked to give their response to each statement
according to the following scale:
1 = Disagree strongly;
2 = Disagree;
3 = Unsure;
4 = Agree;
5 = Agree strongly.
GENITALITY AND SPIRITUALITY
1. Christian spirituality affects or influences me before I decide to
act or not to act genitally.
1 = 6.69%
2 = 17.40%
3 = 13.87%
4 = 45.01%
5 = 17.03%
2. Christian spirituality affects or influences me as I am actively
involved in genital acts.
1 = 10.84%
2 = 25.09%
3 = 13.76%
4 = 39.83%
5 = 10.48%
3. Christian spirituality affects or influences me as I reflect back
on past genital activities.
1 = 6.10%
2 = 15.61%
3 = 12.68%
4 = 46.46%
5 = 19.15%
4. Christian spirituality should affect or influence me before I
decide to act or not to act genitally.
1 = 5.74%
2 = 10.26%
3 = 10.38%
4 = 47.37%
5 = 26.25%
5. Christian spirituality should affect or influence me as I am
actually involved in genital acts.
1 = 8.56%
2 = 17.36%
3 = 15.04%
4 = 41.44%
5 = 17.60%
6. Christian spirituality should affect or influence me as I reflect
back on past genital activities.
1 = 6.86%
2 = 12.25%
3 = 12.75%
4 = 47.43%
5 = 20.71%
SPIRITUALITY AND MATURITY
7. Having to make hard personal choices regarding my sexual life-style
has made me a stronger person and a better Christian.
1 = .97%
2 = 5.82%
3 = 9.33%
4 = 42.42%
5 = 41.45%
(either 8A or 8B was to be answered)
8A. I am a sexually active gay or lesbian person. I am comfortable
with my lifestyle and my relationship with the Lord Jesus.
1 = 1.15%
2 = 3.3%
3 = 6.03%
4 = 44.76%
5 = 44.76%
8B. I am a sexually inactive gay or lesbian person. I am comfortable
with my lifestyle and my relationship with the Lord Jesus.
1 = 6.2%
2 = 15.50%
3 = 12.40%
4 = 39.53%
5 = 26.36%
9. I am angry at the Church for not providing proper assistance to gay
or lesbian people in ethical decision-making.
1 = 2.8%
2 = 15.23%
3 = 12.42%
4 = 36.30%
5 = 33.25%
10. In making decisions regarding genital activity I follow criteria
based on my study of the scriptures.
1 = 15.59%
2 = 34.84%
3 = 13.64%
4 = 28.38%
5 = 7.55%
11. In making decisions regarding genital activity I follow criteria
based on official Church teachings.
1 = 41.9%
2 = 44.95%
3 = 5.12%
4 = 7.06%
5 = .97%
12. In making decisions regarding genital activity I follow criteria
based on friends' opinions.
1 = 24.64%
2 = 44.78%
3 = 11.65%
4 = 18.45%
13. In making decisions regarding genital activity I follow criteria
based on the advice of a confessor or spiritual director.
1 = 22.47%
2 = 42.12%
3 = 7.94%
4 = 23.57%
5 = 3.91%
14. In making decisions regarding genital activity I follow criteria
based on my personal experience and reflection.
1 = .61%
2 = .97%
3 = .85%
4 = 43.22%
5 = 54.36%
15. In making decisions regarding genital activity I follow criteria
based on formal religious education.
1 = 26.67%
2 = 42.55%
3 = 10.55%
4 = 17.45%
5 = 2.79%
16. In making decisions regarding genital activity I follow criteria
based on my experience with Dignity.
1 = 6.67%
2 = 25.70%
3 = 18.67%
4 = 39.88%
5 = 9.09%
17. In making decisions regarding genital activity I follow criteria
based on my reading.
1 = 2.78%
2 = 12.95%
3 = 11.38%
4 = 55.08%
5 = 17.80%
18. In making decisions regarding genital activity I follow criteria
based on prayer.
1 = 6.95%
2 = 24.51%
3 = 13.41%
4 = 42.80%
5 = 12.32%
19. In making decisions regarding genital activity I follow criteria
based on health concerns.
1 = 1.46%
2 = 3.52%
3 = 3.16%
4 = 50.97%
5 = 40.90%
20. When I feel guilt about genital activity it is because I have
violated my personal convictions.
1 = 3.69%
2 = 7.88%
3 = 7.88%
4 = 48.52%
5 = 32.02%
21. When I feel guilt about genital activity it is because I have gone
against the Church's teachings.
1 = 33.33%
2 = 39.09%
3 = 13.11%
4 = 11.52%
5 = 2.94%
22. When I feel guilt about genital activity it is because I am afraid
of legal consequences.
