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"The Roman Catholic Church has a history of changing its position on issues. It just takes a long time. Look at the church's stance on Galileo. It took them hundreds of years to finally apologize and admit they were wrong. In time, the Roman Catholic Church's position will change [on homosexuality], but most likely, it will not be in my lifetime," said Pat McArron, president of the local San Diego Dignity chapter and past president of the national organization. McArron has been active in the dialogue about homosexuality with the Roman Catholic Church for over 30 years. "Dignity was founded as a therapy group for homosexuals in 1969. Today, Dignity is a community of Catholics creating a place for gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgender people to feel comfortable. It has a two-fold mission: to provide a place of worship without recrimination and to speak to the greater Catholic community about the issues. "Our message to the Roman Catholic Church is pretty simple. Stop calling us objectively disordered. Stop looking at us as any more sinful than any other Catholic. Our sexuality is not an abomination," said McArron. "We've seen a real disconnect between the people in the pews and the hierarchy of the church. The bishops and cardinals feel they need to toe the line. A lot of people in positions of leadership compromise their own beliefs because they are afraid they will lose their jobs."

At Dignity's Sunday-evening service, 31 men, 5 women, and one wiener dog celebrated Mass at First Unitarian Universalist Church, which hosts the local Dignity chapter. A handout listed events. The handout offered a session on the Domestic Partner Rights Act, a picture of Christ as he embraced another man, and a Bible passage with subsequent interpretation from The Word is Out by Chris Glaser, a devotional that blends Christian scripture with gay and lesbian concerns. Father Tom Beckman celebrated the Mass based on Matthew 15, a story of Christ's inclusion of a gentile woman into the family of Israel. Beckman reminded the congregation that the gentiles later would evangelize the Jews. "As gentiles were the angels to the Jews, we are to manifest God's presence and will to those we come into contact with. Christianity gets boring sometimes," said Beckman. "But it becomes exciting when we fulfill God's will with random acts of kindness and mercy."

After Mass, people gathered in a cafeteria around tables of soda, water, juice, and pastries. "All the priests we have here were priests in the Catholic Church," said Eric, a regular at Dignity. "We are an open and accepting community. A lot of gays in the Catholic community feel like outsiders. Yet they want to express what they've grown up with in the church. They can do that here. [As gays] we can hold hands and kiss when we give the sign of peace."

"The God I believe in is a loving and accepting God. He made me this way. I didn't ask to be gay," said Jim Cassidy. Cassidy said he disapproves of the Catholic Church's stance on homosexuality. "The Catholic Church is an organization. God doesn't condone the church organization but the people."

"There is no official reaction to the Dignity organization," said Father Tom Beckman a semi-retired priest from the Old Catholic Church of Canada. "According to the Roman Catholic Church, Dignity doesn't exist and gay people don't exist. The Catholic Church states that, yes, you may go to church, and if you have committed an act of adultery, you can go to confession and go to communion. But this puts [gays] into a double bind." Beckman said this stance causes psychological problems in the gay community because they have to confess that their lifestyle is wrong. "If the shoe were on the other foot -- if heterosexuals were asked to be gay to take communion -- only then could they understand the dilemma gays face in the Catholic Church. We must say one thing and do another."

Beckman said people who find anti-homosexual scripture in the Bible take these passages out of context. "When Paul writes instruction to the churches he founded, he is giving specific instruction to these churches," said Beckman about anti-gay passages of scripture. "What appears as dictum for all times, one can only understand if they read it in the proper context." Beckman says Paul's writing was not against homosexuality but against the practice of prostitution that was part of the pagan temple nearby the church. "The issue of homosexuality only seems to be a problem for Christians who say that the scriptures are handwritten by God."

I asked Beckman what happens to a person after they die. "Heaven is a state of being. It isn't a place with streets paved with gold. That doesn't sound like heaven at all to me," replied Beckman. "Heaven begins here and ends with the vision of God. I believe it is my job to direct people to heaven. I don't know if anyone will ever end up in hell." Beckman said he does not believe hell is a place with fire and brimstone. "People want to approach the Bible literally. The Bible is not what it appears to be. People are missing a great deal of meaning [when they look at it literally]. They are missing the heart of scripture. As I grow older and, hopefully, wiser, I am becoming more open to what these scriptures have to say to me."

Denomination: Roman Catholic Church


Founded locally: 1972

Senior pastor: John Crepau

Congregation size: 100

Staff size: 0

Sunday school enrollment: 0

Annual budget: don't know

Weekly giving: $150

Singles program: no

Dress: casual

Diversity: white

Sunday worship: 6 p.m.

Length of reviewed service: 1 hour

Website: dignitysd.org

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