A priest in the Archdiocese of Detroit will continue celebrating Mass for the Dignity chapter in that city despite a bishop’s ban on doing so.
Last month, Detroit Auxiliary Bishop Gerard Battersby instructed archdiocesan priests that they could no longer celebrate Mass for Dignity/Detroit, a chapter of DignityUSA, a national organization of LGBTQI Catholics. Battersby also said that the chapter could no longer meet on church property. It had been gathering at Marygrove College, a school run by the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
In an open letter, Fr. Victor Clore, pastor of Christ the King parish, Detroit, announced he would not stop celebrating Mass for Dignity members once in-person liturgies resume after the coronavirus pandemic. According to the National Catholic Reporter:
“Clore, a priest for 54 years, said that denying access to Dignity is akin to Catholic parishes in the 1960s who denied admission to African Americans, a time when he protested exclusion.
“In a letter mailed March 19 to archdiocesan priests and deacons, Clore defended Dignity’s ministry and called upon church leaders to extend their welcome to all.
“‘It naturally occurs, in all cultures, that a small but significant number of human persons have same-sex attraction. It is not a disease or a freak of nature. Same-sex love is their natural way for intimate sexual embrace,’ Clore wrote.
“‘Some love involves genital sexual expression; other loving experiences do not — friendship, professional care such as nursing, teaching, ministry, etc. Nevertheless, we are sexual persons; our sexuality is a part of our identity, and sexual overtones are a dynamic in every relationship,’ he wrote.
Clore followed up with a statement to NCR in which he said the efforts against Dignity were a “witchhunt,” adding that he would not be “preaching heresy from the pulpit” at the chapter’s Masses.
Leaders from DignityUSA and Dignity/Detroit gave background to how Battersby’s instruction developed and the pain the organization’s members felt because of the archdiocese’s policy. The auxiliary bishop and Dignity/Detroit leaders were in conversation beginning mid-January of this year with a meeting scheduled for late March, which was pre-empted by Battersby’s letter to priests. Dignity’s statement continued:
“‘It is extremely disappointing that the Archdiocese moved forward with these drastic measures before we had a chance to have this important conversation,’ said Frank D’Amore, President of Dignity/Detroit. ‘We truly believe that it is impossible to learn anything about our community and not be moved by the love our members have for the Catholic faith, and the integrity with which they live their lives. It is hard to understand why church officials would cast out people struggling to remain connected with the church while so many are leaving.'”
D’Amore added that the expulsion was particularly hrmful as it comes during Lent and the coronavirus pandemic.
Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, commented that “there are few experiences as devastating as being kicked out of your family home and being told you are not worthy of being fed.” She continued:
“That is what has happened to Dignity members all across the country. Yet we have persisted in sustaining communities that are graciously hosted by other denominations and have found ways to continue to celebrate the sacraments of our Church. We will do that in Detroit, if necessary, and will not allow church leaders to deny LGBTQI Catholics our human right to our faith.”
DignityUSA is in its 51st year, and Dignity/Detroit has a 46-year history.
But Clore and D’Amore were not merely angry; they expressed hope, too. Fr. Clore explained in his letter that if the Archdiocese of Detroit does not want a Dignity chapter active in its territory, then its parishes should become welcoming enough to eliminate the need for an LGBTQ-specific space. D’Amore tied it all into Holy Week:
“We are called on to turn to God and prepare ourselves for the experience of Easter. This experience of exclusion, which is currently happening to all Catholics and others because of COVID-19, is causing great pain. However, we firmly believe in Resurrection, and look forward to the triumph of love over prejudice, community over isolation, life after death.”
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, April 14, 2020