Ignoring the Obvious
Even in the face of overwhelming evidence, chancery officials continue to deny that a homosexual group has gained a foothold in the Archdiocese of Detroit.
By Jay McNally
Today, Dignity/Detroit operates quite openly from Most Holy Trinity parish and is quite blunt about its contempt for both Church teaching and the strictures civil society imposes on homosexuals.
"Welcome to Dignity/Detroit and to Most Holy Trinity Church."
The central focus of our faith life, our Sunday Mass, takes place in Most Holy Trinity Church every Sunday with the full knowledge of our local hierarchy.
The telephone operator gave 1234 Porter--the parish building--as the address for Dignity/Detroit.
The archdiocese refused to arrange an interview between Catholic World Report and Cardinal Maida, or any other member of the chancery staff.
The Archdiocese of Detroit is home to one of the most unique liturgies in the United States. It is the only diocese in which the pro-homosexual group Dignity is allowed to host a Mass, regularly advertised, at a local parish.
According to Marianne Duddy, president of the Dignity/USA, which is based in Washington DC, the Sunday evening Mass held at Most Holy Trinity Church for the last two decades is "a sign of hope" for the all "gay, lesbian, transgender, and transsexual" Catholics.
"I have visited over 60 Dignity chapters in the three years I have been president (of Dignity/USA), and this is the first time I have celebrated a Dignity liturgy in a Catholic Church," Duddy said to enthusiastic applause from the congregation at Holy Trinity last May during Dignity/Detroit's 22nd anniversary liturgy. Speaking from the pulpit, she thanked the Archdiocese of Detroit for its support of Dignity over the years, and especially noted that Suzanne Bante, a staffer in the archdiocesan Department of Christian Service, was present in the congregation.
Most bishops in the US have banned Dignity from Church premises because it is in open defiance of Catholic Church teaching regarding sexual ethics.
THE THEOLOGICAL RUBICON
Before 1987, Dignity chapters operated openly in many dioceses, in part because the group was circumspect enough to remain somewhat ambiguous in its attitude toward the Church's teaching on sexual ethics, according to Father John Harvey, founder of Courage, a group that works with homosexuals trying to lead chaste lives. "But then, at Dignity's bi-annual national meeting in Miami in September 1987, they crossed the theological Rubicon," Father Harvey said.
"Dignity came up with a statement saying, in effect, 'we hold that when two people are in a faithful and loving relationship, one should regard their sexual acts of love as morally correct...' They said that genital acts between same-sex couples were morally good. This is directly contrary to what the Church teaches."
After that, Father Harvey reported, most bishops have tried to shut down Dignity, or have banned the group from Church property.
Except in Detroit.
WORKING FROM WITHIN
Today, Dignity/Detroit operates quite openly from Most Holy Trinity parish and is quite blunt about its contempt for both Church teaching and the strictures civil society imposes on homosexuals. Much of its literature states plainly the groupís desire for changes in Church teaching.
Immediate past president Jim Hobluka, for example, wrote in a column, "The Church has not always been kind to her homosexual sons and daughters. The recent Ratzinger document is the most recent attempt to define us as 'less than the norm.' But we gay Catholics have made a conscious decision to remain in the Church and work for change and acceptance within."
Dignity advertises its Sunday Mass in at least two homosexual publications. In Out Post, which bills itself as "Metro Detroit's independent gay/lesbian community newspaper," the community directory lists Dignity/Detroit as a group for 'gay and lesbian Catholics' engaged in ‘religious, social community outreach.’ And the July 10 Out Post calendar listing under ‘Dignity Detroit’ advertises a "weekly service of gay Catholics."
Where is that weekly service held? During the metro area Pridefest last June in Detroit's fashionable suburb of Royal Oak (a town which in recent years has seen a dramatic growth of gay bookstores and commercial establishments catering to homosexuals) Dignity/Detroit passed out flyers advertising "Sunday Mass for the Gay/Lesbian Community, 6 p.m. at Most Holy Trinity church."
According to press reports, several thousand people attended the "Pridefest." If participants called the phone number listed in the Dignity advertisements, a tape-recorded voice gave them this invitation:
Thank you for calling Dignity/Detroit... Mass is celebrated every Sunday evening at 6 p.m. at Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church, 6th and Porter Streets, Downtown Detroit.
