September 2010 Dateline

DignityUSA does something no local community can do—namely, to be our “Voice” of balance to the Roman Catholic Bishops’ crazy teachings regarding sexuality.  I think of DignityUSA being similar to a radio station that has been transmitting a message of hope, dignity, and challenge for almost 40 years now. I for one do not want that station to stop broadcasting. Do you?

Local chapters provide something no national organization can—namely, a Eucharistic community where people can experience the Sacraments, develop friendships, be loved and love others, and witness to the goodness of our lives. These communities give substance to the message DignityUSA broadcasts.

Excerpts from Mark Matson's lead article

Dateline File: 

DignityUSA’s Board of Directors Convene National Leadership Summit

Mark MatsonBy Mark Matson, President, DignityUSA

DignityUSA’s Board of Directors has issued an invitation to all Chapters and Affiliates to send a leadership representative to a rare summit of national and local leaders to discern future strategy. The Leadership Summit will be held Friday and Saturday, Oct 1-2, 2010, in St. Louis, MO at the Millennium Hotel. The event begins early Friday evening.

The purpose of the meeting is to gather “key stakeholders” in one place to secure alignment on longer-term strategic direction for Dignity at the local and national level. The Board has invested significant time at each of the last four meetings thinking about the organization’s strengths and weaknesses, and the opportunities and threats (SWOT) in the environment around us. We plan to review these at the Leadership Summit to verify agreement and listen to more perspectives. The Summit will provide time for leaders of local chapters and affiliates to meet without the Board to compare notes and discuss their own SWOT, and for the national and local leaders to engage in discussion and debate. The desired outcome is to get us aligned in how we lead our organization at the national and local levels into the future.

Why St. Louis? Because it is in the center of the country and because there is no chapter there any longer. It represents a place of challenge for the national leadership. How do we connect with and serve LGBT Catholics in areas where there is no Chapter? It represents a place where a Chapter once thrived. What happened there? What can we learn from that experience. Is it possible to start again with a new wineskin? For leaders at the local level, it is “neutral territory.” It is also the home of our most recent past President, Sam Sinnett, who has been helping us with arrangements.

The Summit will be facilitated by Chris Pett of Dignity/Chicago. Chris is a trained business meeting facilitator. You may well recall his work at the last two national convention membership meetings.

During my President’s address at the San Francisco convention in 2009, I stated my conviction that DignityUSA and its local expressions need one another. I was on the Board when we passed the “no minimum dues” policy as a strategy for rebuilding membership. That strategy failed and we unwittingly severed some long standing ties with chapters through the processing of national and local dues. We learned from that error. For the past three years the Board has moved its meetings around the country in order to meet local members and give them the opportunity to see the Board in action. We have met in Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Denver, Twin Cities, and Columbus. In all those interactions I have learned quite a bit about the community called Dignity. It really has been the highlight of serving in the office of president. I remain convinced that our futures are significantly tied together.

DignityUSA does something no local community can do — namely, to be our “Voice” of balance to the Roman Catholic Bishops’ crazy teachings regarding sexuality. I think of DignityUSA being similar to a radio station that has been transmitting a message of hope, dignity, and challenge for almost 40 years now. I for one do not want that station to stop broadcasting. Do you?

Our greatest asset is the rapport we have built with the media over the years. They are conditioned to call upon us whenever they want a counterbalancing position every time the bishops put us down. This has become increasingly important the more issues are placed on ballots or before legislatures regarding our civil rights. The bishops of the United States have funded significant opposition in many states working to defeat our civil rights. We need WDIG or KDIG broadcasting strongly! To assure that, the national organization needs predictable resources (financial and talent) that have traditionally come from Dignity Chapters and affiliates such as The Defenders. Our health depends upon their health. We have lost many Dignity Chapters over the past 10 years. Most still operating have seen their numbers decline and the average age of their mem- bers increase. If this trend is not stopped, the future is predictable. That is why we must collectively put our heads together. We are in the same boat, folks.

