The cover of the September 30, 1994 issue of Gaze Magazine, featuring Dignity Twin Cities president Brian McNeill (center) and CPCSM co-founders Bill Kummer (left) and David McCaffrey.
In sorting through material for the writing of my recent post "20 Years Stateside," I came across a copy of Gaze Magazine from September 1994. Gaze no longer exists, but back in 1994 it was an LGBT-focused print publication that served the Twin Cities area.
The September 30, 1994 issue of Gaze featured a cover story that examined "local GLBT Catholics' twenty-year struggle with the hierarchy." Specifically, this cover story, well-written by Zoé Diacou, interviewed people associated with Dignity Twin Cities, which was celebrating its 20th anniversary that year. I'd joined Dignity within weeks of my arrival in Minnesota, and its welcoming environment provided me my first opportunity to meet other gay Catholics. Diacou's article also includes insightful comments from two of the co-founders of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM), the organization I've served as executive coordinator since 2003. Both these co-founders, Bill Kummer and David McCaffrey, have since died (Bill in 2006, and David in 2011).
It's quite interesting to read this article twenty years after it was written (yes, twenty years – Dignity Twin Cities recently celebrated its 40th anniversary!) As you'll no doubt ascertain, many aspects of what it means to be gay and Catholic have changed, while others remain very much the same. The article is especially meaningful to me as it provides a very detailed and, at times, poignant snapshot of the Twin Cities' gay Catholic community of 1994, my first year in Minnesota.
Bishop Thomas Gumbleton to the Twin Cities. As I document and discuss here, my participation in helping organize this visit was my first involvement with CPCSM. Writes Diacou: "A dialogue with gay and lesbian people, along with their families and friends, will be the hallmark of a visit to the Twin Cities by Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Auxiliary Bishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit. . . . For the dialogue that will mark [the five events comprising his visit], Bishop Gumbleton will be invited first to listen and then to comment on how wholeness in sexual expression – as experienced by the people of God – is a value that is deeply human and truly spiritual."
right). Without doubt, it was an important and, in many ways, unprecedented event for both the local gay Catholic community and the church in general. Diacou's article in Gaze, reprinted in its entirety below, not only helped promote Bishop Gumbleton's visit, but also provided a helpful historical context for it.
Crossing the Catholic Church
Local GLBT Catholics' 20-Year Struggle
with the Hierarchy
By Zoé Diacou
September 30, 1994
Local GLBT Catholics' 20-Year Struggle
with the Hierarchy
By Zoé Diacou
September 30, 1994
Many gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons who once considered themselves Catholic are now "recovering Catholics." What about GLBT individuals for whom being Catholic is still a meaningful part of their identity? The upcoming 20th anniversary celebration of Dignity Twin Cities, the local chapter of a national organization of GLBT Catholics, offers a time for reflection on some of the paths chosen by local Catholics in our community.
The path of least resistance is where you go to mass, but never come out to your fellow parishioners – and probably never wrestle with issues involving gender, sexual orientation, or liberation theology. Following another path, you wander all over the theological map, or you give up on the church entirely. Perhaps you take the path to another, more welcoming Christian denomination, and try to find a compromise as a non-practicing Catholic. Opting for yet another path, you very vocally work for change from within the church structure, with or without the support of groups such as Dignity.
"A home for my spiritual self"
"When I came out," says Hentges, " I had to search my inner soul, and decide if I believed what I had been taught about gays and lesbians, particularly in respect to Christianity. And then if I didn't believe it, I had to decide if I was simply changing my attitudes and beliefs for my own convenience, or was what I had been taught really wrong?
"I was concerned that I was being wishy-washy, and that I might change all of my beliefs simply to suit me. I wondered how strong my faith really was. It finally came down to one question: what was Jesus' message? The answer was really very simple: to love. Therefore, how could loving be wrong?
"When I came to the Twin Cities," Hentges reveals, "the image that I had in my head was that lesbians were poor, pagan, and non-monogamous, and I didn't want to be any of those things. When I found Dignity, I not only found Catholic Christians, but I found men and women who were in long-term, committed relationships, and it was a great sense of relief." She laughingly admits that she's "still working on the poor part."
Hentges continues, "I felt I had found a home for myself, especially my spiritual self. I went to one of the 'gay' churches and felt accepted as a lesbian, but not as a Catholic." She then joined a Catholic parish in Richfield and got involved in a music group. But she felt virtually non-existent in that church even after a year.