There can be little doubt that, whatever the Archdiocese of Detroit might say, Dignity/Detroit thinks of the Sunday evening Mass as its own special event.
OPEN CONTEMPT FOR CHURCH AUTHORITY
The Sunday Dignity liturgy lives up to its billing. From start to finish, it is obviously designed for the "gay/lesbian community" for which it is advertised.
At the start of the Mass for at least the last 18 months, the congregation has been greeted by a lector who says, reading from a prepared text, "Welcome to Dignity/Detroit and to Most Holy Trinity Church." He then typically announces the names of the priest or priests celebrating the Mass and other participants in the liturgy. At the right of the altar is a huge, plain beige banner that is adorned only with the words Dignity/Detroit.
The groups boasts of strong support from local clergy.
"For 22 years, Dignity/Detroit has been blessed with broad-based support from clergy both in and out of the Archdiocese," the program for Dignity's anniversary celebration noted. "Presently, Dignity/Detroit has over twenty priests who celebrate the Mass with the community, and who devote their time to Dignity's mission." And some of those priests who preside at the Sunday Mass are unabashed in criticizing Church teaching on sexual ethics during their homilies, as they interpret the day's Gospel readings as support for efforts to change Church teaching.
"The entire sermon was a criticism of the Church's authoritative reliance on doctrine, and an encouragement of the absolute primacy of individual conscience," said Richard Garvin, who attended Dignity's Mass on August 25, 1996. "The priest said some Church authorities don't listen, some Church authorities should be open to the messages of others, and some Church authorities should be open to the thoughts of others where the Church ought to be changed. He then read from the Dignity bulletin that was passed out at the back of the church."
SEEING NO EVIL
Garvin attended the Dignity Mass for the first time in the spring of 1995, and since that time he has written many letters of complaint to Detroit’s Cardinal Adam Maida.
Garvin and two other people who have attended Dignity masses periodically for 18 months, have written summaries of what goes on at those liturgies, to be used as documentation in efforts to convince Cardinal Maida that the Mass is indeed a Dignity event. These witnesses have said that the Prayers of the Faithful usually include this standard prayer: "For those blessed with the gift of being gay or lesbian that they may use their gifts to educate..."
In most of the letters responding to Garvin, Maida has flatly denied that Dignity hosts Masses at Most Holy Trinity. For example, on August 1, 1995, he wrote to Garvin:
Having consulted with the pastor of Most Holy Trinity, I am assured that the Sunday evening Mass is a parish Mass; it may happen that a fair number of homosexual people choose to attend the liturgy but that does not make it a 'homosexual liturgy' much less a ‘Dignity Mass.’ I would be concerned, however, if the homily being delivered would in any way fall short of full conformity with the Church's teaching on homosexuality or any other matter of pastoral catechetical significance.
If the Dignity event is a parish Mass, it is treated much differently than the others at the parish. Most Holy Trinity's Weekly Bulletin of November 3, 1996, for example, does not list the 6 p.m. Mass in its calendar showing Mass intentions, nor in another list of parish events that includes all every other scheduled Mass.
Indeed, Jim Hobluka, the immediate past president of Dignity, agrees with Garvin and other observers in saying that the Mass is indeed a gay and lesbian event, as advertised. In a column he wrote in the December 1991-January 1992 issue of the Dignity newsletter, Hobluka wrote appreciatively of the "comfortable relationship" Dignity has with the archdiocese, and of its link to the Sunday Mass:
The Dignity community of Detroit has been especially blessed by the use of a centrally located church and an ample supply of clergy who lead us in beautiful liturgies and maintain a sympathetic ear to our social and moral concerns. While we are not an officially sanctioned group in the archdiocese, we have not been forced underground or into renting a non-liturgical building for our gatherings. The central focus of our faith life, our Sunday Mass, takes place in Most Holy Trinity Church every Sunday with the full knowledge of our local hierarchy. Our bishop knows we are here. Perhaps this is some of the acceptance we seek in its earliest form. (emphasis added)
THE SOCIAL SCENE
In an article published in the Spring 1995 issue of Heartland, a publication of the Midwest Region of Dignity/USA, Hobluka is quoted as making the same technical distinction that Cardinal Maida asserts: "We're not a Dignity Mass per se, but a parish Mass. But, yeah, you definitely know it’s a gay and lesbian service."
