DignityUSA Celebrates 50th Anniversary with Chicago Gathering

Dignity USA celebrated its 50th anniversary with a conference over July 4th weekend, a moment in which many members reflected on not only the organization’s past but its future as well.

Dignity members and friends from all over the country attended the Chicago gathering, titled “True to Ourselves, True to the Spirit,” to honor what the National Catholic Reporter (NCR) described as the organization’s “challenging but hope-filled five decades.” Theologian Mary Hunt, one of the keynote speakers, said the conference was a moment for “rejoicing” because Dignity members had helped shift Catholic attitudes. “People in the church went from seeing same-sex love as something unspeakable and sinful to now being rather normative and mainstream,” said Hunt.

Getting to this point, however, has involved a complicated history since it was founded in 1969 by Augustinian Fr. Patrick Nidorf. A part of Dignity’s work has been an attempt to dialogue within the institutional church, but there has been tremendous resistance on the part of the hierarchy.

One moment that had a profound effect on Dignity members was the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s 1986 “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons.” While not mentioning Dignity explicitly, the document motivated many  bishops to expel the organization’s chapters from church properties where they had been meeting. Jeffrey Stone, the organization’s media relations director, told NCR the letter was “cruel”:

“Dignity had frequently been isolated, demeaned and attacked for its Catholic identity by secular LGBTQ groups, Stone said, offering context for the ’86 letter reaction. ‘The reason is that many LGBTQI individuals never had a good experience with religion. Because of the Vatican statement, Dignity took a tremendous hit. Dignity had welcomed LGBTQI Catholics and was a unique haven for them.’ . . .Being expelled by the church became even more painful in the ’90s at the height of the AIDS crisis, Stone added. Dignity members died of AIDS feeling that they had been rejected by the church.”

But despite the challenges, today’s Dignity members are planning for a bright future and spent much of the conference’s final day in small groups discussing just that. NCR reported:

“At tables of eight to 10, Dignity participants, including many from its Young Adult Caucus, discussed and shared ideas about what it will mean to be a voice for future LGBTQ Catholics and how they could help to create welcoming faith communities for all gender identities and all kinds of families. They pooled ideas about how Dignity could become a stronger national resource for LGBTQ concerns. They talked and prayed about developing new generations of Dignity leaders.

“[Duddy-Burke commented,] ‘Our young members are trying to figure out how they will keep their faith as they start families of their own. The issues are some of the same things that we’ve been dealing with for the past 50 years.'”

These conference discussions were grounded in a much longer process of reflection carried out by DignityUSA beginning in fall 2017. “Jubilee Discussions” invited members nationwide to reflect on lessons from the past, realities of the present, and hopes for the future. To learn more about this process, click here.

One final item from the conference was an 18-minute video, “In Our Own Words: 50 Years of DignityUSA” that was screened. You can view it below or by clicking here.

Congratulations to DignityUSA’s members for a successful jubilee celebration and an inspiring fifty years!

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 30, 2019

3 replies
  1. Anton
    Anton says:

    The situation with Dignity reminds me of Jesus going through Samaria and not receiving a welcome. (Luke 9:55) James and John suggested they call down fire from heaven to destroy them … reminiscent of Elisha. But Jesus “rebuked them.” Older translations, including the Vulgate add a phrase: “You do not know of what spirit you are!” It seems to me the same rebuke fits the present [and past] situation in the church. Thank GOD for Dignity and others who continue to proclaim the mission of Jesus rather than the opinion of James and John, who throw fire and stones. Dignity and others are writing in the sand and slowly from the elder to the younger, supposed Christians are dropping their stones and putting out their fires for burning heretics. LGBTQI Catholics/Christians are with Joan of Arc in her response to the question regarding her being in the state of grace: “If I am NOT, God put me there; if I AM, God KEEP me there.”

  2. Tom Bower
    Tom Bower says:

    I have been a member of Dignity since 1977 and while I have been a critic at times what was said above is true. At critical times Dignity has been a path for those challenged to be both Catholic and LGBT and it has made same sex rights a core discussion point within a Church that almost denied its existence for centuries.

    Praise is good, but everyone who agrees with these actions needs to join a Dignity chapter or found one. Some local parishes are great with tolerance, but will they marry a same sex couple or have a welcoming stance for those who aren’t comfortable in a shadowy corner?. If not, then the responsible Christian needs to find or make a place where there is neither black nor white, Greek nor Jew, male or female, gay or straight to borrow from St. Paul. Christ called/s on all of us to live in our truth and live in the sunshine. Try Dignity and you will like it. Dignity even has a category of national member so you may be surprised that you options are more common than you think just like the early Christians. No I was not prompted to send this message and did not attend the conference in Chicago.

  3. /Cheryl Rogers
    /Cheryl Rogers says:

    Beautiful YouTube of Dignity 50 years. Long May You Thrive! However as one of the co-founders of Dignity/Buffalo, like much of history there are gaps and many times loss of information important to full disclosure of truth. I understand that this YouTube is only 18 minutes, but to only see a one second picture of Fr. John McNeill, SJ who was one of the co-founders of Dignity, and Jeannine Grammick, New Ways Ministry(co-coordinated with Dignity greatly in the early days) does not truly express full truth of the movements beginnings. This is a loss not just for history but for those who follow us who will not know the full extent or involvement of people of faith and the scourges they faced with those of us who were with them at this time. 1977 Dignity Chicago, was so moving for me and others from Buffalo, Fr. John McNeill was there in Chicago, shortly after he was silenced by the Vatican. The entire populous in the main hall without prompt all grabbed hands/arms and raised them in silence that was louder then a world of screams for at least 10 minutes. The sorrow and unity for John and us all was intensely pervasive. An where was the mention of his book ” The Church and the Homosexual” and how that shaped Dignity in the earliest development?…………. Let us not forget that we do need to be Inclusive even within our own community of Dignity….. please do not continue to propagate silence about Fr. John McNeill and coordinated efforts with Jeannine Grammick and Bob Nugent…… and mentioning even John Boswell’s work…… a few more minutes in this regard would have made this ‘good’ YouTube into one that could be seen a truly ‘excellent” The truth will make us free! Let’s present the truth the whole truth so help us God!’ to truly be a Light for the Catholic Church.


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