Tomorrow morning, NBC-TV will air a pre-taped interview with New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan, in which the prelate claims that the Catholic Church has been wrongly portrayed as being “anti-gay” because of official support for heterosexual marriage.
“A top Roman Catholic cardinal says he regrets that the church is portrayed as ‘anti-gay’ for supporting traditional marriage between a man and a woman.
“Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, told NBC News that the church has been ‘out-marketed” on the issue by an array of people, including politicians.
” ‘We’ve been caricatured as being anti-gay,’ Dolan said in an interview airing Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press. ‘And as much as we’d say, “Wait a minute, we’re pro marriage, we’re pro traditional marriage, we’re not anti anybody,” I don’t know.
” ‘When you have forces like Hollywood, when you have forces like politicians, when you have forces like some opinion-molders that are behind it, it’s a tough battle,’ he said. . . .
” ‘I think I’d be a Pollyanna to say that there doesn’t seem to be kind of a stampede to do this,’ Dolan told David Gregory of Meet the Press. ‘I regret that. I wish that were not the case for the states.’ “
Dolan’s comments are filled with many errors in characterization. First, “the church” is not against same-gender marriage. The church hierarchy is defending heterosexual-only. We know that poll after poll keeps showing that Catholics support marriage equality–and “the church” is rightly defined as ALL the people of God, not just the hierarchy.
Second, people, especially Catholics, are not being swayed by external forces to support marriage equality. Catholics are supporting these measures not in spite of their faith, but because of their faith. Catholic principles of justice, equality, human dignity, protection and support of all families are what are motivating them to support marriage for lesbian and gay couples. The more that the hierarchy continues to view this argument as a battle between forces inside and outside the church, the more that these leaders will miss the fact that the Holy Spirit is moving among the laity on this issue.
Third, it is not because of opposition to marriage equality that people characterize Catholic leadership as anti-gay. It is because they oppose a whole variety of equality issues–immigration, employment non-discrimination, adoption, as well as marriage–that people view the hierarchy as anti-gay. It’s because they deny sacraments to lesbian and gay people and their supporters, because they expel children of lesbian and gay people from Catholic schools, because they fire openly LGBT people from church employment, because they hold exorcisms when marriage equality is enacted, because they compare the gay equality movement to the Ku Klux Klan–and so many other actions and statements–that people perceive the church hierarchy as anti-gay. And it’s because they miss every opportunity to do or say anything positive that people develop this characterization.
Just look at how people have responded to the few positive things that Pope Francis has said in regard to lesbian and gay people. While he has not challenged church doctrine, he has found many ways of being affirmative, and people are responding in a wildly positive way.
Cardinal Dolan, and all the U.S. bishops, should stop blaming others and do a thorough examination of their own statements, behaviors, and attitudes in regard to LGBT people and issues.
For more than two weeks, my email inbox has been swamped with messages from folks sending me links to articles and essays responding to Pope Francis’ Jesuit magazine interview, in which he chastised church leaders for being too obsessed with gay issues. Early on, we tried providing you with some of the best of the responses, and you can read those here, here, here, and here.
But as I sifted through all these emails, one group that has remained pretty silent on the matter have been the U.S. bishops themselves. Now, I admit that I did not do a major web search for every U.S. bishop to see what he might have said about the interview. Yet, their remarks did not seem prominent in most of the news stories that I saw on the topic.
What is more surprising is that while almost everyone else in the U.S., Catholic and non-Catholic alike, were pleasantly surprised and astonished by what they detected as a new tone from the papacy, the few bishops who did make public responses tended to downplay any innovation on the part of Pope Francis. Their responses reflect a strong ambivalence about the pope’s new direction.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York was one of the first bishops to respond. As president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, he is the spokesperson for the conference, and so many media outlets were interested in what he had to say.
In aNew York Times interview, he called the pope’s words “a breath of fresh air,” yet then went on to stress continuity, not change, in the papal message:
“ ‘One of the lines that nobody seems to be paying attention to was when he said I’m a loyal son of the church,’ he said. ‘He knows that the highest and most sacred responsibility is to pass on the timeless teaching of the church.’ “
What’s odd is that most people saw as more significant Pope Francis’ admission of himself as a sinner, which he described as the most “accurate” description of himself. Furthermore, while Dolan sees the pope’s job as passing on “timeless teaching,” Pope Francis in the interview emphasized the development of church teaching through history.