And that identity with homosexuals is particularly obvious, the author of the article adds, ‘especially at the sign of peace.’ Indeed, the Kiss of Peace at the Dignity Mass is probably like none other held at any parish in the state of Michigan, if not the world. On October 29 of this year, for example, the congregation numbered about 150 people, of whom fewer than 10 were female; about 20 were choir members. Perhaps 100 men were seated in the middle of the church. During the Kiss of Peace dozens of men embraced those around them, then walked into the center aisle of the church, where they sought out others. Many men kissed each other on the lips, probably with the same frequency as some kissed others on a cheek. Some ventured far beyond their pews to find others, typically embracing in warm hugs and kisses. The two priests who concelebrated the Mass also walked far down into the center aisle, hugging many different men.
According to Garvin and others who have attended the Dignity Mass, immediately after the liturgy the lector usually announces upcoming Dignity events, including retreats, picnics, dinner dances, a craft show, and plays. He then invites everyone to join in the Dignity social at the parish building down the street, at 1234 Porter Street.
The small one-story parish building is apparently the official home of Dignity/Detroit. Although it is impossible to persuade personnel of the Detroit archdiocese to admit that Dignity uses any parish facilities, on November 1, the AT&T telephone operator gave 1234 Porter as the address for Dignity/Detroit. The building is the site of many advertised Dignity events, ranging from gay/lesbian theater to dinners and social gatherings. The main room in the building includes a bulletin board that is covered with newspaper articles and other materials about homosexual issues.
The December 1995 issues of Out Spoken, a homosexual publication, lists 1234 Porter as the location for Street Theater. That newspaper carried an advertisement for another play, titled "Was Jesus Gay?" which speaks of Jesus seducing men.
THE ARCHDIOCESAN STONEWALL
That advertisement for Street Theater, in a local gay publication, as well as Dignity/Detroit's involvement in the Call to Action (CTA) conference which was scheduled to take place in Detroit in November, gave special urgency to Richard Garvin's complaints.
Dignity/Detroit's November 3, 1996 bulletin, distributed at Holy Trinity included a request that local members provide housing for members of Dignity from around the United States who would be attending the CTA conference November 15-17. The Call to Action conference featured a roster of speakers who dissent from Church teaching on a host of issues, including abortion and sexual morality.
Garvin wrote again,to Cardinal Maida, saying that it appeared the local chapter of Dignity had an importance that went beyond the 100 members who attend the local Sunday Mass. "All of this is the tip of the iceberg," Garvin wrote, "for Dignity/Detroit has already been up to far more than I have reported."
But Garvin's efforts to persuade the cardinal of the magnitude of the problem had (at least up until the time this article is being written) produced virtually no results. He has received no response beyond the cardinal's repeated insistence that Dignity does not host a Mass at Most Holy Trinity, or that Dignity/Detroit is not encouraging contempt for Catholic doctrine.
When Garvin first contacted the archdiocese in writing, more than 18 months ago, he was referred to the Director of Communications, Ned McGrath, who at first did not respond to his Garvin's letters.
Garvin said he made several follow-up phone calls before he finallly reached McGrath, who told him he did not intend to respond in writing to Garvin's complaint. "If we answered every letter, we would not get any work done," McGrath told Garvin in the spring of 1995. He did offer that "Dignity is not supported by the archdiocese."
McGrath refused to arrange an interview between Catholic World Report and Cardinal Maida, or any other member of the chancery staff. He refused to furnish any other information to this reporter, or even to supply photographs from the archdiocesan files. "It is my considered opinion that Catholic journalism should be practiced in a manner that is constructive, not confrontational," McGrath wrote in declining a request for information.
A SIGN OF HOPE?
Bishop John Nienstedt, who was recently consecrated as a new auxiliary bishop of Detroit, also failed to return a call from this reporter. However, Bishop Nienstedt has correponded with Garvin about Dignity, and he has raised the hopes of orthodox Catholics with the announcement that he will be the chaplain for a local chapter of Courage, the group that upholds Catholic teaching while ministering to those who have homosexual inclinations.