"Most of the people I consider my close friends in the Twin Cities are people that I've met through Dignity," observes Hentges. "It has become a family to me, and is one of my homes. Not only does it provide me things which I need, but through my participation, I feel that I'm providing things that others may need. I am very conscientious about making people who are just coming out feel welcome at Dignity. It's such a big step, and we hope to provide a home for them, a home for their spiritual self."
Reforming church teaching
Since 1974, Dignity Twin Cities has been a place where many GLBT Catholics have found healing from their guilt-ridden consciences and the isolation imposed by the Church. However, the stated purpose of the organization is somewhat different. According to its mission statement, "Dignity is organized to unite gay and lesbian Catholics; to develop leadership; and to be an instrument through which we may be heard by the church and society." The traditional focus of Dignity USA, the national organization – using the strength-in-numbers philosophy – has been to build local chapters with as many official paid memberships as possible.
While that focus remains essential to the Twin Cities chapter, local president Brian McNeill believes, "We need to move politically into the churches, and tap support that exists there for gay and lesbian people in order to pursue the national organization's goal of reforming the church's teachings on gay and lesbian people. Many who get involved in other parishes are content to sit in their pews without addressing the larger political issues of our oppression in the Catholic Church."
"Dignity is our 'power base' where we can energize ourselves while we go out and work in the parishes," McNeill goes on. "We run into serious opposition, even from well-intentioned liberals, when it comes to risking a parish's name or reputation, or risking the displeasure of the archbishop. Straight people won't do that without a great deal of encouragement from gays and lesbians. When push comes to shove, [straight people] don't really think gay and lesbian people are truly oppressed, and thus won't risk anything."
"Archbishop [John] Roach has stated that as individuals we are welcome in any congregation in the Twin Cities, but Dignity as an organization is still not welcome. The direction we want to head in," note McNeill, "is to accept Roach's welcome, and go into the parishes to organize them to take stands that publicly welcome gay and lesbian people."
The history of the St. Paul-Minneapolis Archdiocese's response to GLBT Catholics dates back to at least 1977, when many claim it was due to heavy last-minute lobbying by the church that the first major attempt to legislate a state human rights amendment including gays and lesbians failed. In 1980, because Archbishop Roach refused to meet with Dignity as an organization, six individual members of the GLBT Catholic community – Donna Chicoine, Father Herb Hayek (a co-founder of Dignity), Bill Kummer, Donna Kurimay, David McCaffrey, and Cynthia Scott – arranged to meet with him to share their stories. Out of this meeting grew the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM).
Today, CPCSM co-chair Bill Kummer reflects, "That meeting was a mistake. It set the tone for keeping us under control. It was a facade, a show. When all was said and done, we really had very little to show for it. CPCSM co-chair David McCaffrey adds, "The only good thing was that he didn't come out openly against us as gays and lesbians." Kummer states that "it was both a strength and a weakness that CPCSM wasn't an official part of the church, but mostly it was a strength."
CPCSM was organized to supplement what Dignity was doing. "Dignity was wonderful as a source of support for gay men [and some lesbians] just coming out of the closet," recalls McCaffrey. "Especially those from the pre-Vatican II era."
But many needed something more. "The Seventies were the golden era of the chapter -- both in the number of activities and the number of people involved [easily reaching 150 to 200 at one mass]. It has been more of a transitional place for most people. Many came out of a sense of guilt, and had issues to deal with, and after dealing with them, and experiencing some sense of reconciliation, they no longer had that need. others who thought more 'hierarchically' wanted the 'real' church, and thus returned to their parishes."
While active with Dignity, Kummer organized monthly luncheons at various parishes hosted by the local pastors, and attended by priests and other Dignity members. After the first year, the luncheons were opened to women (primarily from the religious communities and lay ministry). Within a few months, most of the priests stopped attending. In Kummer's words, "I think the priests stopped because the women were much more emotionally and intellectually honest with the issues, and the men couldn't handle such brutal honesty. The irony is that we were probably better off when they stopped coming. When we were dealing only with the priests, we were essentially still only dealing with the hierarchy, and weren't dealing with the gut-level issues of either [the priests'] own or their parishioners' sexuality."