And while most commentators noted the compassionate and merciful tone in the pope’s words, Dolan seemed to see some sort of loophole for church leaders to continue to criticize:
“What he’s saying is that we have to think of a more effective way to do it, because if the church comes off as a scold, it’s counterproductive. If the church comes off as a loving, embracing mother, who periodically has to correct her children, then we will be effective.”
Dolan also tried to shift the reason why bishops speak so much about abortion and homosexuality to the media. On Top Magazinereported that Dolan mentioned the following in a television interview, responding to a reporter’s question about whether bishops were obsessed about these topics:
“I wonder if we all spend too much time talking about that. I mean you guys would admit that’s usually the things you ask me about, right? So, I don’t know if it’s just the church that seems obsessed with those issues. It seems to be culture, society,”
Like Dolan, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago also seemed to want to shift the cause for “obsession” to the general society, not to the bishops. In The Chicago Tribune, he stated:
“If the society is obsessed with those issues, then the church will respond. If the society doesn’t bring them up, the church won’t respond.”
Also like Dolan, George wanted to retain some form of judgmentalism for church leaders. He stated:
“Everybody is welcome,but not everything we do can be acceptable. Not everything I do, and not everything anybody else does. . . .
“His position was, ‘Don’t judge a person.’ It wasn’t anything about saying, ‘Don’t judge an action as moral or immoral.’ It was taken to say we shouldn’t judge the activity.”
Bishop David O’Connell tried to downplay any change that might be reflected in the pope’s words. In a CNN interview, he said:
“I think it is a slight departure . . . .This was an interview. This was not an instant of papal pronouncement or teaching, . . .This pope is accustomed to speak off the cuff, and to speak in a very common way with people, and I think that’s what you saw in this interview.
“He really was just sharing some of his thoughts and reflections.”
Madison, Wisconsin’s Bishop Robert Morlino offered perhaps the most stubborn refusal to recognizing any change in the papacy. In an email sent to Channel 3000, Morlino stated:
“The Pope is clearly offering his good pastoral counsel about our being, first and foremost, ministers of Jesus’ love and mercy. This is something that every member of Christ’s Church should take to heart and make part of their evangelization efforts. Given the confusion about Pope Francis’ statements that has emerged from the media coverage to date, I think it’s inopportune to offer extensive observations which will probably be subjected to like misinterpretation. I think that, analogous to the “spirit of Vatican II”, a distorted “spirit of Pope Francis” is being concocted which is equally, if not more misleading. For me, it is not prudent to respond further to the Holy Father’s remarks at this time.”
Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island, was enthusiastic in his praise for the pope’s comments, though some wondered about the sincerity of his praise since only a short time before the papal interview, he had written in his diocesan newspaper that he was “a little bit disappointed” in the new pope for not mentioning abortion enough. Tobin told The Providence Journal:
“I enthusiastically welcome the balanced and inclusive approach our Holy Father is bringing to the pastoral ministry of the church. . . .
“Being a Catholic does not mean having to choose between doctrine and charity, between truth and love. It includes both.”
Perhaps the most genuine response from a bishop came from Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, Maryland. Lori, an ardent and vocal opponent of marriage equalitly, who is also the U.S. bishops’ point person on religious liberty, told the Associated Press:
“Every time I make a statement about one of these things, I will certainly take another look at it and ask, ‘Does this really lead people back to the heart of the Gospel?’ “
I consider this response most “genuine” because it alone acknowledges that bishops may not have been considering this question about the gospel before uttering statements in the past.
John Allen, a Vatican analyst for The National Catholic Reporter, recently commented on why it might take a while before Pope Francis’ “imprint” will be seen among the American bishops. He posits that Pope Francis seems to be taking his time making changes in the Vatican administration, which could influence the type of bishops appointed. Additionally, since few American bishops are at or near retirement age of 75, it might take a while before Pope Francis has an opportunity to replace them.
Yesterday, we posted comments from bishops and dioceses that tended to downplay Pope Francis’ gay-positive remarks. Today, we will look at comments from these church leaders that were either mixed in their reactions or that welcomed the difference that the pope seemed to be emphasizing.
Most of the comments from yesterday tended to stress that nothing had changed because of the pope’s comments. In the category of “mixed” responses, we can see that some leaders stress continuity in substance, but acknowledge that there has been a tone shift. Archbishop Michael Jackels of Dubuque, Iowa, stated to RadioIowa.com:
“The Holy Father made some comments that really were not terribly surprising. He just, in essence, repeated what the church taught, has taught for a long time and has written in the catechism of the Catholic Church but he put it in his own, more personal, direct manner.”
