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Break With Catholic Church : Dignity 'Manifesto' Calls Gay Sexuality a 'Holy Gift'

September 16, 1989|From Religious News Service

SAN FRANCISCO — Dignity, the embattled organization of gay Roman Catholics, recently adopted a "manifesto" on sexual ethics that makes a sharp departure from traditional church teaching and celebrates gay sexuality as a "holy gift."

The document is expected to widen the breach that has developed in recent years between the organization and church leadership and between organization members who differ on the matter of opposing the church. According to a Dignity spokesman, there are about 5,000 members in the group's 110 chapters.

The Dignity document, passed at a national meeting early this month, dismisses church teaching on sexuality that maintains that only sex open to procreation within marriage is morally good.

View Held 'Unacceptable'

That view, Dignity said, "is not in touch with human experience" and "increasingly is regarded as irrelevant and unacceptable" to both gay and heterosexual people.

In sharp contrast to church teaching, Dignity calls gay sexuality "the holy gift of God. The overwhelming majority of us are able to say 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."

In 1986, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger issued an official letter which called homosexuality "intrinsically disordered." Ratzinger also demanded that any group disagreeing with that assessment or supporting homosexuality should not receive any church assistance, including use of church property.

In the two years that followed, Dignity groups in 17 cities, including Los Angeles and New York, were ordered off church property.

Had Accepted Teaching

During much of Dignity's 17-year history, the organization begrudgingly accepted the church teaching that while homosexual orientation is not sinful in itself, homosexual activity is. But the now famous "Ratzinger letter" of 1986 was viewed by Dignity members and others as an effort by the Vatican to end that approach and to place a moral shadow on the condition of homosexuality itself.

That letter had the effect of backing Dignity into a corner, and the organization, after an intense internal battle, decided to come out fighting. At the organization's last national convention in 1987 in Miami, Dignity members who oppose church teaching about homosexual activity gained the upper hand.

Dignity members at that session voted to issue a statement asserting that gay and lesbian relationships are morally good.

Some Catholic bishops reacted with anger and other dozen Dignity chapters, including the chapter in San Francisco, were expelled from church property.

Dignity leaders are unconcerned that the sexual ethics manifesto it issued last week might further alienate it from the church they say they love.

"We're sexual Galileos," said Kevin Calegari, a San Francisco Dignity leader. "The church is saying the world is flat when they say the only morally good sex is within a heterosexual marriage aimed at procreation. Well, the world isn't flat, and everybody seems to know that but the church."

The Dignity manifesto claims to offer a new sexual morality for gays and others "sexually disenfranchised" by the church, including "the divorced, widowed, handicapped and the single."

'Context of Relationship'

Sister Jeannine Gramick, a nun who has been involved in ministry to gays and lesbians since 1971 and was a founder of several Dignity chapters, said the new document "attempts to put the whole area of sexual ethics in the context of relationship."

"It is not sanctioning promiscuity," she said. "It is talking about the viability and goodness of expressing one's sexual gifts in the context of a love relationship."

Dignity, in attempting to develop such an ethic for homosexuals, is caught between the absolute church prohibition of homosexual expression and the wider community of homosexuals who have no religious affiliation in which there is little restriction on sexual activity, Gramick said.

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