Those parish lunches became the launching point for CPCSM. McCaffrey explains that for some of the Dignity members, "Our energies started turning towards those who hadn't made it to Dignity, and for the family and friends still in the parishes hearing degrading and demeaning things. People were coming to us, especially after the parish luncheons, wanting to know what they could do." As Kummer puts it, "There seem to be two churches. Between what goes on with the average parishioner, priest, or nun, and what goes on with the hierarchy, there exists a big gap."
"A place where I'm comfortable being gay"
McNeill, who was Dignity's official spokesperson from 1987 to 1991 during the court battle with the archdiocese after the group was evicted from the Newman Center, is very articulate about the seeming dichotomy in Dignity over the years. His story, while typical, is also different, as he has been able and willing to grapple with many of the theological and political issues which have created strife within the community. He had been in a seminary in New York, and returned to Minnesota to take care of his father, who had suffered a stroke. About that time, McNeill made the decision not to become a priest, and he wanted to be out as a gay man. Because his faith was still very important to him, he sought out the local Dignity chapter when he moved back here in 1985.
"It's been a faith community for me. It's been a place where I'm comfortable being gay. The relief that I felt in being in a gay environment was real important to me in the beginning, after moving in a het environment the rest of the time. It's become a family to me, and I would miss it if it weren't there.
"However, Dignity is not for everyone, It's focused on being gay and Catholic. It's small, and some people may not like certain personalities in the organization. For some, it's a scheduling problem; for others, they don't feel comfortable about attending without being paid members, but they can't afford the $50.00 annual membership fee. [NOTE: Dignity Twin Cities no longer has membership dues.]
"On average there are 20-30 people at a service. There are currently about 40 paid members to Dignity USA from the Twin Cities. Membership gives you the national, regional, and local newsletters, and mailings from a few other organizations, like Women's Ordination Conference or New Ways Ministry. The membership peaked in 1987, with about 100 and 200 people attending services at the Newman Center."
Too conservative for some, too liberal for others
In McNeill's opinion, two factors account for the decrease in membership over the years: first, the official condemnation in Cardinal Josef Ratzinger's 1986 letter On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, and, second, Dignity's internal struggles with feminist theology, and the role of women in Dignity and in the church. "After being pushed out by Roach, many decided, 'forget the church,' and decided to cut their losses. With more women entering the group and assuming leadership roles, they had problems with the white male language and hierarchy, and rightfully so. That pretty much eliminated many of the more conservative men. Others left because they didn't want to spend Friday nights in theological debates, and many women lift because the chapter wasn't moving fast enough."
Hentges agrees. "After getting kicked out of Catholic space, some members thought they should be really good Catholics on every issue except for this [the gay issue], and if we show them what good Catholics we are, maybe they'll invite us back. Others decided that since we've been kicked out, we're now free to decide what being Catholic means, and to experiment and find the types of worship that works for us. Many of the men held the first view, and many of the women held the second approach to having been kicked out.
"So, the upshot was that many people left Dignity across the board." Hentges continues, "some because Dignity was being too conservative for them, others because Dignity was being too liberal for them. Also, Spirit of the Lakes was really getting going then, and we lost some members to them.
"We eventually came to the consensus of having worship under two different formats, utilizing both traditional and non-traditional liturgies. We meet the second and fouth Friday of every month. On the second Friday there is usually a Catholic mass, and the fourth Friday is often a non-traditional liturgy which is lay-led. That service is often thematic, sometimes resembling the eucharist, sometimes a reconciliation service. Sometimes it's a soul-searching prayer service, sometimes we have special speakers. Recently, speakers have come from PFLAG and Lambda Justice Center."
Hentges points out, "Then, those who were only comfortable with one format could choose to go to only one or the other. Most of us who attend regularly, however, go to both, and are comfortable theologically with it."
"For that reason, this chapter is ahead of most of the other chapters across the nation on women's issues. Most other chapters simply come together for mass, and haven't really thought through as a chapter many of the theological issues in Catholicism, like what about women being ordained; what about women or Protestant ministers presiding at eucharistic services; what about other forms of prayer other than mass or eucharistic services; what about a concerted effort to use inclusive language in the services, both in reference to God and to people. While Dignity USA has a women's concerns committee, most chapter members are still predominately male.
"The Twin Cities chapter has worked through these issues to the point where we've either reached an agreement, or at least have come to the current working format in order to meet the needs of all of our members," Hentges observes. "It's not a male/female issue, but historically the division has fallen along those lines."