1 = 35.14%
2 = 44.88%
3 = 8.01%
4 = 10.23%
5 = 1.73%
23. When I feel guilt about genital activity it is because I am
concerned about what people would think.
1 = 27.16%
2 = 38.15%
3 = 12.96%
4 = 19.63%
5 = 2.10%
24. When I feel guilt about genital activity it is because I believe
my relationship with God/Christ has been adversely affected.
1 = 17.96%
2 = 29.27%
3 = 15.62%
4 = 27.80%
5 = 9.35%
ABSTINENCE FROM GENITALITY
25. Church teaching has been harmful in my development and has been an
obstacle to my personal spiritual growth and honest stand before God.
1 = 4.03%
2 = 18.19%
3 = 8.79%
4 = 37.36%
5 = 31.62%
26. The Church's teaching has caused me to abstain more from Mass
attendance and prayer than from genital activity.
1 = 18.13%
2 = 34.40%
3 = 5.30%
4 = 24.04%
5 = 18.13%
27. When I try to abstain from genital activity, I feel fulfilled as a
1 = 37.10%
2 = 43.61%
3 = 9.46%
4 = 7.49%
5 = 2.33%
28. When I allow myself genital expression, I feel more comfortable at
1 = 3.10%
2 = 14.37%
3 = 31.60%
4 = 40.02%
5 = .90%
29. When I try to abstain from genital activity, I am preoccupied with
1 = 6.27%
2 = 26.22%
3 = 16.94%
4 = 37.26%
5 = 13.30%
30. When I am sexually active, I am preoccupied with sex.
1 = 11.30%
2 = 55.77%
3 = 14.62%
4 = 15.60%
5 = 2.70%
31. Genital abstinence is the only acceptable life-style available to
gay or lesbian persons.
1 = 80.92%
2 = 14.22%
3 = 2.92%
4 = 1.09%
5 = .85%
Appendix Three: Interview Questions
1. What is your — age, sex, race and ethnic background, religion of
origin, religion of practice? With what religious organizations do you
affiliate? Are you — in a relationship, clergy/religious, former
2. Do you identify yourself as gay/lesbian, bisexual, celibate/abstinent,
3. How long have you been aware of your sexual orientation? To whom are
4. Were/are you married/in a heterosexual union?
5. Are you a parent or considering becoming a parent?
6. How far have you gone educationally? (Your major, degree)
7. Did you attend a — parochial grade school, parochial high school,
1. What does the term "being spiritual" mean to you? How important is
that in your life?
2. How do you image ("picture") God? The Church?
3. While you were growing up, were you spiritually/religiously more
influenced by-home, clergy, religious, other (specify)?
4. Do you pray? If so, how often?
5. Do you attend worship services? If so, where and how often?
6. Do you read any spiritual/religious literature? (If so, give a sample
1. How were you introduced into the genital area (hetero- and/or homo-
sexual)? How old were you?
2. How many sexual partners have you had in the past year?
3. How do your past sexual experiences influence your present sexual
4. What is/are your preferred genital/sexual practice(s)? If you were
asked to explain this/these practice(s), how would you do it? Are you
comfortable in doing so?
5. In your last sexual experience, which of the following were involved
in your sexual expression — sensuality, spirituality, fun/play, friendship,
power, surrender, sharing, lust, love, tenderness, pleasure, pain, physical
6. What are your feelings/attitudes regarding — promiscuity, monogamy,
7. How do you perceive adult bookstores, gay bars, gay beaches, the
baths, "back rooms"?
8. How frequently are drugs/alcohol, poppers related to your sexual
1. How do your Church's teachings influence your spiritual life, genital
behavior, sexual lifestyle (orientation)?
2. Do you perceive any of your sexual behavior as sinful? Explain.
3. How do you relate your sexual attitudes/genital behaviors in your
relationship with —God, Church, self, family, "significant other," larger
4. Are your sexual attitudes/genital behaviors more influenced by health
concerns (AIDS, VD) or more by religious, ethical considerations?
5. If you have attempted or are currently attempting to be
celibate/sexually abstinent, what is its influence on your self-awareness,
relationship with others/ God / Church, spirituality?
As members of Dignity, we are Christ's
disciples, a lesbian and gay People of God in the Body of Christ, part of
the Catholic tradition. Our sexuality is God's holy gift to us. In it, and
in our genital activity, we want to meet our God. We continue to explore how
to live sexually in an ethically responsible manner that in consonant with
the teachings of Christ. We do so by reflecting on our personal experience
and learning from those who are engaged in similar reflection. We do so by
praying together and celebrating Christ's presence in our midst in Word and
Sacrament. We do so under the guidance of the Spirit, who will lead us into
the fullness of truth.
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
transgendered persons. We work in collaboration with other Catholic
organizations seeking reform in our church's leadership and teachings.