Bishop Warns Priests to Not Minister to Dignity/Detroit

Attendees at a Mass celebrating Dignity/Detroit’s 39th anniversary

An auxiliary bishop in Michigan has banned priests under his jurisdiction from celebrating Masses for Dignity/Detroit, a decision that comes following a note from Archbishop Allen Vigneron about LGBTQ people.

Bishop Gerard Battersby, an auxiliary of the Archdiocese of Detroit, issued the ban via an email to priests. He acknowledged Dignity/Detroit’s well-established history in the archdiocese (it was founded in 1974) and claimed that the group rejected church teaching on sexuality. Battersby then wrote:

“I wish to communicate through this letter that a Mass for Dignity Detroit members – one which rejects Church teaching on human sexuality – is not possible in any parish church, chapel, or diocesan facility, and is indeed forbidden everywhere in the Archdiocese of Detroit. This will no doubt be difficult for some to hear, but it arises from heartfelt pastoral concern for members of Dignity Detroit.

“As we endeavor to provide a culture of empathy and understanding throughout the Archdiocese according to the light of the Gospel, it is essential that the Church not seem to condone Dignity Detroit’s competing vision for growth in holiness. While elements of that vision, such as Dignity Detroit’s outreach to the poor, are commendable, the organization’s rejection of the Church’s teaching on chastity is incompatible with the path of sanctification on which Christ bids his Church to travel. . .

“As Archbishop Allen Vigneron’s delegate for the pastoral implementation of Action Step 3.3B2, and with his knowledge and full support, I ask for your assistance – and the assistance of all those ministering in the Archdiocese of Detroit – to ensure the pastoral care of those who experience same-sex attraction, to support the Courage and EnCourage apostolates, and to refrain from offering Mass anywhere in the Archdiocese of Detroit for Dignity Detroit, lest we confuse the faithful by seeming to endorse an alternative and contradictory path to sanctity.”

Action Step 3.3B2 is a section from Vigneron’s 2017 pastoral letter Unleash the Gospel.  The Action Step addresses ministry to LGBTQ people for which Battersby is now responsible. That document is the fruit of “Synod 16,” a three-day gathering in 2016 in the synodal spirit that Pope Francis has encouraged.

The auxiliary bishop also referenced Vigneron’s pastoral note Imitating Christ’s Charity and Chastity on the same topic. In that note, Vigneron promises “a review and evaluation of our current ministerial practices” in the archdiocese regarding people referred to in these documents as experiencing “same sex attraction.” Battersby’s ban on Dignity/Detroit hosting services on church property or being served by archdiocesan priests is perhaps part of that review.

Vigneron’s record on LGBTQ issues is quite negative. In the past, he has compared breaking up same-gender relationships to the Exodus where Moses led the Hebrews to freedom. In 2015, he attempted to ban Catholics who support marriage equality from Communion. His comments prompted outcry from Catholic parents in Michigan, and from Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton (links here and here) and Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson. He also banned Fortunate Families from using church property because of their speaker, Francis DeBernardo of New Ways Ministry. Outside the archdiocese, Vigneron has served as vice-president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has campaigned for years against LGBTQ equality.

When Detroit Catholics gathered in 2016 to discuss the state and future of the church, they did not recommend banning Dignity/Detroit as part of the archdiocese’s approach to LGBTQ issues. Instead of inclusion, Battersby’s decision excludes already marginalized Catholics. While Battersby’s decision came from a synodal process intended to move the church forward, on LGBTQ issues, the archdiocese appears to be moving backward.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, March 13, 2020

8 replies
  1. Barry Blackburn
    Barry Blackburn says:

    Members of Dignity Detroit have a wider vision not an exclusionary one. Perhaps the auxiliary bishop has a log in his eye hampering his own vision?

  2. Paula Ruddy
    Paula Ruddy says:

    Keep strong, holy people. You know you have the Spirit in and with you. Some bishops have a misdirected loyalty. We need faithful dialogue.

  3. Mary Elizabeth Hunt
    Mary Elizabeth Hunt says:

    “I wish to communicate through this letter that a Mass for Dignity Detroit members – one which rejects Church teaching on human sexuality – is not possible in any parish church, chapel, or diocesan facility, and is indeed forbidden everywhere in the Archdiocese of Detroit.” This statement is so blatantly ridiculous. Enforcement is impossible. Imagine two or three gathered together for worship in a home or convent. Try forbidding that. Such statements often read as if they are being written to placate the powers that think they are. Such writers cannot imagine that what they say has any force in the minds of rational people. I wish Detroit Dignity all power and peace as you go about your lives despite such nuisance interferences.

  4. Paula Mattras
    Paula Mattras says:

    Right now I am too angry to respond. When I think of the LGBTQ folks I know, only kindness and goodness flood my mind. And all that in spite of “all this” now. And “all this” is un-Christlike to the maximum.

  5. Vernon Smith
    Vernon Smith says:

    Dignity Detroit will be strengthened by this ridiculous action, not weakened. When Dignity Washington D.C. was banned from church property over thirty years ago, their numbers blossomed as lgbt Catholics came together in solidarity. Throughout the nineties, D.C. had their highest membership levels ever. Detroit has a long history. Terrible as this action is, may it rightly backfire and serve to enrich and empower Dignity Detroit.

    Note: I disagree with the last phrase of the article saying that the archdiocese appears to be going backwards. No, it is not mere appearance. They ARE going backwards.

  6. Rt. Rev. Paul Breton
    Rt. Rev. Paul Breton says:

    I am a bishop in the Ecumenical Catholic Church (+Shirilau). I have celebrated Mass for the Dignity chapter in Palm Springs, which meets at St. Paul in the Desert Episcopal Church. I will add Dignity Detroit to my prayer list for its protection and apostolate. My thanks and appreciation for New Ways Ministry.

  7. Xavier
    Xavier says:

    “…a Mass for Dignity Members is not possible in any parish church, chapel, or diocesan facility…”
    Sounds like bp Battersby never took the metaphysics class or it just…did not go very well for him. If Jimmy in his dorm room closet at the Detroit Sacred Heart seminary watches (on his phone, of course) the live stream of Dignity Mass from Boston, D.C., New York… obviously it is possible.
    Fr. Victor Clore wrote an excellent, long response to Battersby’s “unleashing,” almost too good. It would pass for an academic journal paper. I say “too good” because it made Battersby look like a freshman cleric. Combined with the “metaphysical” challenges pointed above, I don’t think he even understood that response. Now every priest and deacon in the diocese knows how undereducated in his own field their bp is. That had to hurt, so now he throws thunders–what else is there to do.


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