Annual Report of the President of Dignity Canada Dignité

Frank Testin
September, 2014

Our previous 2012-2013 year was quite busy with the election of a new pontiff and his interview with the media on his flight from the World Youth Day in Buenos Aires back to Rome in which he said in response to a question about a possible gay mafia at the Vatican: “If a person is gay and seeks the lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”. That comment certainly gathered a great deal of media attention and was interpreted by many as a signal of a more pastoral approach towards LGBT members. In the same interview, he unfortunately also remarked that the door is closed in terms of women's ordination.  While there have been very few media interviews this year, it has still been a remarkable year in terms of several printed materials and documents.

About the time of our last House of Delegates meeting, the Jesuit magazine America and similar Jesuit publications in other languages released a major article on an interview held with Pope Francis. In the article, Pope Francis clarified that his remark about not judging gay persons was directed at all lesbian and gay persons in the church, not only gay clergy.  He also talked about a church as a home for all, not as a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people. He also acknowledged that our teachings are open to revision based on contemporary knowledge. (see some excerpts here)

On November 24, 2013, Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium: The Joy of the Gospel was released.  Dignity Toronto spent time at two monthly meetings discussing various parts of the document.  Overall, I found it to be encouraging in that it clearly defines the church as all the people of God, and it emphasizes that Jesus calls all of us to minister to the poor, to remove structural causes of poverty, as well as to learn from the poor, if we want to follow the teachings of Jesus. He also pointed out that science and church teachings cannot be in conflict. (see some excerpts here)

Synod on the Family and Consultation Process

At the beginning of November 2013, the Vatican announced that it had asked all bishops to obtain the views of church members on several questions concerning the spirituality of Catholic family life, which would serve as part of the background information for the Synod on the Family, scheduled to take place over two sessions in 2014 and 2015. The Vatican issued a Preparatory Document in which it provided background information - a type of environmental scan - on the changing state of families and asked a number of open-ended questions that it thought should be addressed at the bishops’ meetings. We learned that the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales had posted the open-ended questions on the Internet and invited all Catholics in their jurisdiction to complete it.

On November 7th, we wrote to the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) inviting it to undertake two activities: (1) administer an on-line survey which could be completed by all Canadian Catholics based on the questions posed in the Vatican’s preparatory document; and (2) commission a scientific survey of all baptised Catholics on the questions, which would enable us to generalize from the sample to the all Catholics in Canada.  We did not receive a reply and we learned that the CCCB was leaving it up to bishops to decide how they would answer the questions in their own dioceses.

By mid November we learned that in the United States, Catholic Organizations for Renewal (made up of Dignity USA, Call to Action, Corpus, New Ways Ministry, Roman Catholic Womenpriests, and six other Catholic reform organizations in the USA) decided to make available to their own members and other Catholics an Internet survey which covered the questions raised in the Vatican’s Preparatory Document.  They had fortunately obtained advice from survey consultants who created several close-ended questions which are easier for respondents to complete and easier to analyze.  (In the end, some 16,000 responses were received.) 

With permission from the US organization, Dignity Canada Dignité and Catholic Church Reform co-sponsored an Internet survey for Canadian Catholics to complete.  As in the USA, we used Survey Monkey, that cost us around $50. Norman and I worked closely on entering the questionnaire into Survey Monkey, and generated the results after the survey period ended on January 4th. Our survey became available on line and was promoted through our email list and website on November 27th. The results from the 87 respondents were compiled after the cut-off date, and a report was sent electronically on January 6, 2014 to Most Rev. Paul- André Durocher, CCCB President; Most. Rev. Luigi Bonazzi, Apostolic Nuncio to Canada; and Most. Rev. Lorenzo Baldisseri, Secretary General, Synod of Bishops, who acknowledged receipt and thanked us at the end of January for our input. We also prepared a narrative summary of the responses to the close-ended questions and made it available on our website.  Those on our email list were informed of the availability of the results.

On June 26, 2014, the Vatican released the document Instrumentum Laboris, published in advance of the Synod on the Family.  It presents a summary of input primarily from bishop conferences, with some mention of input received from other organizations (observations). One disappointment is that many bishop conferences seem to have remarked that problems which families are experiencing are the result of church members not understanding and following the official church teachings. As you can imagine, a number of reform organizations expressed disagreement with this interpretation and responded that the problems are often due to the teachings themselves. (see some excerpts here)

On January 6th, I was interviewed by Paul Gallant with IN Toronto magazine.

Persecution of LGBT Persons Overseas:

On January 31st, we sent an email to those on the DCD email list re. laws in Russia, Uganda, Nigeria and Jamaica, and included the New Ways Ministry campaign to tweet pope Francis.

We sent a letter on February 27, 2014 to the CCCB president re. persecution of LGBT persons overseas.

On March 1st we sent an email to those on the DCD email list re. persecution of LGBT persons overseas, with an invitation to contact bishops. The DCD correspondence to CCCB was included as a sample.

On March 5th we sent an email to the Prime Minister re. persecution of LGBT persons in Uganda, Russia and Nigeria.

On May 16th we agreed to be one of several endorsers on an open letter addressed to the Hon. John Baird, Minister of Foreign Affairs, initiated by the #EndHateLaws coalition and the Canadian HIV AIDS Legal Network.

May 15th: We contacted everyone on our DCD list asking them to contact their senators in order to pass Bill C-279, The Gender Identity Bill.

On June 23rd I was a panellist for a breakout session on spirituality and religion at a conference entitled Dare to Stand Out: Canada's National Gender and Sexual Minorities (GSM) Service Providers' Summit 2014 sponsored by Jer’s Vision based in Ottawa and held in conjunction with Toronto’s World Pride celebration. As a presenter, I was allowed to attend the entire two-day event. Through various presentations, I was especially struck by the plight of LGBT persons overseas and by the burdens faced by transgender persons in Canada, especially the almost insurmountable challenge in finding employment.

On July 16th I received a short email from a woman in New Brunswick asking how one can start a Dignity chapter.  I replied on July 21st inviting her to check out our national website and including the annotated document (received from the Vancouver chapter) on how to start a chapter. I also asked for a mailing address in order to send her some of our brochures. A follow-up email was sent on September 2nd. However, there has been no reply to date.

In conclusion, it’s been a fairly active year in terms of correspondence. As you know, I’ve been particularly interested in supporting the equal civil rights for LGBT persons in other countries, especially in countries with substantial Catholic populations. 

I want to thank Norman and Kevin for the support they’ve given me, and I want to thank all chapters for your efforts and accomplishments. Each of our chapters has its own particular circumstances, and no size fits all.

I recently ran across this quote and I think that we have followed it in our efforts:

Christ has no body but yours,

No hands, no feet on earth but yours,

Yours are the eyes with which he looks

Compassion on this world,

Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,

Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.

Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,

Yours are the eyes, you are his body.

Christ has no body now but yours,

No hands, no feet on earth but yours,

Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on this world.

Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

  Teresa of Avila  (1515-1582)

This weekend, following our annual business meeting in Canmore, Alberta, we are invited to enjoy the great outdoors, to recharge our batteries by returning back to nature.  I’ve asked myself the question of whether the Divine entered human affairs 2,000 years ago, or 13.8 billion years ago, and the answer I’ve heard from the mystics is that the Cosmic Christ has been part of our world since Day One. May we sense the Divine in all of Creation this weekend and in the rest of our lives.

Frank Testin
President, Dignity Canada Dignité
September 27, 2014

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.