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Sexual Ethics: Experience, Growth, and Challenge

Introductory Comments

On the weekend of May 17-19, 1985, ten members of Dignity met together in San Francisco to begin the process of fulfilling the mandate of a motion passed by the House of Delegates in Seattle in 1983. That mandate was "in partial recognition of Dignity's twentieth anniversary, to present a document to the Executive House of Delegates for approval at that body's meeting on the occasion of the 1989 National Convention."

Out of that first meeting, the Task Force on Sexual Ethics issued the following message to the entire Dignity membership:

"As members of your Task Force on Sexual Ethics, our first act is to address ourselves to the prayer, reflection, and study that are essential to success. With the guidance and support of Jesus' Spirit, we can discern together and dedicate ourselves to an expression of our sexuality 'in a manner that is consonant with Christ's teaching.' We commit ourselves to listening to you and to your experience."

Over the next four and a half years the Task Force met eight times, visiting the cities of New York, Vancouver, Philadelphia, Chicago, Miami, Indianapolis, and Cincinnati. An initial draft of the document was presented to the Dignity membership in Miami in July, 1987, and a final edition was completed in March, 1989, under the careful scrutiny of a professional editor.

The Task Force is grateful and proud to pass on to you its final report — "Sexual Ethics — Experience, Growth, Challenge." The House of Delegates voted in 1989 to "fully accept and endorse the document...."

It should be noted and emphasized that in reality what the Dignity membership has thereby accepted and endorsed is nothing other than its own lived experience. It was at the Vancouver meeting in February, 1986, that the Task Force determined to take a decisively non-authoritarian, non-hierarchical approach to dealing with the subject of sexual ethics. The operative principle here was that the Church must be instructed by the lived experience of its people. The Task Force also decided, however, not to see the hierarchy as the primary audience of the document.

Instead, the document was defined as communication from the people of God to the people of God. As such, the document was seen as filling a pastoral role, and was therefore intended to be a source of "conscience formation and spiritual growth." It was to that end that the Task Force set itself to the task of listening to the Dignity membership via the two survey sources which it had developed. The end result, we believe, is a document on sexual ethics which reflects what you, the Dignity membership, have experienced in the ongoing task of finding expressions of sexuality which are, as the Dignity Statement of Position and Purpose says "consonant with Christ's teaching."

Let it not be said, however, that the process is finished. Your Task Force on Sexual Ethics wants to say most emphatically that if we have learned nothing else over these past years, we certainly have come to know the immensity of this task not only for the Dignity organization as a whole, but also for each on of us individually. The work of the Task Force has just been a beginning. "Sexual Ethics Experience, Growth, Challenge" is just a beginning. The Experience goes on, the Growth continues, and the Challenge is always before us as we strive to become always more Christ like in all our actions, including those that are a part of our sexual conduct. So let the discussions continue, let the ideas, thoughts, and insights be put into writing.

–Nate Gruel, Chair, Dignity Task Force on Sexual Ethics

Sexual Ethics: Experience, Growth, and Challenge

A Pastoral Reflection for Lesbian and Gay Catholics

Dignity Task Force on Sexual Ethics, 1989

We are Dignity: gay and lesbian Catholics families, and friends. We speak in a pastoral spirit, to provide a caring and compassionate service that will meet needs according to Christ's will especially the needs of lesbian and gay Catholics. We speak in conversation with all the faithful and to strengthen the bonds of communion with the whole church.

We speak publicly because of our responsibility for one another and to the Church. Responsibility to the reign of God requires us to speak of what God is doing in our lives and in the world. All of us, not just Church officials, are the Church being formed by God. Not to include the contributions of all the People of God impoverishes the Church and hinders the coming of God's reign.

We believe that we have a particular perspective on human sexuality and relationships which, as it unfolds, enriches the world and, in its own way, anticipates the reign of God. Stating and sharing our faith and experience as gay and lesbian Christians will enrich us and the wider Church and allow the Good News of Jesus Christ to be heard more clearly in the lesbian and gay community.

We meet the special challenge to be sexual persons and disciples of Jesus, and we stand firm in the conviction that we can live responsibly as gay and lesbian Christians and grow in likeness to Christ. We have felt this challenge more deeply than many of our brothers and sisters because Church officials have not only condemned the genital expression of our sexuality but have even regarded our sexuality as disordered. Despite our commitment to the Church, we are convinced that such condemnation is not the word of God. Our own experience is that we can express our sexuality in a manner consonant with Christ's teaching.

For years we have prayed and talked together about how we integrate our faith and our sexuality. We have tried to listen to what Christ says to lesbian and gay disciples. Though we cannot speak for all gays and lesbians in the Catholic tradition, we must speak of what we know (see Acts 4:1-20). The love of Christ requires it, for in the accents of lesbian and gay Catholics we hear the voice of Christ who continues God's work in our midst.

As detailed in the appendices, this document is based on surveys, interviews, discussions at the local, regional, and national level, and responses to a preliminary draft of this document. It is the living word of people who are journeying through life together as a lesbian and gay People of God.

In speaking of sexual ethics, we speak of the experience, the growth, and the challenge that we know. The first section of this document describes the experience of Catholic gays and lesbians associated with Dignity. The second section offers pastoral assistance to gays and lesbians in their growth as sexual Christians. The third section states the challenge and hope of the future.

That challenge we accept. We will continue to work to develop a common understanding of sexual ethics, to be Church in the lesbian and gay community, to integrate spirituality and sexuality, and to achieve the deeper communion that is the gift of the Spirit. As part of that work, this pastoral reflection on sexual ethics is a gift to ourselves, to our sisters and brothers in the lesbian and gay community, and to the wider Church. We offer it with the hope that it will stimulate thought, promote discussion, and support the growth of all who seek the full life that Jesus offers (see John 10:10).