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Catholic World News News Feature

Dignity Marches On January 02, 2002

The Detroit chapter of Dignity ended its 22-year relationship with Most Holy Trinity Parish on June 22, seven months after it was revealed in Catholic World Report ("Ignoring the Obvious," December 1996) that the Archdiocese of Detroit was the only diocese in the United State that allowed the homosexual group--which rejects the teachings of the Catholic Church--to host regularly scheduled Masses in a local parish church.

Dignity moved its Sunday Mass to a nearby Catholic college, Marygrove, which is run by the Sisters Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

The presence of Dignity at Most Holy Trinity parish was a point of continuing controversy from the time when the Masses began in 1975, but the archdiocese had successfully deflected public attention until the CWR report appeared. The article explained that Dignity had brazenly advertised the evening liturgy as a "gay lesbian Mass" in local gay publications and distributed fliers at a "Gay Pride" festival.

Dignity also had boasted of its close relationship with the archdiocese in literature it distributed at its anniversary dinner in May 1996. One anniversary brochure noted that that one of its presidents "worked diligently with the archbishop's office in the late 1980s to maintain our position in a Roman Catholic parish." In that brochure, Dignity also claimed that 22 priests of the archdiocese celebrated Masses for the homosexual group. The CWR article also reported that national Dignity President Maryanne Duddy thanked the archdiocese for its long-time support as she spoke from the pulpit at Holy Trinity's pulpit immediately following the anniversary Mass.

The article was accompanied by a photograph of Father Gary Michilak at the altar during a Dignity Mass, with a huge a Dignity banner hanging in the sanctuary.

DENIALS CONTINUE

Despite the unassailable evidence to the contrary, Cardinal Adam Maida and his director of communications, Ned McGrath, repeatedly denied that Dignity had any presence at the parish whatsoever. Their contention was that the Dignity event was really a "parish Mass" that had nothing to do with the group.

While the chancery has denied its close relationship with the group, Dignity has told a different story. Indeed, the same weekend that the CWR article appeared, Jim Hobluka, the local Dignity president, appeared in a large photograph on the front page of The Michigan Catholic alongside a chancery employee who is the liaison with Dignity. A week later, the archdiocesan newspaper published a highly complimentary profile of Dignity's chaplain, Father Denis Theroux.

A letter on Dignity/Detroit letterhead addressed "To members of Dignity Detroit" mailed in mid-March, revealed some things about that relationship which had not previously been known to the public, and explained that scrutiny from what "right wing" Catholics had finally prodded the chancery to take action to get Dignity out of the parish. The letter said:

Dignity has sponsored a prayer services (sic) on the occasion of the papal visit, numerous social outreach programs particularly in the face of the AIDS crisis, Lenten and Advent services over the years, held weekly masses even celebrating with 4 bishops of the archdiocese, remodeled the Parish Center twice at our expense, helped clean the church monthly, supported special diocesan appeals, and on and on.

Our problems with the Archdiocese and Most Holy Trinity continue and are at a critical point. It all began some 6 months ago. The Call to Action (a left-wing Catholic group) announced its October convention would be in Detroit. Right-wing Catholics rose to the occasion with all sorts of articles about the heresies of the Left. One of the favorites was the existence of a Dignity chapter in a Detroit Catholic church, the only such one in the United States. There were stories of irreligious, even lewd conduct, at Dignity liturgies, not necessarily in Detroit, but the inference was there. The homophobic subtext was barely disguised ... All of this was duly noted by the chancery.

The letter explained that Cardinal Maida had designated an auxiliary bishop "to handle the matter," and that the bishop (whose name was not given) then met with the parish's pastor and discussed "how to bring Dignity/Detroit under the control of the Archdiocese and blunt the criticism."

According to the letter, the pastor outlined new conditions "for the continued presence of Dignity at Most Holy Trinity. Our mass would become a regular parish mass in fact." Those conditions included giving all money collected during the Mass to the parish, giving the pastor "authority over who could preside, be a lector, homelist..." By implication, of course, the imposition of such conditions suggested that in the past, Dignity had enjoyed unfettered authority over such matters, making Dignity in effect an autonomous parish within the parish. Finally, the Dignity letter noted that if the group continue to meet at Most Holy Trinity, "Any public mention of the name Dignity/Detroit would be barred in church."

Evidently those terms were unacceptable to Dignity. Just weeks after that letter appeared, Dignity left Most Holy Trinity parish.

UNSPECIFIED COMPLAINTS

In a May 20 letter to a local Catholic, Cardinal Maida had claimed there were inaccuracies in the CWR article.

"Let me assure you that there are many inaccurate statements in the magazine article from Catholic World Report," the cardinal wrote. "A great many changes have happened with regard to the Sunday night service at Most Holy Trinity Parish and I can assure you that it is a parish liturgy. It is not in any way connected with the organization Dignity." [emphasis in original]

Yet, in June during a Dignity Mass, Father Michalik contradicted the cardinal by saying during his homily that the liturgy was indeed--in his words--"a Dignity Mass."

In a June 13 letter to the author of the CWR article, Jay McNally, Cardinal Maida refused to explain what "the many inaccurate statements" might be; instead he suggested that the author should contact to McGrath, his communications director, for clarification. But McGrath refused to provide details.

"As a practice, this office does not comment on private correspondence sent or received by the Office of the Cardinal," McGrath said in a July 16 letter, in which he declined to discuss the article further. "At this time, I can see no purpose in scheduling a meeting with you to discuss a magazine article or any other matters," he concluded.

A DISAPPEARING CONGREGATION

The official stance of the Archdiocese of Detroit is that Cardinal Maida and his auxiliary bishops fully embrace the Church's teachings regarding homosexuality, and all priests of the archdiocese are expected to do the same. But some of those Detroit residents who have followed the Dignity story for years have noted that one of Cardinal Maida's auxiliaries, Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, has spoken frequently to pro-homosexual groups and has encouraged homosexual priests to make their sexual orientation a matter of public record. Bishop Gumbleton has revealed on several occasions that the cardinal has never discussed his public pronouncements on the issue with him. And the cardinal need not travel far to find his priests associating with groups whose public positions are at variance with Church doctrine. Father Bob Williams, who is a judge in the archdiocesantTribunal is a long-time "Dignity priest" and is scheduled to facilitate the annual Dignity retreat in September.

Of course, the archdiocese also clings adamantly to the claim that the regular Sunday-evening Mass which had drawn Dignity members to Most Holy Trinity for so many years was nothing more than an ordinary parish Mass. Yet when Dignity left the parish scene, so did the Sunday-evening congregation. Father Russell Kohler told Catholic World report in July that only one person showed up for the Sunday liturgy the week after Dignity left. So the pastor decided to move to a "summer schedule," and the Sunday-evening liturgy was canceled.

Now summer is ending, but there has been no change at Most Holy Trinity parish. On September 5, a receptionist at the parish said that the Sunday-evening liturgy had been dropped from the schedule. When asked why Dignity left the parish, she replied: "There wasn't a problem. They just made a decision to go to Marygrove."

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