In Erie, Pennsylvania, a diocesan official also emphasized the pope’s new tone and approach, in an interview with ErieTVNews.com:
“Father Chris Singer, Chancellor of the Diocese of Erie said, ‘Pope Francis once again has challenged us in his unique refreshing style what is at the core of the church’s teaching and that is that every man and woman is made in the image of God and God meets them where they are at.’ Singer added, ‘So Pope Francis has not made a change at all, he’s just reminding us to treat all people with respect, to meet them where they are and help them to grow in holiness and that’s exactly how Jesus lived.’ “
Also in the “mixed” category were those bishops who acknowledged something positive about the pope’s comments, but also seemed to want to tone down what they pope’s message was. In The San Francisco Chronicle, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of that city, exemplified this well:
“First, Cordileone praised the Pope Tuesday for ‘reiterating the Church’s love and welcome to all people,’ and said the Church should be a ‘welcome’ and ‘safe’ place for people ‘who experience same sex attraction,’ (and says the Church needs to do a better job on ‘following through’ on being that welcoming place).
“But Cordileone also wanted to clarify one point:
“ ‘While the Church does not judge individuals, the Church does judge actions,’ Cordileone said. To wit: ‘Any sexual act’ outside the boundaries of a male-female marriage, be it gay or straight, is ‘sinful.’”
While it was refreshing to see Cordileone acknowledge that the church has to do a better on welcoming LGBT people, it is disappointing that he uses “same-sex attraction” and the distinction about judging people versus judging acts.
The distinction on judging also featured prominently in the comments of Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who is president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. On NBC’s Today show, Cardinal Dolan stated:
“It’s been a pretty clear teaching of the church based on the words of Jesus that we can’t judge people; we can judge actions.”
Dolan’s message tried to stress the positive about the papal remarks, but he also stressed the sexual ethics teaching. On one hand, he said:
“What the pope is saying [is] don’t forget forget there is another element to God’s teaching. Namely, that we treat everybody with dignity and respect, that we don’t judge their heart and that we love and respect them.”
But on the other hand, he said:
“Homosexual people deserve love respect and dignity, while homosexual acts are immoral.
“The church’s teaching, which is based on the Bible and God’s revelation, is that sexual love is reserved only between a man and woman in the life-long, life-giving relationship of marriage and any relations outside of that, hetero or homo, would be less than God’s intention. That hasn’t changed.”
“ ‘The Holy Father is not going to make up church doctrine at a news conference.’ But he added that the church teaches understanding and compassion and that the doors are open.”
On the more positive side were some bishops who further commented on the pope’s new approach to gay and lesbian issues. Fox21News.com, in Colorado Springs, carried comments from that city’s Bishop Michael Sheridan, which encouraged a more accepting outlook:
” ‘He speaks to individual people he speaks on a clear level, so it doesn’t surprise me he would stand strong,’ Bishop Sheridan said.
“The Pope’s words mark a sharp shift in tone, but the Bishop said it’s not a change in the church’s teaching.
” ‘Every single human being, heterosexual, homosexual, old, young, is deserving of love and of respect and all human rights, etc,’ Bishop Sheridan explained. ‘This is the clear teaching of the church.’
“Bishop Sheridan said this is how it’s been all along, just maybe not how it’s been perceived.
” ‘It’s a shame, unfortunately, some individual people, Catholics and non-Catholics, do not act that way. But that isn’t what the church says it says we owe respect and love to every human being,’ he affirmed.”
Bishop David Walkowiak of Grand Rapids, Michigan, was even stronger in mirroring the pope’s accepting words. In an article on MLive.com, he offered encouragement to follow the pope’s lead of respecting human dignity and was not afraid to criticize the older approach to these issues:
“ ‘The church has not said much about homosexuality and when it has it’s reiterated the teachings,’ said the Most Rev. David Walkowiak, bishop of the Diocese of Grand Rapids that includes more than 180,000 Catholics in 11 West Michigan counties. ‘That is helpful. It’s true. But the tone is usually one which is not a source of encouragement or a source of support.
” ‘We’re hoping that the pope’s tone sets a hope and an attitude that if you come to the church you will be respected, you will be welcomed, you will receive the support of the sacraments. My hope would be that people with same-sex attraction would feel more encouraged to walk into a Catholic church.’
“Walkowiak said the pope’s comment responded specifically to a question about gay priests, who ‘are called to celibacy’ regardless of their sexual orientation. But the pope’s ‘sympathetic’ remarks signal a more pastoral tone on gays in general, if not a change in church doctrine on homosexuality, he said.