On October 30 Bishop Nienstedt wrote to Garvin that he was planned to investigage the questions surrounding Dignity/Detroit. Bishop Nienstedt also wrote that he had instructed a chancery official to remove the name of Dignity, Inc. as a participating organization in a archdiocesan-sponsored forum on AIDS. Furthermore, he wrote:
I have also contacted Father Kohler at Most Holy Trinity to set up a meeting about the nature of his Sunday evening liturgy. I intend to communicate to him that there can be no official or public sponsorship of Dignity-Detroit, Inc. by the Archdiocese or any parish community.
Bishop Nienstedt was rector of Sacred Major Seminary for several years, and was highly regarded among most local Catholic leaders as an orthodox priest who worked to support the magisterium.
Father Russell Kohler, the pastor of Most Holy Trinity Church, did not return several phone calls. Several priests, including a member of the chancery Tribunal, who have celebrated Dignity Masses at Most Holy Trinity, also did not return phone calls.
Three phone calls to the Dignity phone number listed on the group’s bulletin went unreturned, although Dignity Vice President Frank D'Amore did return a phone call to Dignity's "emergency" pager number. But when Amore was asked for information about Dignity and its relationship with the Archdiocese of Detroit, he declined to talk, and referred the reporter back to the general Dignity phone number.
Still Amore, perhaps as much as anyone, knows about Dignity's relationship with the diocese in the Dignity national newsletter. In a special tribute listing nine friends of Dignity published in the 22nd anniversary Dignity/Detroit program, Amore was cited as "the longest serving president (1985-1991) [who] worked diligently with the archbishop's office in the late 1980s to maintain our position in a Roman Catholic parish."
Father Denis Theroux, OP, pastor of St. Dominic Parish in Detroit, is one of the most visible "Dignity priests" in the archdiocese. He frequently celebrates Mass at Most Holy Trinity, and has been listed in Dignity bulletins as the leader of weekend Dignity retreats. Here is the exchange between Father Theroux and this reporter:
CWR: "I am calling for information about Dignity, the Sunday Mass and the relationship between Dignity and the archdiocese of Detroit. I'm calling you because you have celebrated Dignity Masses."
Father Theroux: "How do you know that?"
CWR: "I have seen you there in person, and some of my friends have also seen you."
Father Theroux: "I recommend that you call the Archdiocese of Detroit..."
CWR: But I have you on the phone, and you are a priest who has said the Masses. I want your perspective...
Father Theroux: "You should call the archdiocese. They are responsible for my role and they are the ones you must talk to. Thank you."
Then Father Theroux hung up.
CARDINAL DEARDEN’S DILEMMA
The refusal of the Director of Communications of the Archdiocese of Detroit to communicate openly--much less accurately--with the press about Dignity and its relationship with the archdiocese underscores the palpable political difficulty Cardinal Maida faces.
Some observers believe efforts to force Dignity from Most Holy Trinity could result in heated protests from a large number of the clergy. The mere fact that at least 20 priests are willing to celebrate Mass for Dignity/Detroit is a measure of the support the homosexual group enjoys in clerical circles; some of those priests are well-placed politically in the archdiocese.
One prominent priest who has been outspoken in defense of Dignity is Father Victor Clore, pastor of Christ the King Parish in Detroit, who for years has written a column in The Michigan Catholic. It was Father Clore's January 27, 1995 column, stridently denouncing Catholic Church teaching on homosexuality that aroused Richard Garvin's interest in the issue and led him to discover Dignity/Detroit's relationship with the archdiocese.
In that column, Father Clore complained:
Catholic conferences continue to oppose legislation that would allow gays and lesbians to live in peace; and several bishops have been instructed from Rome to forbid parishes hosing meetings and liturgies organized by Dignity, the association of gay Catholics.
Gays are criticized for meeting in risky bars and unsavory steambaths, yet when the attempt to meet for Mass in a parish church (in real dignity), they are locked out. This contradiction on the part of the Church flies in the face of our teaching about the dignity of every person. It reeks of hypocrisy and makes reconciliation practically impossible.
