Pope Francis Meets with Leader of LGBTQIA+ Catholic Group DignityUSA and Global Network of Rainbow Catholics
October 25, 2023. DignityUSA Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke was among four leaders of the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics welcomed as special guests at the General Audience at the Vatican today, with an opportunity to meet Pope Francis. This historic meeting occurred just days before the first session of the Synod on Synodality concludes.
The Global Network of Rainbow Catholics (GNRC) is comprised of nearly fifty organizations from five continents working for the inclusion, dignity and equality of LGBTQIA+ people in the Roman Catholic Church and wider society. DignityUSA is the world’s oldest and largest organization of LGBTQIA+ Catholics and allies, which has served as a resource and model for similar groups around the world. Founded in 1969, it has more than thirty communities across the United States, as well as eight nationwide caucuses.
The group that met with the Pope included Duddy-Burke, who serves as both Executive Director of DignityUSA and Co-chair of the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics; Christopher Vella of Malta , the other Co-chair of GNRC; Ruby Almeida, from India living in England, Media Officer of GNRC; and Alessandro Previti of Italy, Media Consultant for GNRC.
“This opportunity to talk with Pope Francis, and to share stories about the lives, faith, and challenges of LGBTQIA+ Catholics, was unprecedented in the more than 50 years of our movement,” said Duddy-Burke. “I believe it is another step on the path to greater inclusion, respect and just treatment of LGBTQIA+ people in our church, and in the many institutions run by Catholic organizations throughout the world, including schools, colleges and universities, hospitals, and social service agencies.
“We were able to thank the Pope for his groundbreaking statement that the criminalization of people based on our identities must end. We urged him to direct bishops and Catholic political leaders to act on his statement by opposing the criminalization of LGBTQIA+ people rather than actively supporting it, as some have recently done. In meeting the Pope, we were mindful of colleagues in Africa and elsewhere who have had to flee their homelands, who are in hiding, who have been evicted from their homes, fired from their jobs, physically attacked, and threatened with imprisonment and even death because of anti-LGBTQIA+ laws and campaigns,” said Duddy-Burke.
To this, the Pope replied “Avanti!” That translates to “keep moving forward.”
The group presented Pope Francis with several gifts, including a video with messages to him from LGBTQIA+ members worldwide, photographs of three global gatherings of Rainbow Catholics, copies of Synod submissions from member groups, and a “Todos, todos, todos” t-shirt based on the Pope’s World Youth Day call for an inclusive church that welcomes all.
“For a DignityUSA representative to be greeted so warmly by the Pope is truly miraculous,” said Duddy-Burke. DignityUSA has long been considered a dissident organization by the Vatican and by many Catholic bishops across the United States. The organization has been banned from worshiping in Catholic churches since 1986. The group’s support for same-sex relationships, individuals’ ability to live in the gender they know themselves to be, and marriage equality are all seen as opposing official church teaching.
“I believe this meeting is a huge tribute to the thousands of our members who have had the fortitude to have pride in both our faith and our queer identities over the past 54 years since our founding. I am very honored to have represented each and every one of them today,” said Duddy-Burke.
“As the world’s oldest organization of LGBTQIA+ Catholics and allies, DignityUSA has been sought out by people from around the globe seeking support. We have helped dozens of groups get started, many of which are now members of the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics. It seems fitting that, as representatives of Catholics around the world gather in the Synod, a worldwide group of LGBTQIA+ Catholics is also present at the Vatican. Both are expressions of our global church,” said Duddy-Burke.