“ ‘Certainly, the church’s teaching is not going to change during a press conference on a trans-Atlantic flight,’ Walkowiak said. But ‘he reminded us that whomever you’re interacting with, they should be welcomed and treated with sympathy and compassion and love,’ he said.
” ‘(Practicing gays) need to be accorded respect, compassion and support,’ Walkowiak said. ‘That’s the Christian outlook of how to treat people.’ “
Albany, New York’s Bishop Howard Hubbard also emphasized the new pastoral tone of the papacy, in his interview with the Times-Union:
” ‘Pope Francis’ comments on homosexuality in general and specifically on accepting candidates for the priesthood who have a homosexual orientation reveal the pastoral tone and approach he has taken since assuming his responsibilities as the spiritual leader of our Roman Catholic Christian community,’ Albany Roman Catholic Bishop Howard J. Hubbard said Monday.
“Hubbard said Francis’ statements reflect the church’s teaching about the ‘sacred dignity and worth of every person, regardless of one’s sexual orientation.’ “
Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh also emphasized the new pastoral approach that Pope Francis is taking. In the Post-Gazette, he stated:
“He is saying things that the church has already said, but he is saying them in ways that people can understand. Pope John Paul II was a philosopher. Pope Benedict XVI is a theologian. Pope Francis is a pastor. … He tells us that you have to know your people, you have to know what their struggles are.”
Reading yesterday’s and today’s posts together, you can get the impression that some bishops want things to remain the same, others are mixed, and still others are welcoming the new attitude in the church that Pope Francis seems to want.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
“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.”
“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.”
New York-area Catholics who support LGBT-inclusion in the Catholic Church are meeting at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Fifth Avenue, Manhattan, this Sunday, May 5, 2013, to attend the 10:15 Mass with dirty hands.
The silent vigil is in response to New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s blog post from a week ago in which he compared lesbian and gay people coming to church to children showing up to dinner with dirty hands. He used this analogy to say that it was permissible for church leaders to welcome lesbian and gay people to church, but that the leaders needed to remind them that they needed to clean themselves up. You can read Bondings 2.0’s commentary on Dolan’s blog post here.
Joseph Amodeo, the organizer of this vigil, offers the following explanation and logistical information:
“This Sunday, we’ll respond to Cardinal Dolan’s article that called upon gay people to wash their hands before entering the church. We’ll be attending 10:15am Mass with charcoaled hands, so as to stand in solidarity with LGBT people. This will not be a protest, it will be a silent and powerful witness to our belief that God welcomes all. We’ll meet in front of Barnes & Noble on 5th Ave and 46 St. We’ll distribute charcoal there and then proceed as a group to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. 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.”
Amodeo has set up a Facebook event for this vigil which can be viewed here.
New Ways Ministry encourages all in the New York metropolitan area who support LGBT Catholics to show up to this event.
Bondings 2.0 has been covering the story of Nicholas Coppola, a gay Catholic volunteer lay minister at a parish on Long Island, N.Y., who was dismissed from his parish ministries because an anonymous letter-writer alerted the pastor that Coppola married his long-time partner. We reported on the announcement of his dismissal, we reported on his collection of over 18,000 signatures on a petition for his re-instatement, and we reported on the bizarre response he received from his bishop to that petition.
Today we feature a Bondings 2.0 exclusive interview with Mr. Coppola on what the experience of his dismissal has been like, as well as how he has responded to the amazing outpouring of support he has received from Catholics all over the country. The interview gives a personal insight into this faith-filled man.
Coppola has also initiated another petition, this one to New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan, asking the prelate to break bread with Coppola and his family. You can sign that petition here.
The Interview: Nicholas Coppola
How did you come to your decision to publicly announce that the pastor had dismissed you from parish ministries?
It was a very difficult decision. At first, I thought I could meet with Bishop Murphy and have a dialogue about my removal. I was hopeful that if Bishop Murphy took the time to get to know me and David, it might soften his heart and realize that gay married couples are the same as any other loving couple. After two meetings with Auxiliary Bishop Brennan, his response was that “his hands are tied.” Then, after hearing Cardinal Dolan’s comments on Easter Sunday about the Catholic Church needing to do a better job with expressing their welcome to gay and lesbian people, I knew my story needed to be told.
Have you had any interaction with the pastor since your story made news?
I see Fr. Nicholas Lombardi on a regular basis as I have in the past. This is due to the fact that my attendance at Mass has not changed and St. Anthony’s parishioners continue to welcome and support us.
Are you still a parishioner at the parish? How are other parishioners reacting to your dismissal?