Local chapters provide something no national organization can—namely, a Eucharistic community where people can experience the Sacraments, develop friendships, be loved and love others, and witness to the goodness of our lives. These communities give substance to the message DignityUSA broadcasts.

Presently, the national organization is in sound shape. We have a great mix of talent on the National Board. We have sound talent guiding us, such as our new national IT Director, Logan Bear (Columbus), our national Media Director, Jeff Stone (New York), and our creative Fundraising Committee led by Jack Frielingsdorf (Metro NJ). We have a very talented and committed staff—Marianne Duddy Burke, Executive Director and Peggy Burns, Operations Manager. We have a brand new Young Adult Caucus with over 50 members and growing! I see this vigor as evidence that the Spirit has work for us to do. But what is that work? And how do we ensure future vitality to do it?

If your chapter or affiliate has not yet informed DignityUSA of your plan to attend DignityUSA’s Leadership Summit, please contact our national secretary, Lewis Tanner at Secretary@dignityusa.org immediately. Financial assistance is available for chapters that need it. Only one representative from each chapter will be seated as a representative to ensure balance and to keep the group small enough to function. But other members are welcome to attend, observe, and influence proceedings. If not attending, please keep us all in your prayers that weekend. We’ll inform you of the results in the November Dateline.

One final word: it is not too early to make reservations for DignityUSA Conven- tion 2011 scheduled for July 1-4 in Washington DC. The convention committee has been working hard on an innovative program you won’t want to miss. Stay tuned and watch for Convention 2011 information on our website http://www.dignityusa.org! (Also see article “Lots to Celebrate”.)

A Celebration of Faith and Service

A video Conference and Fundraising event for DignityUSA, its chapters, members, family and friends Participating Chapters

Who: DignityUSA members and chapters, friends and family

What: DignityUSA’s first national video conference & fundraiser featuring Board President Mark Matson, Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke, and a special guest speaker. The topic of the video conference will be Catholic support of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).

Chapters and individual members are invited to participate by hosting a party, a potluck, or other gathering and asking their guests to make a gift in support of Dignity’s work on both the local and national level.

When: Saturday, September 18, Video conference begins at 8:00 Eastern Daylight Savings Time.

Where: Participating Chapters and individual members will hosts gatherings at venues across the country.

Why: Our Catholic Faith inspires our service to the world on many levels. One of those is the desire to seek social justice for LGBT people both in our church and in our society. For some Catholics, the desire for social justice has called them to a career in the political arena where they have felt responsible to introduce and sponsor legislation that helps create a more just world for all. One such effort under debate in both houses of Congress is the ENDA (Employment Non-Discrimination Act), which is currently in committee in the U. S. House of Representatives (H.R. 3017) and U.S. Senate (S. 1584). Many of our Catholic Congresspeople have signed on in support of this legislation, despite opposition from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops [USCCB Letter on ENDA]. DignityUSA believes that the expansion of civil rights, and certainly the right to be protected from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in employment, is an issue supported by our Catholic faith

How:

  1. Notify the DignityUSA Fundraising Committee of your intent to participate by filling out our participation form.
  2. Download DignityUSA House Party/Fundraising Event Guide
    • Use this guide for ideas and helpful hints on hosting a DignityUSA event.
  3. Download the Pledge Form for your event.
    • To be used at your event to collect pledges/gifts in support of DignityUSA.
  4. Download the Technical Guide for information on what technology is required.

Action:

  1. Organize a gathering and participate in the national video conference (click here for information about hosting a house party and how to get access to the video conference).
  2. Learn about about ENDA and ask your guests to discuss its impact on the lives of LGBT people. How does our Catholic faith inform our opinion on this issue and how does it compel us to take action?
  3. Share that faith perspective with your congresspersons – especially if they are Catholic. [Contact your Congressperson]
  4. Ask your Catholic congresspersons how their Catholic perspective informs their stance on this issue.
  5. Share your insights with your fellow Dignity members by writing to the Dateline or QV for possible inclusion in editions following this event. 
  6. Make a gift to support the work of DignityUSA and your local chapter at Join/Renew/Donate. Put Celebration of Faith and Service in the comments field and designate your local chapter if applicable.

