Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Thoughts on DignityUSA

A reader asked me what I thought about DignityUSA, an organization with the goals of uniting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Roman Catholics, as well as their families, friends and loved ones in order to (i) develop leadership, and (ii) be an instrument through which LGBT Catholics can be heard by and promoting reform in the Church.

As a life long Catholic up until 2001 or so (I was an altar boy for 10 years growing up, went to daily mass for many, many years, and was a 4th Degree Knight of Columbus), I applaud DignityUSA’s goals which can be found here ( ). In fact, in my opinion EVERY Christian denomination should have such goals towards providing fair spiritual treatment to gays. However, for me personally, I decided to leave the Church rather than remain a member of an institution that at present (1) describes homosexuality as “a more or less strong tendency ordered to an intrinsic moral evil, and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder," and (2) would condemn gays to a life of celibacy, devoid of any possibility of physical love with another human. Given the Church’s history, on the issue of homosexuality one can expect the Church to lag decades, if not centuries behind modern science and mental health advances in understanding the causes and natural nature of same-sex orientation.

As a result of my decision I left the Catholic Church for first the Episcopal Church and then ultimately the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (“ELCA”) whose sister churches in northern Europe are moving rapidly towards acceptance of partnered gay clergy and church commitment ceremonies for gays. While not perfect and still having a distance to go, the ELCA offers a much more accepting church experience for me. Plus, there is the sense of hope that in my lifetime (perhaps even in just a few years) gays will be fully and officially accepted by that church. If I am going to work for change, I would rather do it in an institution where there is some nearer term hope for success.

The other huge component in my decision to leave the Roman Catholic Church was/is the utter moral bankruptcy of the Church leadership from the Pope on down. Were these high clerics married with children of their own instead of prissy celibates, I believe that there would have been much greater institutional outrage arising from the clergy sex abuse scandal and related cover ups. I suspect that bishops and cardinals would have been sacked. Instead, the main focus was on trying to cover up the scandal and ignoring the needs of the victims. Given the current institutional structure where the laity has no formal power and the Pope, cardinals and bishops are treated like potentates by much of the laity, no change will likely ever occur.
The bottom line is that unless and until there is accountability on the part of the bishops, cardinals – and yes the Pope - in my view the Roman Catholic Church as an institution is too morally bankrupt to merit anyone’s allegiance. I truly do not see the Church changing unless and until large numbers of Catholics (1) leave the Church and/or (2) stop giving money on a massive scale and cite the need for reform as the reason why they are leaving or withholding funds. To date, far too few Catholics have demanded that the hierarchy be cleaned up by voting with their feet and/or their pocketbooks.
Ultimately, each of us must make our own decision as to where we feel spiritually comfortable. For myself, in the ELCA I have found a church that offers in essence the Catholic mass, a sense of spiritual fellowship, and a far more accepting and non-judgmental atmosphere.

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