Dignity Canada Dignité

Opening Remarks at Press Conference on February 14, 2019

Hello. My name is Frank Testin and I’m president of Dignity Canada Dignite, a national group of LGBTQ+ Catholics and allies who provide support to each other and who seek changes in the institution’s official teachings on sexual ethics. The organization was founded in 1981.

An obvious question is why did we make a submission to the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops at this time?   First, as you may know, a meeting of the presidents of national bishops’ conferences and heads of Eastern Catholic Churches will be held at the Vatican on February 21-24 to deal with the crisis of the sexual abuse of minors by clergy that seems almost worldwide. Second, there are many causes of this abuse, some of which are systemic. An example is clericalism, which sees priests and bishops as better than the average church member, closer to God, having a special status with the Divine. Another is the patriarchal attitude of protecting the reputation of the organization - the avoidance of scandal - at almost any cost.

In his 2013 book For Christ’s Sake … End Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church… for Good retired Catholic Bishop Geoffrey Robinson from Australia who met with many abuse survivors presents the hypothesis that one of the systemic factors contributing to the abuse, or at least enabling it, are the official teachings of the institution on sexual ethics.  Let me explain. At the foundation of the teachings is the notion that God created human sex for two reasons: fostering love between the couple (the unitive aspect) and bringing a new human life into the world (the procreative aspect). “… the use of sex is according to nature only when it serves both of these God-given purposes, and that both are truly present only within marriage, and even then only when intercourse is open to new life.” Any other sexual activity is deemed against the natural order of things and is a grave moral wrong.  

Robinson points out that the steps to handle all sexual offences were: repentance, confession, absolution, and total forgiveness by God. In his opinion “There was never going to be an adequate response to abuse as long as many people thought primarily in terms of sexual offences against God rather than harm caused to the victims.” (Chapter 3).

Is Robinson’s hypothesis supported by the facts?  In our research, we reviewed the report entitled The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010: A Report Presented to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops by the John Jay College Research Team. 2011.  This study analyzed a wealth of data. One survey was completed by 119 priests who had allegations of sexual abuse of a minor.  It was designed to measure perceptions of the self and the priest role, relationships to others, understanding of and attitudes about sexuality, and details on one’s seminary learning.   Two excerpts from the report are the following:

“In their appeal to a higher authority, some priests claimed that they were really responsible only to God and the practice of seeking reconciliation, and they were not to be judged by others.” (p. 107)

“… some of the accused priests believed that the subcultural process of forgiveness should be enough to end the process of condemnation.” (p. 112)

I would like to add that the same kind of reasoning is probably a factor in the abysmal response of bishops to abuse cases, although I don’t have data.  They saw the abuse as a direct offence against God and sought ways to restore the priest’s relationship with the Divine. They were also preoccupied with trying to protect the reputation of the institutional church. The damage done to the young victim was near the bottom of the priority list. Not being parents, they likely didn’t consider and respond to the emotional impact on the minor.

To summarize, the rationale behind the current sexual ethics - acting contrary to natural law - has enabled at least some of the sexual abuse of minors by clergy and likely some of the inaction of bishops in responding to the victims of abuse. This is the reason Dignity Canada Dignite is calling attention to the current teachings at the present time.  However, we have been seeking changes in the teachings since the 1980s for other reasons; namely, these teachings have led many lesbian, gay and bisexual persons to become estranged from their religious background, to feel self-loathing and some to commit suicide.

Frank Testin
Dignity Canada Dignité


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.