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