The “dirty hands” action staged at New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Sunday, May 5th, will be repeated on Sunday, May 26th, as a response to Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s recent blog post where he compared welcoming lesbian and gay people to church as comparable to inviting guests for dinner, but asking them to wash their hands first. Those who took part in the May 5th action arrived at the cathedral with their hands blackened with coal, and said they would pray in vigil when they entered the church building. However, they were barred from entering the cathedral by NYC police officers and church staff, who, despite promises to the contrary, feared those taking part in the action would disrupt the 10:15 a.m. Mass.
Joseph Amodeo, a gay Catholic who organized the first action, explained the details of the upcoming event on his Facebook page:
“Join us on Sunday, May 26, 2013 as we return to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in response to Cardinal Dolan’s article that called upon gay people to wash their hands before entering the church. Again, we’ll be attending with hopes of participating in the 10:15am Mass with ash rubbed on our hands, so as to stand in solidarity with LGBT people.
“As a reminder: This will not be a protest, it will be a silent and powerful witness to our belief that God welcomes all. Therefore, there will be no disturbance during the Mass, no signs, etc.
“We’ll begin to meet in front of Barnes & Noble on 5th Ave and 46 St at 9am. We’ll distribute the ash there and then proceed as a group to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. We will head to St. Patrick’s Cathedral at 9:45am.
“All people are welcome to join us in this act of solidarity. Please be sure to arrive on time at 9am at Barnes & Noble. If you have questions, email me at email@example.com.
“Respect for the sacred nature of the Eucharist is of the utmost concern of the organizers. In light of this, we are encouraging those who are participating and who wish to receive the Eucharist to wash their hands using a supplied “handi-wipe” as they prepare to receive the Eucharist or as an alternative can receive the Eucharist on their tongue. Upon returning to the pew, those who washed their hands may wish to re-soil. This action will not only maintain respect and reverence for the Eucharist, but will also hold a symbolic meaning — we are all clean before Christ even if some members of the Church’s hierarchy view us has having dirty hands.”
Several commentators on The Huffington Post reflected on some of the implications of the original May 5th action. James Lescene, co-founder of The Trevor Project, noted that though he left the Catholic church as a young adult, today’s youth seem more willing to stay in the church and try to change it:
“. . . as I’ve traveled around the country over the past year talking with LGBTQ young people, I’ve been surprised to discover that many of them are not so willing to walk away as I once did. They refuse to leave their churches and mosques and temples, and they will not allow themselves to be persuaded to turn away so easily from the promise of God’s love or to deny their own innate sense of spirituality. As far as they’re concerned, faith is as much a part of themselves as their sexual orientation or gender identity — all of it complex, mysterious and ultimately unknowable except through experience. They are more likely to wonder what’s ailing the institution that has closed its doors and heart against them than they are to question the validity of their own love. Certain that God does not want them to be cast out of anything, they are hanging in there, challenging their pastors and priests and continuing to be a burr in the side of their congregations.
“For these young people, ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’ is no longer an acceptable response to the complex reality of their lives. They want more. Like anyone else in this world, they want the opportunity to love and to be loved, and they are ready to fight for that right. Even when parents send them packing, a few are able to hold to the idea that God won’t give up on them so easily.”
Michael Pettinger, a gay parishioner at St. Francis Xavier parish, Manhattan, wrote an open letter to Cardinal Dolan, reminding the prelate not to pre-judge an entire group of people:
“So what about queer Catholics? From what should they wash their hands? Your Eminence, I can’t answer that question without looking closely at the lives of each and everyone one of them. Neither can you. They are so varied, and have been so long ignored by the Church hierarchy, that there is no one place in the Tradition to which I can point and say, ‘Look there.’ The one thing I can say is that Nature — which might be the God of some atheists, but is certainly not our God — is not the standard by which to understand the lives of LGBT Catholics. Look for grace instead. If you want to see what God is making with our lives and our loves, if you want to help us grow further in that love, you need to spend more time listening to us. A lot more time.
“And you need to share what you hear with our brothers and sisters across the globe. Because the real challenge we face as a Church is not an attitude of ‘anything goes.’ Our real problem is that, like the resentful brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son, we are all afraid that someone is getting away with something while we are being good. Till he comes again, Jesus has placed you and your brother bishops, our elder siblings, in the role of the Father, who needs to tell us all, ‘Rejoice! Your brothers and sisters, married, celibate, and queer, were all dead, and now they are all alive!’ “
Joseph Amodeo, the actions’ organizer, reflected on these witnesses by putting them in the context of a November 2012 meeting he had with Cardinal Dolan about welcoming LGBT people into the church:
“Toward the end of our time together, Cardinal Dolan asked me what I expected him to do in light of Church teaching. In turn, I asked Cardinal Dolan to write a letter of welcome to the gay community. I suggested that he avoid sexuality and instead focus on the person. To my surprise, he agreed to write the letter and suggested that Catholic New York or his blog might be an appropriate venue. It’s what he said next that caught me off-guard: He said that he would share the letter with me in advance so as to make sure that it would be viewed as pastoral and sensitive to the LGBT experience. Sadly, that is not what ended up happening. And I wouldn’t mind if the resulting letter was a ‘welcome,’ but his recent blog post, ‘All Are Welcome,’ came with caveats and conditions. In many ways, a welcome with conditions is no welcome at all.”
Though the actions have been called “protests,” Amodeo explained that protest is not the intent, but that they are there to witness to human dignity:
“Lastly, over the past few days, I have been reflecting on the greatest protest of all that occurs in churches around the country every Sunday: the sign of peace. In that moment, Christians around the world protest the very barriers that on the surface appear to divide us. At the instance upon which we share the sign of peace, we protest a world of judgment and violence to discover a moment of serenity defined not by differences, but by our common humanity.
“In the coming weeks, we will return to St. Patrick’s Cathedral with clean hearts filled with charity and our hands bearing witness to our own humanity. We can only hope that we will be permitted to share in the sign of peace, so that we may help to change hearts and minds to slowly see the inherent dignity of all people without exception.”
Amen to that!
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry