Sometime in the 1980s, after attending a Dignity USA Mass for gay and lesbian Catholics, I found myself in bed with one of the attendees, a religious guy who firmly believed, as I did then, that the Church’s teaching on same-sex relations was skewed.

As we emerged from a tangle of top sheets, “Luke” looked me straight in the eye and announced that he had something to tell me.

“Have you heard about the latest message from Our Lady of Medjugorje?” he asked, his look becoming very serious. 

He was referring to the alleged apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary to six children that began in June 1961 in the small mountain village of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and that have continued to the present on an ad hoc basis with one or two of the original children. 

Luke informed me that the Virgin’s latest message had to do with the primacy of love in human relationships. The message, according to him, seemed to suggest that if spiritual love sometimes slips into the physical realm, it still maintains its spirituality, even if the physical expression violates the cold letter of Church law.

In other words, the Blessed Virgin of Medjugorje approved of our bedroom gymnastics because there was real “love” there, even though there wasn’t real love, because after that experience, Luke moved on to other men, and I went on to forget about him as well.

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The visions at Medjugorje have never been approved by the Catholic Church. Some Catholic thinkers and commentators like Malachi Martin have always condemned the apparitions as having “suspect” origins. 

I was an on/off again member of Dignity Philadelphia in the 1980s. At the time I was interviewing Father John McNeil, author of “The Church and the Homosexual,” digging deep into John Boswell’s “Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality,” and going out to lunch with Bishop John Spong of the Episcopal Church to get his take on the “new” theology that freed homosexuality from the sin-drenched world of the Old Testament and the writings of Saint Paul.

Simply put, part of that new theology maintained that the sin of Sodom was not about consensual same-sex relationships per se but about the sin of inhospitality and rape, et cetera. 

In the 1980s, I attended a Hans Kung lecture at Temple University, got the Swiss theologian’s autograph, and reported on the lecture in a way that highlighted Fr. Kung’s views on sexuality: if “love” is in the equation, there’s no sin, gay or straight. (Fr. Kung, who never wore his priestly collar, lived openly with a woman in violation of his vow of celibacy.) In 1979, his status as a Catholic theologian was revoked by Pope John Paul II and the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith because he had “departed from the integral truth of the Catholic faith.”

Dignity was founded in 1973 after Sister Jennine Gramick, a co-founder of (the pro-gay) New Ways Ministry along with Fr. Bob Nugent (now deceased), wanted to organize “gay friendly” Masses for a Philadelphia friend named Dominic Rolla, an early gay rights figure in the city.

Together with Fr. Paul Morrissey and Fr. Myron Judy, both Philadelphians, the group started to have Sunday evening Masses in local Episcopal churches. Dignity Philadelphia currently meets weekly at St. Luke and the Epiphany at 330 South 13th Street.

Dignity Masses originally adhered to a traditional structure: the celebrant was a validly ordained male priest; there were occasional processions with banners. The hymns, however, were always more “Protestant evangelical-style” than orthodox Catholic. Bad Mass music became the norm in Catholic churches after the Second Vatican Council. That’s when exquisite Latin hymns were replaced by tommyrot songs like “On Eagles’ Wings.”

For a brief time after its founding, Dignity Masses seemed very much like the parish Masses in most Catholic churches.

Over time, many Dignity chapters across the US began to change the Mass, especially as the larger gay movement grew more “woke.” Dignity liturgies followed suit like an obedient servant. 

In May 2023, Dignity Philadelphia celebrated its 50th anniversary. The event was highlighted in a recent issue of Billy Penn:

“Step inside the recreation center at Saint Luke and the Epiphany on Sunday evenings and you’ll find a traditional celebration of mass. Except in this case, the priest is a married woman,” the article begins.

The writer neglects to mention that the Catholic Church does not recognize women priests, despite the existence of a worldwide organization known as Roman Catholic Women Priests, or women who have been “ordained” to the priesthood by disobedient rogue Catholic bishops who want to remain anonymous.

“…Dignity Philadelphia has been progressive in allowing married people, women, and LGBT people to lead mass, as well as involving lay people in leadership decisions.”

In the left progressive world of woke theology, the so-called “priesthood of the people” has become a popular concept, allowing anyone who feels called to say Mass to do just that. This philosophy essentially abolishes the priesthood as it has been understood for 2,000 years. 

“Hymns and prayers are modified to include gender-nonconforming language,” the Billy Penn article continues.

Years ago, at my last Dignity Philadelphia Mass, I heard “Mother God” in conjunction with the traditional “Our Father” at the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer.

I resolved then and there never to return to Dignity Philadelphia.

Changing the words of the founder of Christianity was tantamount to the greatest heresy ever. 

Liturgical corruption and innovation, gender ideology, and the socialist idea that anyone who feels called to say Mass can say it — all of this was certainly not Catholic. 

Let’s reverse course and take a look at the other gay and lesbian Catholic organization that receives much less publicity than Dignity: Courage and Encourage.

The Philadelphia Courage website states that “Courage members are men and women who experience same-sex attraction and who have made a commitment to strive for chastity.”

