Catholic Church

Showing Another Side of Catholicism

by Becky Garrison

Whenever the media uses the phrase “Catholic Church” when they reference statements made by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) or individual church leaders, Marianne Duddy-Burke, Executive Director of DignityUSA, stands up to correct them. “The bishops try discredit Dignity by saying we’re not authorized not to use the word Catholic,” she states.

“Well I was baptized as a Catholic. That gives me the right to use this word.” 

For those not familiar with the work of DignityUSA, according to their mission statement, this group formed in 1969 works for the respect and justice for people of all sexual orientations, genders, and gender identities—especially gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons—in the Catholic Church and the world through education, advocacy, and support. As evidence of their desire to reach out to the entire LGBT community, Dignity was the first national LGBT organization where a transgender person served as the Executive Director.

In 1985, Dignity crafted a set of guidelines for sexual ethics that continues to inform their work. According to Duddy-Burke, “Dignity works to ensure there is an authentic Catholic moral voice for LGBT equality.” While the church hierarchy has been seen as leading the fight against LGBT people, Duddy-Burke notes the reality is that most Catholics support LGBT people. “Our goal is to encourage them to stand up as people of faith and say why their faith compels them to support gay people.”

While DignityUSA is mostly known through chapters in the United States, they also have an overseas presence through their work in monitoring the role of the Vatican UN observer when he speaks about global gay rights issues. This work is particularly important in countries like Uganda where 40% of the population are Catholic. In addition, they have been involved in raising awareness of how the Vatican works in Europe regarding issues such as the rising anti-gay right wing influences in France.

They also helped sponsor a pilgrimage of young LGBTQ and Allies who brought a message of inclusion to World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro in July 2013.

In addition, they have begun to develop a virtual presence through ventures like their Queer Catholic faith series. Interested participants can register via their website for this hour long video chat. They also post all of their publications on line and will soon be live-streaming some Chapter liturgies.

Currently, Dignity is focusing their work around underserved communities such as young LGBTQ Catholics and their allies, the Latino/Latina LGBT community and transgender Catholics and families. Along those lines, they joined the Nun Justice Coalition. This group of grassroots Catholic organizations formed following the crackdown by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), in close collaboration with the USCCB on the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), an umbrella group that represents more than 80 percent of the 57,000 women religious in the United States.

As Duddy-Burke explains why an LGBT group would join this coalition. “We find that Catholics are hungry for the voice of moral authority,and they found that in the nuns on the bus. The nuns who work with migrants, homeless, and others on the fringes of society show us what the church is supposed to be about. They aren’t towing the line on homosexuality issues but reaching out to everybody.”

With former Catholics now representing the second largest denomination in the country, Duddy-Burke seeks to empower Catholics to take ownership of their church.

“The bishops do not own brand. But can we create a church that welcomes all?”