Bishop Thomas Gumbleton Issues Support for Dignity/Detroit After Sanctions

Bishop Thomas Gumbleton in the miter with a pink triangle, cross, and rainbow ribbon.

Bishop Gumbleton, a longtime advocate for LGBTQ equality and other social justice causes, has spoken up to support Dignity/Detroit, a local organization of LGBTQI Catholics and their supporters, after the Archdiocese of Detroit issued sanctions against the group.

Gumbleton, a retired auxiliary of the archdiocese, used a biblical example to refute a mid-March announcement by Auxiliary Bishop Gerald Battersby in which he prohibited Dignity/Detroit from meeting on church property, and he instructed priests not to minister to the organization. In an interview with The Spartan, the student newspaper of Michigan State University, Gumbleton noted that Battersby’s directives came just before the Sunday during which the Gospel told of Jesus’ encounter with a Samaritan woman at the well:

“He was a Jew and she was a Samaritan, and they had no social contact whatsoever…there was extreme animosity. Jesus crosses those barriers and starts up a conversation. It turns out she’s married to five husbands … but they get to the point where she believes he’s the messiah and goes to the village and starts to proclaim him. He uses her as a disciple to proclaim the Gospel. That shows me how Jesus would act to homosexual people.”

Gumbleton also drew a contrast between the church’s response to LGBTQ persons and other groups whose lives do not conform with church teaching, and yet who are not denied sacramental celebrations. “You certainly are judging when you say people are not welcome at the Eucharist,” he said. “They will say they are living in public sin. But so are people on nuclear submarines.”

A month after the archdiocesan directive, Fr. Victor Clore, pastor of Christ the King Parish, Detroit, issued an open letter expressing his intent to defy the ban and to continue celebrating Mass with the community, as he has done for several decades. Dignity/Detroit is a chapter of DignityUSA, a national organization of LGBTQI Catholics and supporters.

Support for Dignity/Detroit has also come from Sister Barbara Beesley, who has personally attended the Dignity Masses for many years. She says that joining the group in prayer made her more understanding of their lives and experiences. She told The Spartan:

“It was like I realized it was the media and the messages I’d gotten through society in general were screwed up, not the people. I was nicely accepted and I felt very at home. It kind of took away my anticipation of it being very strange and different. It was ordinary people trying to live their lives.”

Sr. Beesley’s comments were affirmed by Sister Andrea Lee IHM, who was the senior administrator at Marygrove College during the period when Dignity/Detroit used their chapel for worship. “There was nothing even in the homilies that I would consider to be poking at church teaching or anything like that. I’m proud to take part of the responsibility for allowing them to be here.” She says that when the sisters decided to welcome Dignity to the college in 1997, it seemed a simple decision. “There was not extended deliberation about whether we were going to do this. It wasn’t maybe we should or maybe we shouldn’t. It seemed like the right thing to do, so we did it.”

For Sister Beesley, the best solution would be for the Vatican to reevaluate its stance on LGBTQ policies, in particular, to establish a ‘pontifical academy of social sciences.’ She says:

“They’re so afraid of change, but the scientific teaching has changed, the ordinary, believing Catholic has changed and, as people have come out of the closet, people’s attitudes have changed…A good-faith effort of church leaders to reexamine the church teaching and be open to what the social scientists have to say about sexual orientation, sexual preference, and sexual identity is what’s needed. It’s going to be a very different direction from where Catholic teaching has been.”

Dignity/Detroit president Frank D’Amore told The Spartan that the group is not giving up: “Heck, yes, we have not disbanded,” he says. “We are still a vibrant organization, and we’re going to do our best to work this out in a way that’s acceptable or tolerable with the people downtown.”

Let us hope that the words of faithful leaders like Bishop Gumbleton, Father Clore, Sister Beesley, and Sister Lee will find sympathetic ears and open hearts.

To read Bondings 2.0’s review of a new biography about Bishop Gumbleton, in particular the book’s notes on the bishop’s LGBTQ advocacy, click here.

Catherine Buck, New Ways Ministry, May 20, 2020

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