By Niraj Warikoo, Detroit Free Press, August 8, 2020
For more than 45 years, Dignity Detroit has been a haven for LGBTQ Catholics looking to practice their faith in a respectful space for those with different sexual orientations.
The group held Masses in Detroit with the help of several Catholic priests, including even some bishops who would preside over their services, first held at Most Holy Trinity Church in Detroit and later at Scared Heart Chapel at Marygrove College.
But this year, the Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit kicked them out, saying they are now forbidden from gathering at churches and having priests perform Mass for them. In addition, the Archdiocese also has kicked out another LGBTQ Catholic group, Fortunate Families Detroit. Both groups and clergy received letters earlier this year from Auxiliary Bishop Gerard Battersby warning them they are no longer welcome in the Archdiocese because they advocate policies that he said clash with church doctrine on sexuality.
“…a Mass for Dignity Detroit members — one which rejects Church teaching on human sexuality — is not possible in any parish church, chapel, or diocesan facility, and is indeed forbidden everywhere in the Archdiocese of Detroit,” Bishop Battersby wrote in a March 9 letter to all priests in the Archdiocese. “Refrain from offering Mass anywhere in the Archdiocese of Detroit for Dignity Detroit, lest we confuse the faithful by seeming to endorse an alternative and contradictory path to sanctity.”
The expulsion of the groups is part of a broader push by the Archdiocese to make sure that Catholic groups are in alignment with its teachings. In another case, the Archdiocese of Detroit fired in June a music director at an Auburn Hills church who is a lesbian and had married another woman. Conservative Catholics have been pushing the Archdiocese for years to distance themselves from LGBTQ organizations. In August 2019, Archbishop Allen Vigneron, who leads the Archdiocese, released a note titled “Imitating Christ’s Charity and Chastity” that urged those with same-sex attractions to live a chaste life.
Leaders of the two groups, while shocked and hurt by their removals, say they are going to continue with their mission.
Dignity Detroit held last month its first in-person prayer service with Communion since the coronavirus pandemic at the chapel at what used to be Marygrove College. And Fortunate Families is holding online meetings while it plans its future.
“Dignity is still around, and we’re not going anywhere,” Frank D’Amore, president of Dignity Detroit, told the Free Press this week. “We just celebrated our 46th anniversary in May. We never went out of our way to embarrass the church hierarchy. We’re on our fourth Archbishop in 39 years, three cardinals. Now, all of a sudden, it’s an issue? I don’t get it.”
Since 2014, Fortunate Families Detroit, which supports LGBTQ families, has been gathering at Christ the King Catholic Church in Detroit, led by the Rev. Victor Clore, for meetings and Mass. But on March 14, Bishop Battersby sent Fortunate Families a letter that told the group to stop its services.
“Fortunate Families Detroit provides a misleading and harmful message,” Battersby wrote. “Having such an organization, with its competing vision for the sanctification of her members, operating within the boundaries of the Archdiocese is both confusing to the faithful and detrimental to the very membership the organization seeks to serve.”
“As delegate of Archbishop Allen Vigneron, I ask that you immediately suspend meeting and disband your organization as a group claiming to be Catholic operating in the Archdiocese of Detroit. Fortunate Families Detroit is forbidden from meeting in any parish church, chapel, or institution of the Archdiocese of Detroit,” Battersby said. “
The leaders of Fortunate Families Detroit, who have LGBT children, said they were surprised by the letter.
“We had no inkling” they were going to remove our group, said Linda Karle-Nelson, who’s co-president of the group along with her husband, Tom Nelson. “It was surprising, shocking, it was hurtful. It means we lost our parish, our home base for many years. The pastor there is not allowed to associate with us. We’re no longer a group with a parish home. We’re not allowed in any Catholic parish. … That’s pretty harsh.”
Linda Karle-Nelson and Tom Nelson of Farmington Hills are the leaders of Fortunate Families Detroit, a Catholic group that supports LGBT people. They have LGBT children. Their group was recently expelled from the Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit, which has now forbidden them from holding events and services at Catholic churches. In a March letter from a bishop, priests in the Archdiocese of Detroit were told not to perform Mass for their group.
The Archdiocese maintains that it is not opposed to anyone, but is encouraging people who may identify as LGBTQ to get involved with Catholic groups called Courage and EnCourage, which encourage gay people to not be sexually active.