Thank you for joining us for this first ever DignityUSA National event. By working together on the national and local levels, we can indeed bring about a just church and society for LGBT people.
 

Lots to Celebrate in Washington DC at the DignityUSA Convention July 1-4, 2011

The DignityUSA Convention 2011 in Washington DC is shaping up to be a fabulous 4th of July weekend of celebration and substance.

There is a lot to celebrate. We’ll be in the nation’s capital on the eve of one of the truly spectacular 4th of July fireworks displays. What’s more, we’ll be in one of the growing number of jurisdictions in the United States where gay and lesbian couples can be legally married (more about that below).

From one of the most celebratory passages of the New Testament comes the convention’s overall theme: “Love Hopes All Things.” Among the topics on the program will be:

  • “Our Place as Change Agents” — how we can help a healing Church become a Christ-like community that empowers all its members
  • “One House, Many Mansions” — delving into the many blessings of the diversity among our Dignity family
  • “Are You Listening?” — an intergenerational panel
  • a discussion with political leaders about what is next on the public policy agenda for LGBT Catholics.

In addition, convention attendees will hear from canonical and civil legal experts on the latest advances and practical considerations regarding same-sex marriage. A social highlight of the weekend will be a grand reception — “My Big Fat Gay Wedding Reception” — for everyone, whether married, partnered, engaged, or single.

The convention planning committee is working on an opportunity for delegates to take advantage of Washington DC’s recently enacted same-sex marriage law. Because of a legal requirement to be in the city for three days before being married, there are some logistical arrangements to be made. Thus, the committee would like to know in advance about anyone who would like to be married during or around the time of the convention. If you are in that category, please send an e-mail to one of the convention co-chairs, Mark Clark (mark4four@yahoo.com) or Tom Bower (tom1545@verizon.net) and one of them will be in touch about what you need to do.

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Dignity/Palm Beach Celebrates Feast of the Assumption and Hosts Talk by John J. McNeill

By Jack Cloninger and Al Levy

On Sunday evening, August 15, 2010, Dignity/Palm Beach gathered in the sanctuary of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church for our bimonthly Mass to celebrate the Feast of the Assumption. We were very privileged to have a guest con-celebrant, John J. McNeill, world renowned author and theologian, and one of the founders of Dignity/New York during the first year of Dignity’s existence. John wrote The Church and the Homosexual, a groundbreaking book of prodigious scholarship that debunked the Church’s anti LGBT moral theology and gave hope, direction, and self-respect to a generation of LGBT Catholics. John visited our chapter to give a talk on his latest work: Sex as God Intended. In addition to members and friends of Dignity/Palm Beach, several members of Integrity, the Episcopal Church’s outreach to LGBT folks, joined us for both the Mass and the talk.

After a beautiful celebratory liturgy, we convened in the parish hall for snacks followed by McNeill's talk. At the start, the quiet of the room allowed for the sound of a pin drop. John soon had the audience roaring with laughter as he outlined his thinking about the true nature of sexuality, its relationship to God and Christianity, and the coming “Church of the Holy Spirit.” After his talk, which was met with enthusiastic applause, John autographed copies of his books purchased by attendees. Everyone seemed reluctant to have the evening end as John patiently and sensitively answered questions. What a wonderful evening for our tiny Dignity chapter!

John McNeill is truly a patriarch of DignityUSA and the LGBT community struggling with the toxic theology that oppresses us. Many people consider him a modern day prophet, "speaking the truth to power." Like most true prophets, he has suffered greatly for it—having been expelled from the Jesuit order which he loved so much.

For the third time since our founding, Dignity/Palm Beach was honored and privileged to have the opportunity to hear this incredible, holy man in person. For this we are very thankful to God.