Encourage is for parents, spouses, siblings and friends of people who, as LGBT, “are looking for help to keep the faith and keep their family bonds intact.”

You won’t see Courage at June Pride events, but the group is big on annual religious retreats held at various cities in the United States. These three-to-four day retreats include daily Mass, lectures, panel discussions and welcoming receptions.

The leader of Philadelphia Courage group, Fr. Chris Rogers, currently pastor of Saint Patrick’s Catholic Church in Kennett Square but who worked as an assistant pastor at Saints Philip and James in Exton, Pennsylvania, where I went to grade school.

Liturgical corruption and innovation, gender ideology, and the socialist idea that anyone who feels called to say Mass can say it — all of this was certainly not Catholic. 

It should not come as a surprise that Courage gets very bad rap in the gay and lesbian press. 

An article from “Lavender” in June 2010 posits,

“…But then, Courage pelvis-gazes in a time wrap. It was formed in 1980 under the aegis of Terence Cardinal Cooke, Archbishop of New York, with Father John Harvey as Founding Director. That was soon after Anita Bryant’s anti-gay campaign galvanized social conservatives, setting the tone for an anti-gay backlash exacerbated shortly thereafter when the AIDS crisis hit…”

The odd juxtaposition of Courage with Anita Bryant definitely sets a tone. 

The writer then attacks the priests who serve the Courage population:

“The priests deserve some pity. They don’t know themselves. They supposedly always have held to celibacy, so the expansive nature of sexual awakening healthily channeled is shut off to them — arrested development… In essence, these priests and their adherents have been emasculated.” 

The writer then makes an awful confession. He admits that he faked his way into Courage membership by telling the moderator he was a Catholic blue collar guy whose breakup with his girlfriend had caused him to experience feelings of attraction to the same sex.

Unlike Dignity, potential Courage members usually go through a short screening interview prior to membership.

The spy then goes on to critique the men and women he meets in Courage meetings. 

“A very troubled man in his 20s — who had utter contempt for pro-gay activism — literally seethed with anxiety about social pressures he felt were out there in the world that wanted him to go the way of homosexuality — hence, away from salvation. He had visited various priestly orders on a quest for his life’s purpose. Although he clearly and naturally presented as straight and masculine, he was hyperconscious that others ‘would know.’ It gnawed at him.” 

In 2012, Hartford’s “The Rainbow” quoted a Dignity member’s view of Courage:

“Courage’s falsehood is that gay people cannot live full, loving lives and express themselves [sexually] in a loving way.”

Courage is a form of spiritual violence, the Dignity member added.

Dignity Philadelphia and Courage are on my mind because of certain developments in the Catholic Church, most notably in Germany, where German Catholic bishops recently endorsed the blessing of same-sex unions. While such endorsements go against Church teaching, Pope Francis has refrained from penalizing the German bishops.

The Catholic Church in Germany has been undergoing a woke revolution for a number of years. As a result of this radicalization, the Church there has lost more than a half a million members. People are leaving because the Church no longer has a spiritual dimension. Traditionally, the Catholic Church has always been a force against the culture of the age.

This is no longer the case in Germany, where the Church has “married” the culture. 

In October, the sixteenth General Assembly of the Ordinary Synod of Bishops, or the Synod on Synodality, will open in Rome. Many of the participants have been specifically appointed by Pope Francis. Top on the list for debate are the blessing of same-sex unions and women priests. Critics see the Synod as the beginning of the “Anglicization” of the Catholic Church.

Will the Synod approve the blessing of same-sex couples? 

If so, what will happen to Courage members who are trying to live the tenets of their Faith when it comes to chastity?

Should they throw in the towel and join Dignity, where they can feed on gender ideology and delight in a drag queen saying Mass because the drag queen felt called to do so?

I asked Father Kyle Schippel, a Courage chaplain, what he thought about the upcoming October Synod and the possibility of support for the blessing of same-sex unions. 

“Regarding the Synod, I can say that Courage is watching it closely. We know that true freedom comes from following Jesus, so we always want to hold that up as a priority. And living in the right relationship with Him is the key to that freedom. We are confident that Church teaching is timeless and enduring; and that the Holy Spirit remains firmly in leadership of the Church.

“We continue to encourage our members to pray for the Synod, of course,” he added.

Thom Nickels is a Philadelphia-based journalist/columnist and the 2005 recipient of the AIA Lewis Mumford Award for Architectural Journalism. He writes for City Journal, New York, and Frontpage Magazine. He is the author of fifteen books, including “Literary Philadelphia” and ”From Mother Divine to the Corner Swami: Religious Cults in Philadelphia.” His latest, “Death in Philadelphia: The Murder of Kimberly Ernest” was released in May 2023.

2 thoughts on “Thom Nickels: Dignity, Courage, and the Church”

  1. Perhaps you and your readers will be interested in the release of a Feature Documentary on John Boswell’s life an works. It is available on Amazon Prime, Tubi, etc. and is titled ‘Not A Tame Lion’. All my best to you and your readers.

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