Mirroring a national trend, local LGBT Catholic group finds itself in a rebuilding stage
Dignity Dallas, the LGBT Catholic organization, is in a re-forming stage, according to leader Jim Davis.
Davis said he’s been out “beating the bushes to let people know who we are.”
Dignity is not formally recognized by the Catholic Church.
Jon Garinn, Dignity Dallas’ former spiritual leader, said the group once attracted 25 to 35 people to weekly Sunday mass.
But Davis said the group, on the verge of folding, now meets just once a month as it tries to rebuild. One problem, Davis said, has been finding local leaders willing to identify themselves openly and actively promote the group.
“The bishop already doesn’t like us,” Davis said. “What do we care what he says? I want my name out there.”
DignityUSA Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke said the role of the organization has changed, and the Dallas chapter’s situation isn’t uncommon. She said at one time, Dignity was the first connection a gay Catholic made to the LGBT community.
The organization was often a place of sanctuary — a safe place for LGBT Catholics who were verbally attacked in their parishes. That’s not true anymore.
“The LGBT community has blossomed,” she said. “As Dignity re-forms across the country, it’s taking many shapes and forms.”
But she said that Dignity is still a place for LGBT Catholics to take refuge from the mounting attacks by bishops and the pope that have hurt so many.
“We’re the group who will affirm who you are,” she said. “We’ll marry the couples. We’ll baptize their kids. Dignity is there to support the majority of Catholics who support LGBT rights.”
Duddy-Burke said a study last year indicated that Catholics are less likely to hear anti-LGBT messages from the pulpit than mainstream Protestants or Evangelicals.
A New York Times/CBS News poll released this week showed that more than two-thirds of Catholics believe same-sex couples deserve some sort of relationship recognition, while 44 percent support marriage equality.
But the message from the upper hierarchy is still negative and even getting worse.
“Dignity is the anti-hierarchy,” she said.
The national organization helps local chapters with quarterly leadership calls, a chapter-relations support team, leadership training programs and general exchanges of ideas.
Duddy-Burke said some chapters continue to offer weekly mass while others perform their own service monthly. Some attend a parish together and then go out to brunch as a group. Others maintain activities such as a book-discussion group or supper club.
Davis said the Dallas Dignity group has maintained its monthly supper club at Revlon House, one of the housing units of AIDS Services Dallas.
Duddy-Burke called that “more Catholic than the liturgy” in living the values that the church teaches.
Davis said that many Dignity members attend mass at Holy Trinity Church on Oak Lawn Avenue, where a large portion of the congregation is gay and lesbian. To explain what Dignity means to him, Davis coined the chapter’s motto — “The traditions you love. The acceptance you deserve.”
“I started attending Dignity when I began hearing edicts from Rome,” he said. “My church [parish] wasn’t welcoming either. At the time, I was ready to walk away from the [Catholic] Church.”
He agreed with Duddy-Burke that Dignity speaks for the values of the majority of Catholics who believe in equality for the LGBT community.
“We think it’s important as gay Catholics to hold a mirror up to the Catholic Church and say, ‘There’s no conflict there,’” he said.
Because the local bishop doesn’t support Dignity, Davis said the group has had trouble finding clergy to lead mass. Currently, a monk who lives in the area but is still affiliated with an order in another state and a priest from the Polish National Catholic Church with a parish in Oak Cliff act as its spiritual leaders.
“If the chapter is going to have any effect,” he said, “we have to be in your face.”
Davis wants new members who will let the group’s leaders know what the new Dallas Dignity should do.
Duddy-Burke said that the increasingly hostile rhetoric from the church hierarchy isn’t playing in the pews. DignityUSA is receiving stronger and stronger support from Catholics across the country.
“I’m giving 25 bucks to Dignity,” she said people write her after hearing anti-gay messages from the church, “because I’m not giving it to my parish.”
Dignity Dallas meets the first Sunday of the month at Cathedral of Hope at 5 p.m. For more info, visit DignityDallas.org.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 17, 2012.