Washington Archbishop James A. Hickey has ordered Georgetown University to bar the homosexual Catholic organization Dignity from holding a weekly mass on the school's campus, following similar action by church officials in several cities, Dignity spokesmen said yesterday.
Paul Albergo, president of Dignity's Washington chapter, said the archbishop's directive ends the group's 11 years of Sunday night masses at the Jesuit school.
In a May 22 letter ordering Georgetown's president, the Rev. Timothy S. Healy, to expel the group, Hickey said his move was prompted by a Vatican pronouncement last October that called homosexual activity "a disordered sexual inclination which is essentially self-indulgent."
Since the Vatican's directive to the church's bishops on "The Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons," Dignity masses have been evicted from Catholic churches in at least a dozen dioceses, including New York City, Brooklyn, Long Island, Minneapolis-St. Paul and Richmond.
Dignity "has been consistently ambiguous in its statements about Catholic teaching on homosexual activity, and sponsorship of a weekly liturgy by this group only adds to the confusion," Hickey said in his letter, a copy of which was released by the local Dignity chapter yesterday.
Hickey has been tough on homosexuality throughout his eight-year tenure here, using his powers as a bishop to restrict programs of the unofficial Quixote Center and other prohomosexual Catholic groups. However, some other bishops who have moved against Dignity in recent months, notably Bishops Walter Sullivan of Richmond and Francis J. Mugavero of Brooklyn, have been among the most sympathetic to gay Catholics in the church.
Dignity official Albergo said he suspected new Vatican pressure for the nationwide crackdown. But a spokesman for Hickey said yesterday he was "unaware" of any directives beyond the October document, which advises the church's bishops: "All support should be withdrawn from any organizations which seek to undermine the teaching of the church, which are ambiguous about it or which neglect it entirely . . . .
"No authentic pastoral program will include organizations in which homosexual persons associate with each other without clearly stating that homosexual activity is immoral." The document added that homosexual persons must "avoid the near occasions of sin."
The Catholic Church teaches that all homosexual activity is immoral and that persons with a homosexual orientation must lead celibate lives if they are to be faithful Catholics.
Dignity, which has about 5,000 members nationwide, believes that "gay men and lesbian women can express their sexuality in a manner that is consonant with Christ's teaching," said Tom Sena of the group's national office here. "We believe that all sexuality should be exercised in an ethically responsible and unselfish way."
Albergo said the local chapter of Dignity, the third largest in the country, has "296 dues-paying members" with an additional 100 to 150 persons "not wanting to be on a mailing list" but taking part in some activities. He said the numbers increased after the Vatican's October pronouncement.
In his letter banning Dignity from Georgetown University, Hickey noted that members "can fulfill their Sunday mass obligation by attending any one of the many masses" in local parishes.
Some Dignity members are involved in parishes, Albergo said, but come to the Dignity mass also because of "a desire to worship with people with shared values . . . to go to a service where your issues are discussed, your concerns brought up."
In addition, he said, homosexuals have so much "internalized guilt and self-hatred . . . . It's important to stress that each individual is good . . . important in God's eyes. It's important when you're down to hear that."
In addition to the Sunday masses, which will be moved to St. Margaret's Episcopal Church next month, Dignity members help staff soup kitchens and shelters for the homeless and destitute, and volunteer at the Northeast hospice established last year by Hickey and Mother Teresa for people dying of AIDS, Albergo said. They also volunteer to help clean and paint parochial schools in Washington and Northern Virginia, he said. Collections at mass go to Catholic Charities and other church causes. "They'll take our dollars. They'll take our service," Albergo said.
The tough position on homosexuality taken by Catholic Church leaders differs markedly from the concern they have expressed for sufferers of AIDS, which in this country has afflicted primarily homosexual men. The church has established hospices and other facilities for victims of acquired immune deficiency syndrome.
The Vatican's October document, however, cited "the practice of homosexuality" as a reason for the AIDS epidemic.
Georgetown University has been embroiled before in controversies over Catholic tenets on homosexuality. The school is currently awaiting an appeals court ruling on a suit brought by a homosexual rights student group seeking recognition on campus.
After a request for the city to float a tax-exempt bond issue for Georgetown, school officials and the D.C. government clashed over the issue because the city's human rights law bars discrimination on the basis of sexual preference.