Paul Diederich was born on December 5, 1945 in Springfield, Massachusetts. He grew up in a rather strict Catholic family. His mother worked in a department store and his father was employed in a Monsanto factory. Paul went to Catholic grammar school and high school. He did not have strong interest in academics as a child, perhaps because the Sisters of St. Joseph were not outstanding teachers. He did grow up with a strong sense of calling and was drawn to the Passionist Fathers, an order of brothers and priests. He spent a year in a monastery in Pittsburgh after high school. He encountered more diverse expressions of faith there and grew in his understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. However, he decided that living in seclusion was not the lifestyle he preferred.
Paul returned to Springfield and enlisted in the Navy in 1965. He served most of his tour of duty at a naval base in Puerto Rico. He maintained his religious practices, attending Mass every Sunday and teaching CCD to children at the base. Paul became aware of his same-sex attractions during his high school years. In the Navy and in Puerto Rico he made connections with other men. His sexual orientation seemed to be a given and was not a source of anguish for him.
After two years in the Navy, Paul moved to Boston in September 1969. In need of employment, he looked at the Help Wanted ads in the Boston Globe and responded to one for “Messenger Wanted.” Thus he began a lifelong career as a customhouse broker, starting at the lowest position in the firm and working his way up over the years. He worked there until his retirement in 2012.
Being in a new city, Paul also went looking for a church. He found a Newman Center nearby, the campus ministry for universities in the area. That provided a comfortable, strong community for him. One Sunday the priest-in-charge (a Father Tom) gave a homily about neglected minorities, in which he mentioned homosexuals. Paul picked up on this right away and asked to meet with Father Tom. At this meeting they decided to start a “homophile forum,” a monthly gathering at the Newman Center for persons to come together and discuss homosexuality. While unsure what kind of response this would get, Paul was pleased that a large number of persons started attending from the beginning. This included the leadership of the convent attached to the church who were very supportive of this effort.
Around this same time Father Paul Shanley (later to become infamous in the Boston clergy sex scandal) had started the Exodus Community, as an outreach to gay youth. Diederich also participated in the weekly Exodus gathering that drew around 20 persons.
Meanwhile, Dignity was being organized in California. Pat Allen, Bob Fournier and Joe Gilgamesh were the recognized leaders. Allen came to Boston to talk about Dignity and its ministry. The Boston group decided to form a chapter-in-formation in 1971, the 3rd or 4th chapter to form in the U.S. This group included priests from the Fathers of the Holy Cross, Bill Maudlin and Tom Oddo. Fr. Tom Oddo (then studying for a Ph.D. at Harvard) led the first Dignity Mass at the Randolph Country Club, which was well-attended. Paul agreed to become the first president of Dignity Boston—planning the monthly Mass gathering and sending out a newsletter.
When Dignity held its first national convention in Los Angeles in September 1973, Paul was among the five or six participants from Boston. The Boston group noticed immediately that the convention was largely attended by gay men with little visibility of lesbian women. So Paul and his Boston colleagues made a presentation there about their experience with enabling and engaging lesbian participation through use of inclusive language and putting women in positions of leadership.
Subsequently, the convention elected three of the Boston participants as national officers: Paul as President, Fr. Tom Oddo as Secretary and Jack Hart as Treasurer. Sensing that the Los Angeles leadership was seeking a break from national organizing to focus on their local chapter, Paul, Tom and Jack set up the national office in Boston. Paul started publishing a monthly newsletter. Together they handled the large volume of correspondence that was coming in and supported the formation of more chapters across the U.S.
Paul and his colleagues convened the second national Dignity Convention in Boston in 1975. There they were reelected as national officers and so continued for two more years managing all of the Dignity business from Boston. New national officers were elected in 1977, allowed Paul and colleagues to turn their attention to strengthening the Boston chapter—finalizing a constitution and bylaws and developing local leadership.
Paul (center) with husband David (right) before city clerk.
When Brian McNaught, prominent reporter at The Michigan Catholic, came out in 1974 and was abruptly fired, Paul traveled with others to Detroit to participate in the protests. During that time, Paul, Brian, Paul Shanley and other gay Catholic leaders had a meeting with Cardinal Joseph Bernadin, who was then the head of the Conference of Bishops. Paul recalls seeing Bernadin’s interest peaked by the statement that Dignity wanted to find a home for gay and lesbian persons within the church. That was indicative of the support that Dignity found with a few liberal bishops in its early years.
As other leaders emerged in the Dignity Boston chapter, Paul gradually moved into the background. Since Dignity was often in need of priests to lead the Mass, he considered seeking ordination in an independent Catholic Church. But as he looked more closely at that, he decided it was not the right fit.
At this time, Paul and his husband, David, are retired and share homes in Fort Lauderdale and Boston. In retirement they are inactive in both Dignity and the Independent Movement, while following developments within the Community at large and specifically within the Christian faith community.
(This biographical profile written by Mark Bowman from an interview with Paul Diederich and edited by Diederich.)
Biography Date: May 2017
Catholic (Roman) | McNaught, Brian | Dignity | Activist (church change)