“In recent years, the Archdiocese of Detroit has been committed to renewing and strengthening its ministry for members of the faithful who experience same-sex attraction and their families,” Holly Fournier, a spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Detroit, told the Free Press in a statement. “This resolve grew out of our Archdiocesan Synod in 2016, during which participants affirmed the importance of ensuring all such ministries appropriately accompany the faithful along the path provided to us by Christ. To that end, the Archbishop has appointed three priest chaplains for our local chapters of the Courage and EnCourage apostolates to minister to those who experience same-sex attraction and their friends and families.”
She said the Archdiocese is encouraging members of the expelled groups to join Courage and EnCourage.
“We have communicated these developments to the leadership of Fortunate Families and Dignity Detroit, and we have invited all members to join us in efforts to participate in ministry that is faithful to the teachings of Christ’s Church,” Fournier said. “Our desire is to provide pastoral care for and to ensure the salvation of all the faithful, including those who experience same-sex attraction and their families.”
At Christ the King Catholic Church, the Rev. Clore has been supporting LGBTQ Catholics and their advocates for more than 20 years. About seven years ago, they coalesced into Fortunate Families Detroit, which is part of a national group supporting LGBTQ Catholic family members.
Clore told the Free Press he’s “very disappointed” with the Archdiocese expelling the group, but says he will abide it since the Archbishop has the final say in church operations.
“Fortunate Families does not promote anything sinful,” Clore said. “They are really a support group for family and friends.
Clore said that people with anti-gay views have a distorted view of sexuality.
“Human nature is above and beyond just propagating the human species,” Clore said. “Sexuality is about loving. It’s about relationships between two people who care about each other in a loving embrace. … There are sterile couples who don’t have children, but they are still allowed to marry and make love through sexual expression.”
For more than 45 years, Dignity Detroit has been a haven for LGBT Catholics looking to practice their faith in a respectful space for those with different sexual orientations. In this photo from 1997, Matthew Samelak, center, of Ann Arbor plays the organ during mass on a Sunday while Jim Holubka of Allen Park sings Scared Heart Chapel at Marygrove College. The two were members of Dignity Detroit, a group of gay and lesbian Catholics who meet for mass.
In a letter sent to Archbishop Vigneron and other Detroit bishops, Clore criticized the removal of Fortunate Families and Dignity Detroit.
“It naturally occurs, in all cultures, that a small but significant number of human persons have same-sex attraction,” Clore wrote in the letter, published by the National Catholic Reporter. “It is not a disease or a freak of nature. Same-sex love is their natural way for intimate sexual embrace.”
What also concerns D’Amore is the way the expulsions were done. The group he leads, Dignity Detroit, was started in 1974 and has worked with a number of clergy for decades.
“Three cardinals — John Dearden, Edmund Szoka, Adam Maida — we never had an issue with any of them,” D’Amore said. “All four of (Dearden’s) auxiliary bishops said Mass for us at Holy Trinity.”
Dignity Detroit received a letter in January from Bishop Battersby on behalf of the Archdiocese that read: “I would like to meet you to discuss the ministry of Dignity Detroit, and especially the Mass it holds for its members.”
D’Amore expected there would be a meeting and discussions, but on March 9, Battersby sent another letter to all priests announcing that Dignity Detroit was expelled.
“When he pulled this stuff on March 9th, I tell you, it still hurts,” D’Amore said. “People have asked me: Why do I, after all this time and after all these things, why do I continue with … the (Catholic) Church?”
Regarding the Archdiocese recommendation that he and others get involved with their groups Courage and EnCourage, D’Amore said it was insulting because those groups treat being gay like it’s a disease.
“Courage is like a 12-step program, which is kind of insulting,” D’Amore said. “I don’t need a 12-step program. It’s ludicrous.”
For now, Dignity Detroit is staying at the Catholic chapel at Marygrove because it has “a lease agreement with the conservancy to use the chapel on Sundays,” D’Amore said.
Marygrove College, a Catholic institution which was run by IHM (Immaculate Heart of Mary) Sisters, closed in December, and the campus is now overseen by Marygrove Conservancy. An official with the conservancy told D’Amore they couldn’t kick out Dignity Detroit because that may violate laws banning discrimination on sexual orientation, D’Amore said.
D’Amore said: “We’re exploring different options, but for now, we’re staying at Marygrove.”
This artile first appeared HERE.