Adds McNeill, "Those who stayed valued the organization and the people in the organization more than their theological positions. All of us are occasionally unhappy with the form of prayer we have from time to time, but recognize that you can't have it your way all the time."
"One of the most exciting things that's been happening," notes Hentges, "is our recent work with local parishes who are considering becoming a 'reconciling parish' [meaning that gays and lesbians are welcome to participate in all aspects of parish life, that the parish even allows holy union ceremonies and provides information in the religious education of children]. But we continue to struggle with how to reach out to other GLBT Catholics [or 'sexual minorities'] and their friends and families in the community, to tell them that it's okay to be gay and Catholic, and here's a place where it is okay."
Moving beyond the hierarchical model of church
CPCSM's mission has changed over the years, though sometimes in ways similar to Dignity's. About three years ago, "A conversion of heart took place for CPCSM," as Kummer describes it. "We realized we'd been focusing on the wrong place. Instead of trying to 'convert' or educate the hierarchy, we finally said, 'who cares what the archbishop thinks?' and started realizing that we needed to create our own model of church. The hierarchical model is not the only one. The church is the people. It doesn't have to start at the top and filter down, but it can start with the people and go up." McCaffrey concurs. "It's my church as much as the pope's."
Though neither Kummer nor McCaffrey has felt able to worship regularly at any parish, primarily as a result of personal and spiritual burnout and betrayal, they have steered CPCSM toward working with local parishes through seminars, lectures, and videotapes. They want to revive the support group for families of gay and lesbian Catholics which was formerly sponsored by the archdiocese. Kummer and McCaffrey – looking to begin a group for Catholic GLBT teens, and to reach out to the adult children and heterosexual spouses of GLBT Catholics – are working jointly with a group of Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet and a Christian Brother.
McNeill and his partner are members of St. Frances Cabrini Church in southeast Minneapolis. Hentges and her partner belong to St. Stephen's in Minneapolis. Current Dignity members also attend the Basilica of St. Mary and St. Albert the Great, both in Minneapolis. Other parishes which have had CPCSM seminars, and have now gone beyond to begin their own exploration of gay and lesbian issues, include St. Joan of Arc and St. Olaf in Minneapolis; St. Stanislaus and St. Cecilia in St. Paul; Pax Christi in Eden Prairie; and St. Stephen in Anoka.
– Zoé Diacou
Issue 226, September 30, 1994
Issue 226, September 30, 1994
Above: Beth Hentges, pictured in 2013 with her and her partner's two boys.
Above: Brian McNeill – June 2013. Brian currently serves as the webmaster for Dignity Twin Cities' website.
Above: David McCaffrey in November 2004, pictured with me and my friend Raph, who was visiting from Australia at that time.
In Zoé Diacou 1994 article it's noted that David McCaffrey felt unable to worship regularly at any parish, "primarily as a result of personal and spiritual burnout and betrayal." Thankfully, by the time of his death, David had for many years found a welcoming and supportive spiritual home at St. Stanislaus Catholic Church in St. Paul. Indeed, at his funeral mass on July 15, 2011, a beautiful portrait of David and his partner Michael adorned the sanctuary (above), the same sacred space from which Michael delivered a heartfelt eulogy to his partner of thirteen-and-a-half years. To read this eulogy and for images of the mass, click here.
Above: Two years before his death in 2006, Bill Kummer fulfilled a longtime goal of becoming a Consociate of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet – St. Paul Province. Pictured above (from left): Ginna Webb, CSJ; Tom White, Brigid McDonald, CSJ; Martin Dohmen; Mary Lynn Murphy; Darlene White; Bill Kummer; Florence Steichen, CSJ; Chuck Rice; Alice Rice; and Kate McDonald, CSJ.
Bill's journey with the CSJs definitely inspired my own journey. I was welcomed into the CSJ community as a consociate in 2007 (see here and here).
See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
• CPCSM and the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis (Part 1)
• CPCSM and the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis (Part 2)
• CPCSM and the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis (Part 3)
• CPCSM and the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis (Part 4)
• CPCSM and the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis (Part 5)
• How Times Have Changed
• For the Record
• CPCSM’s Year in Review – 2006 (includes an announcement of the January 29 death of CPCSM co-founder Bill Kummer.)
• Sad News (The Wild Reed's July 10, 2011 announcement of David McCaffrey's death.)