Fr. John McNeill and Fr. Ed Co-preside at Mass

Fr. John McNeill and Fr. Ed Co-preside at Mass

Audience Gathered for John J. McNeill's Talk on Sex as God Intended

Audience Gathered for John J. McNeill's Talk on Sex as God Intended

(L to R) Fr. Ed & Fr. John at Dignity/Palm Beach for Feast of Assumption Celebration

(L to R) Fr. Ed & Fr. John at Dignity/Palm Beach for Feast of Assumption Celebration

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SNAP Conference Held in Chicago

By Linda Pieczynski, Member, DignityUSA Board of Directors

“The best year ever” is how David Clohessy, National Director of The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), described the child protection movement at its annual SNAP conference held July 30-August 1, 2010, in Chicago, Illinois. In 2010, the child abuse scandal arrived on the doorstep of the Vatican with Pope Benedict XVI personally implicated in the coverup. “SNAP has been faithful to its mission: protecting the vulnerable and healing the wounded”, said Clohessy.

Over 200 survivors and supporters listened to Illinois Justice Anne Burke, former chair of the Catholic Bishops’ National Review Board, Tom Doyle, canon lawyer and long time supporter, Phillip Koss, the prosecutor who handled the case of Jesuit Fr. McGuire—a spiritual director for Mother Teresa, and visitors from Europe who were involved in recent events. Both DignityUSA and National Call To Action were represented at the conference and showed their support for SNAP and its members.

A number of things became clear at the conference. The national movement to abolish the statute of limitations in child sexual abuse cases is not going to go away as witnessed by a survivor who organized supporters of legislation that abolished Florida’s statute of limitations this year. Speaker after speaker rejected the Vatican’s attempt to blame gay priests for the crisis, recognizing it as scape–goating. Instead, they called on conference attendees to focus their attention on the bishops who covered up the crimes such as Cardinal Law who lives in splendor in Rome. Also, the Vatican can no longer claim that the sex abuse crisis is an American problem or the fault of the media.

Victor Vieth, the first director of the National Child Protection Training Center, spoke eloquently about the psychological harm done to individuals when the people who represented God are their offenders. He said that perpetrators target children of very religious people because they are so gullible and quick to forgive.

One shocking statistic to come out of the conference is that in those dioceses where full disclosure has been imposed by agreement with law enforcement agencies due to court enforced agreements, the actual rate of priest perpetrators is 10%.

I was struck by the parallels between the sexual abuse victim rights movement and the GLBT rights movement. People have been wounded terribly by a Church they trusted. The institution has demonized both groups. However, both have found the courage to reach out to each other by providing solidarity and healing—while speaking truth to power, and refusing to hide in the shadows where church officials wish they would stay. The Roman Catholic Church is bankrupt as a moral authority and its leaders have done nothing to change the clerical culture that brought it to this point.

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All Are Welcome to Witness the Board in Action

DignityUSA’s Board of Directors will meet Friday through Sunday, October 1-3, 2010, at the Millenium Hotel, 200 South 4th Street, St Louis, MO 63102, (314) 241-9500.

The Board meets Friday evening for about 3 hours; Saturday 9:00 a.m. until about 6:00 p.m.; Sunday, beginning with a liturgy, the Board wraps up its work in a 3-hour session ending at 12:00 noon.

DignityUSA’s Leadership Summit will be held in conjunction with the Board meeting on October 1-2. (See article)

DignityUSA members desiring to see a copy of the Board meeting agenda please contact Lewis Tanner (secretary@dignityusa. org).

Since 2007, the Board has met in Boston, Denver, Chicago, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, and Columbus, OH. In 2011, the Board will meet twice in Washington, DC, the host city for DignityUSA Convention 2011.

The Board moves its meetings in order to meet as many DignityUSA members as possible. It also provides a mix of cost and time for each Board member. Board members pay for their own travel costs, room, and any other costs for their weekend while transacting business for the national organization.

If your chapter would like the Board of Directors to come to your city, please contact Lewis Tanner.