By the time Cardinal Maida replaced Cardinal Edmund Szoka six years ago, Dignity was firmly entrenched in the archdiocese. In fairness to Cardinal Szoka it should be added that Dignity was perhaps even more secure under his predecessor, Cardinal John Dearden, who had named Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton as his moderator of the curia--the man who effectively in charge of the day-to-day operations of the archdiocese. Some of the people Bishop Gumbleton hired to work at the chancery before he was replaced in the early 1980s by Cardinal Szoka still hold high positions today, and are known for their liberal sympathies.
FRIENDS IN THE HIERARCHY
Today, Bishop Gumbleton is perhaps the most rebellious of all bishops in the United States. He is a darling of the homosexual movement in the United States, and has openly criticized Church teaching on sexual ethics, calling a letter on the issue by the Vatican's Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger a set of "evil directives." He has been giving speeches around the country, including at the Call to Action national conference, opposing Church teaching.
Bishop Kenneth Untener, ordinary of the nearby diocese of Saginaw north of Detroit, is also a well-known dissenter and close friend of Bishop Gumbleton. Bishop Untener is the former rector of St. John's Provincial Seminary, and played a monumental role in screening the young men who were to admitted the seminary and eventually be ordained for the archdiocese.
In 1980, Father Untener faced a firestorm of controversy when it was announced he was to be consecrated a bishop. According to accounts published in the Detroit Free Press and National Catholic Register at the time, he was called to Rome twice within days to answer questions about a program on human sexuality he established at his seminary. On his return trip to Rome, Father Untener brought Cardinal Dearden and Bishop Imesch to help defend him. More than a dozen priests in the archdiocese have told Catholic World Report that homosexual seminarians were comfortable at the seminary during Untener's tenure, and some were ordained priests.
To be sure, the Detroit clergy is not wholly in support of Dignity, and some priests have been quite critical of the group. For example, Father Eduard Perrone wrote a letter of protest to Cardinal Maida regarding Father Clore's Michigan Catholic column, and also canceled his parish's subscription to the newspaper.
Father Alberto Bondy, pastor of St. Michael Parish in Livonia, said priests have an important role to play in helping homosexuals, but Dignity's approach is not the answer.
Father Bondy added that a good many local priests agree with him that as long as Dignity is working for a change in Church teaching, "celebrating a special Mass for Dignity gives a nod of approval and encourage to their position and purpose which is not at all consistent with the Church's stand."
Msgr. Kern then led a march down Michigan Avenue to the chancery on Labor Day supporting Dignity.
A CONTROVERSIAL FOUNDING
The formation of Detroit Dignity was a sensational national event in May 1974. Brian McNaught, a columnist for The Michigan Catholic, the newspaper of the archdiocese, whose specific mission was to appeal to young readers, announced that he was gay, and had been elected president of the newly created Detroit chapter of Dignity. He was immediately forbidden to write for the paper, which had the effect of making him appear as a martyr for the cause.
Media reports contributed to the controversy, and McNaught sought, and received, support from perhaps the most charismatic and most-loved priest in the archdiocese, Msgr. Clement Kern, the pastor of Most Holy Trinity. This parish is in a neighborhood called Corktown, so named for the Irish immigrants from County Cork who settled there in the first half of the 19th century. Msgr. Kern had made his mark as an unyielding supporter of the labor movement and for his extraordinary efforts on behalf of the poorest of the poor, who flocked to his parish in droves for clothes, food and shelter.
To support his efforts on behalf of the poor, Msgr. Kern created a "Sharin' of the Green” Mass on St. Patrick's Day, which even today--long after his death in 1983 at the age of 76--still attracts enormous media publicity. Nearly every significant politician in the state, including the governor, serve as ushers to collect cash that is then used to help the local poor.
Thus when Msgr. Kern took in McNaught and gave his implicit approval to the Dignity cause, the local homosexual movement found a formidable ally. Msgr. Kern then led a march down Michigan Avenue to the chancery on Labor Day supporting Dignity. After McNaught went on a 17-day fast to attract further support, Bishop Gumbleton and Msgr. Joseph Imesch (who is now the bishop of Joliet, Illinois) issued a public statement supporting of Dignity's goals. McNaught soon became national president of Dignity.
"After that," Dignity's 22nd anniversary program notes, "Dignity grew by leaps and bounds..." It has since become a virtually invincible fixture in the Archdiocese of Detroit.
Jay McNally writes from his home in Michigan. He is a former editor of The Michigan Catholic.