Dignity/Washington Members Welcome Pope Francis’ New Era of Openness

Members of Dignity/Washington pray together at Sunday liturgy. (Washington Post photo)

How are LGBT Catholics responding to Pope Francis and his new era of openness in the Church?


The Washington Post featured some responses and reactions to the new pope from members of the Dignity/Washington group, the DC-area chapter of DignityUSA,   As the story suggests,

“[Pope] Francis has launched a global debate with his more welcoming language, including a response of ‘Who am I to judge?‘ to a reporter who’d asked about homosexuality. The Washington branch of Dignity, the country’s largest spiritual community of gay Catholics, may be in as good a position as any to gauge Francis’s impact, having watched the experience of being gay and being Catholic change dramatically over the years.”

The timing is appropriate because, as the story notes:

“A few weeks ago, members of Dignity/Washington had their first meeting in more than five years with local church officials. And members are considering continually how gay or Catholic to be: Should they add a rainbow flag to the altar, behind the cross? (Yes.) Should they focus on gay issues in sermons? (Split.) Should they shift from focusing within, on healing, or aim outward and take stands — such as allowing females to preside at Mass? (Very split.)”

The article carries varying responses to Pope Francis, too:

“Mark Clark, a retired father of two and a member of the Washington branch, said the pope’s impact is ‘huge’ not because of any imminent doctrine changes but because of his way of thinking.

“ ‘He has a sense he’s in charge of this foundational spiritual organization, and he can’t be making some sudden changes. It’s more like an aircraft carrier, turning slowly.’

“Marianne Duddy-Burke, Dignity’s national executive director, said the group is ‘paying a lot of attention’ to what the pope says and ‘how that impacts the actions of bishops and other Catholics.’

“University of New Hampshire sociologist Michele Dillon, who has written about Catholics who disagree with church teachings on key issues but remain Catholic, called the Francis era ‘a very interesting time for gay Catholics.’ How will Francis’s words be taken?

“ ‘Will it mean some local parishes will start new ministries to gays? Or will it mean Dignity loses relevance? That’s an open question,’ she said.”

There seems to be many challenges and opportunities ahead for the Dignity/Washington chapter, according to the article.  For instance, the article describes how some of the chapter’s younger members recently attended an event sponsored by the Archdiocese of Washington:

“[Jason] Entsminger went with a Dignity group recently to a Mass celebrated by Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl for young adults. They introduced themselves as being from Dignity, Entsminger said, and to other young people.”

Yet, some are not optimistic that there will be closer relationships with church officials:

“Dignity/Washington members aren’t making much of their recent meeting with a member of the archdiocese. ‘There’s no fruit on that tree,’ one group leader said. “

It seems like the need for a place for LGBT Catholics to gather and worship openly still remains strong for some of the DC members:

“ ‘I’d love to see us go out of existence,’said [Allen] Rose, 56. ‘But I’d hate it if we couldn’t figure out how to reach people who need us still. The biggest challenge we face is giving people a chance to heal and community in a changing environment.’ “

If Pope Francis succeeds in making the Catholic Church a more welcoming place for LGBT people, the need for a group like this one may not be as strong.  However, the desire for LGBT Catholics to worship together, gain support from one another, and offer ministry communally will still be strong, and will keep organizations like Dignity/Washington vibrant for a long time.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry





Communion Denied to Lesbian Woman at Her Mother’s Funeral

The blogosphere has been abuzz with the news that Rev. Marcel Guarnizo, a priest at St. John Neumann parish in Gaithersburg, Maryland (Archdiocese of Washington), recently denied communion to a lesbian woman at her mother’s funeral.  HuffingtonPost.com has posted a summary of various blog posts on the incident, including Ann Werner’s post on AddictingInfo.org, which broke the story.   Werner offers the details:

“My friend Barbara [Johnson], the daughter of the deceased woman, was denied communion at her mother’s funeral. She was the first in line and Fr. Guarnizo covered the bowl containing the host and said to her,  ‘I cannot give you communion because you live with a woman and that is a sin according to the church.’  To add insult to injury, Fr. Guarnizo left the altar when she delivered her eulogy to her mother. When the funeral was finished he informed the funeral director that he could not go to the gravesite to deliver the final blessing because he was sick.”

WUSA9.com, the website for a Washington-DC TV station, reports that the Archdiocese of Washington has issued a statement denouncing the incident:

“In a written statement, the Archdiocese of Washington conceded that Father Marcel had acted improperly, saying, ‘Any issues regarding the suitability of an individual to receive communion should be addressed by the priest with that person in a private, pastoral setting.’

“Barbara Johnson says she’s satisfied with the statement, though she adds that the damage done, both to her family and to her mother’s memory, could never be repaired.”

An action like this from a priest should not be tolerated.  What is still needed is a public apology from the priest and an offer of pastoral mediation between him, the woman, and her family.  These remedies are possible if Catholics contact Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the head of the Archdiocese of Washington. His contact information:

Cardinal Donald Wuerl                                                                                                                                                      Archdiocese of Washington                                                                                                                                                               P.O. Box 29260                                                                                                                                                                        Washington, DC 20017-0260  


Tell Cardinal Wuerl that as a Catholic you oppose such blatant discrimination and pastoral incompetence.  Let him know that you consider the action offensive and insensitive.  Explain that you support free and equal access to communion of all Catholics, especially at such a pastorally critical moment as a funeral.  Let him know of your love and support of LGBT people.  Request that he instruct all his priests and pastoral ministers not to repeat such an action.  Call on him to provide pastoral training on LGBT issues for his priests and pastoral ministers. Ask him to call for an apology from Fr. Guarnizo, and to offer pastoral mediation between this priest, Ms. Johnson, and her family.  Speak from your heart and from your faith.

It’s important to keep in mind that Fr. Guarnizo’s action is not representative of the thousands of priests who minister daily to LGBT and heterosexual Catholics across the country.  At the same time, one incident is one too many.  As the blogosphere echoes with the reverberations of this story, this priest’s action is sending a loud negative message about the Catholic Church to LGBT people and their allies.  While we try to correct this negativity by writing to the Cardinal, we must also counter it by reminding people of our own stories of positive and affirming Catholic parishes which welcome and celebrate LGBT people.  Most importantly,we must speak out to Cardinal Wuerl to ensure that reconciliation occurs, and that an incident like this one never happens again.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry