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Catholic Bishops Prohibit Masses for Gay, Lesbian Group

June 23, 1989|RUSSELL CHANDLER | Times Religion Writer

Archbishop Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles and 12 other bishops from Southern and Central California on Thursday firmly prohibited Roman Catholic priests from celebrating Masses sponsored by Dignity, the national independent organization of gay and lesbian Catholics.

A statement initiated by Mahony said the bishops' action stemmed from Dignity's repudiation of the church's "clear and constant moral teaching" against homosexual acts.

The policy reiterated the official church position that "while . . . homosexual orientation in itself is not to be regarded as a sinful condition . . . genital activity by unmarried persons, or by married persons without being open to procreation, is morally wrong."

No Chapter in Orange

There is no separate Dignity chapter in Orange County, according to Father Lawrence J. Baird, communications director for the Diocese of Orange.

"It's amazing; it's been a non-issue here" as far as the diocese in concerned, he said.

The statement was approved by the bishops in the Province of Los Angeles, which includes the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the dioceses of Orange, San Bernardino, San Diego, Fresno and Monterey.

At its last national convention, in July, 1987, Dignity adopted a resolution saying that "gay and lesbian people can express their sexuality physically in a unitive manner that is loving, life-giving and life-affirming" and demanding that the church hierarchy re-examine its views on homosexuality.

"We feel very hurt and rejected by what the archbishop did," said Jack Castiglione, membership chairman of the Long Beach Dignity chapter. "The church should be opening its doors to all groups of Catholics who seek support and spiritual growth.

"We were disallowed use of church property two years ago and now to be denied Mass is the ultimate rejection."

Castiglione said the Long Beach chapter, which sponsors Masses, "rap groups" and social events for about 350 people in Orange County and beach cities in Los Angeles County, will continue its Sunday night meetings.

Jack Stafford, president of Dignity, Los Angeles, said that chapter would hold its next scheduled worship service July 2 at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Hollywood but has not decided if it will be a Catholic Mass.

'Did Not Keep Promise'

"We knew the archbishop was considering this," Stafford said in an interview.

"But after what I felt was a very warm, open meeting with him in March, he assured us he would let us know prior to its happening. . . . I'm deeply grieved the archbishop did not keep his promise."

Stafford said the bishops' action was in keeping with a Vatican letter issued Oct. 30, 1986, by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Writing to the world's bishops, Ratzinger said homosexual relationships tended toward "an intrinsic moral evil."

Thursday's directive follows an earlier edict by Mahony that barred Dignity from celebrating Masses in any facility owned by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

Dignity chapters have been similarly ousted from church-owned facilities in many major cities.

Nevertheless, according to Tom Carroll, Dignity's director for California and Nevada, Dignity Masses "are being said by Roman Catholic priests all across America, some with the knowledge and approval of their bishops, others secretly, and still others defiantly."

The 5,000-member organization headquartered in Washington was founded 20 years ago and has 110 chapters.

Mahony wrote all priests of the 3.39-million-member Los Angeles archdiocese June 14, advising them of the ban, according to a copy of a letter furnished to The Times.

The California bishops stressed that they had "no other choice" but to order all their priests not to celebrate Dignity Masses "in any setting or for any reason."

"For people who are not married, heterosexual or homosexual, chastity . . . is the Christian moral obligation to which Christ calls us," they said.

But the bishops added that if Dignity were to "embrace the full teachings of the church on human sexuality, we would be open to review and to reconsider our policy."

Some Roman Catholic dioceses around the nation sponsor Courage, a ministry that seeks to help gay men and lesbian women lead chaste lives.

Such groups encourage "our homosexual and lesbian brothers and sisters" to take part in the Mass and the sacraments, the California bishops noted, "so they can offer and receive mutual support in living out their lives of faithful discipleship."

But Castiglione declared that many homosexual Catholics "feel uncomfortable" in the local parish. "So, in effect, the archbishop has denied many of us the sacrament of communion," he said.

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