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April 18, 2008

Dignity confronts the pope during his U.S. visit

Washington, D.C.--Gay and lesbian Catholics were among those who flocked to events during Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the United States, but there were few smiles upon their faces. They came to protest the career of a man noted for his antigay positions in his service to the church.

“We are holding up the pope’s words and actions to confront him with the horrific nature of the dehumanizing and demeaning language he has used against gay people for so long. We want to contrast that with the tremendous gains that GLBT Catholics have made in the church in recent decades,” said Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of Dignity USA.

“It is fair to say that this pope has used more shameful rhetoric abut the gay and lesbian community than any religious leader of the modern era.” His continued opposition to the use of condoms to reduce the spread of HIV “has left him with the blood of millions on his hands.”

“He needs to own up to the damage that his policies have caused. And see all of the ways that dogma triumphing over compassion is the antithesis of the gospel he is supposed to represent,” she said.

“We present ourselves to Pope Benedict to remind him that God does not make mistakes and welcomes all of us into the church. We expect as the Vicar of Christ, so should he,” said the Washington chapter of Dignity in a statement released days before the pope’s plane touched down.

The chapter was founded in 1972 in the cafeteria of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on the campus of Catholic University, where the pope met with his bishops on Wednesday.

The pope, in an earlier role when he was still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was called “Rottweiler” by some for his tenacious defense of conservative church dogma. Those included fervent opposition to abortion, women in the priesthood, homosexuality, and same-sex marriage.

One of those actions included banning Dignity from meeting on church property. The now deceased Rev. Timothy S. Healy, president of Georgetown University, would later say that evicting Dignity from the campus chapel was the thing he was most ashamed of in his career.

Dignity USA released an open letter, “On the Pastoral Care of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender People” on April 16. The four-page, ten point letter calls for full inclusion of GLBT Catholics in the life of the church; a revision of the theology of sexuality to acknowledge the expression of divine love “in the absence of possible procreation;” and the acceptance of both civil marriage of same-sex couples and the blessing of their relationships within the church.

Duddy-Burke said it is “an attempt to contrast what the church offers at this point with what gay and lesbian Catholics, their families, and gay-friendly parishes are already offering for people.”

“At the grassroots level, we don’t face the same kind of day-to-day difficulties in our lives that we faced twenty years ago, or even ten years ago,” she said.

She pointed to a number of parishes that consider themselves gay-friendly, and “even those that do not officially do outreach to the community have gay and lesbian members who are perfectly happy and content there.”

Duddy-Burke said there are gay-straight alliances on more than forty campuses of Catholic colleges and universities across the nation.

“All of those Catholics shouldn’t feel like they are oddities because they love their gay kids or siblings, we want to let them know that they are actually in the mainstream. It is the pope who is out of touch.”

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