I will remain a parishioner as long as I have the support of other parishioners, and they have been incredibly supportive. Even as things in the public arena have quieted down, the parishioners are still asking for answers to their questions. They have written letters and have made phone calls to both the Pastor and Bishop William Murphy. I believe this has actually brought the St. Anthony’s Community closer together.
Did you ever think of leaving Catholicism because of being dismissed?
No. The Catholic Church is my foundation, how I was raised by my parents.
What has sustained you spiritually as you have been going through this ordeal?
I described it to a group of people the other day as becoming “spiritually independent.” I don’t rely on the brick and mortar of the church to maintain my relationship with God. I am so thankful to the Jesuits for the blessing of learning Ignatian spirituality: “Find God in all things.” I did the Jesuit spiritual exercises several years ago, and it was an incredible experience.
If you had an opportunity to meet with Bishop Murphy and/or Cardinal Dolan, what would you tell them?
I would start by telling them our story. They need to know who we are and who our families are. I will not be telling them anything that they don’t already know: that there are many gay and lesbian people and their families who are a vibrant part of the Catholic Church. I would want them to know how much we love our Church.
You collected 18,000 signatures on a petition to be re-instated. I imagine the overwhelming support that you have received has strengthened you. Can you tell us a little bit about what that experience has felt like?
The experience of support is not realized until after it happened. Reading some of the comments people wrote about what my story meant to them, hearing people’s stories of struggle and joy was all amazing. They asked me to continue on in my search for justice.
We have seen a number of stories recently of gay and lesbian church workers and volunteers being dismissed from their jobs and ministries. What advice do you have for LGBT people working in the church?
It is our Church. Nobody can remove you from your faith. Share your story.
What have you learned from this experience?
God’s Love for all is real and unconditional.
What are your hopes for the future?
My hopes are that gay and lesbian people, married or not, are loved, accepted, and respected in the church. We are past needing the support from people in the pews. We have it. We now need it from the hierarchy. My short term hope is to have a meeting with Cardinal Dolan to help him welcome lesbian gay people in the church.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan made headlines at the beginning of April because he acknowledged that the church could do better in terms of outreach to lesbian and gay people. Commentators all over the U.S. offered him suggestions as to how he could begin better outreach. A month later, though, and Dolan has not shown any evidence of following any of this advice. Instead, he has offered a blog post on hospitality which offers, quite frankly, a bizarre notion of welcome, and he particularly mentions lesbian and gay people in this unusual message.
On his personal blog, Dolan recounts a story from his childhood when his playmate, Freddie, was invited to dinner, but first admonished to wash his hands before eating. While he claims that as a child he was excited that his friend was welcome, he also notes that he learned the lesson that “All are welcome, but. . . .” And he thinks that is a good lesson to learn. His words:
“Simple enough . . . common sense . . . you are a most welcome and respected member now of our table, our household, dad was saying, but, there are a few very natural expectations this family has. Like, wash your hands!…
“So it is with the supernatural family we call the Church:all are welcome!
“But, welcome to what? To a community that will love and respect you, but which has rather clear expectations defining it, revealed by God in the Bible, through His Son, Jesus, instilled in the human heart, and taught by His Church.”
I don’t know about you, but I don’t find this notion to be welcoming at all. I find it condescending. Dolan continues:
“We love and respect everyone . . . but that doesn’t necessarily mean we love and respect their actions.
“Who a person is? We love and respect him or her . . .
“What a person does? Truth may require that we tell the person we love that such actions are not consonant with what God has revealed.
“We can never judge a person . . . but, we can judge a person’s actions.”
So, Dolan wants an escape clause: he still wants to be able to sit in judgment about something. Humans judge. It’s part of our condition. But when we are trying to offer a welcome, we do best to check our judgments, and instead observe and listen in holy dialogue. We do best to take off our shoes on the holy ground of someone else’s life and experiences.
Dolan doesn’t see it this way. In his view, he has the right to tell people that they are dirty, and then the presumption of calling that a welcome:
“Freddie and I were loved and welcomed at our family table, but the clear expectation was, no dirty hands!”
And then, most stingingly, Dolan offers examples of people that the church wants to welcome while at the same time standing in judgment of : alcoholics, greedy businessmen, exploitative capitalists, women who’ve had an abortion, and. . . . lesbian and gay people. Does he not see how offensive that notion is to include lesbian and gay people with those who are physically challenged or who have moral choices to make? Being gay or lesbian is not an activity or an action or a choice one makes.
Another offensive angle on this commentary is the Scripture story that Dolan uses to justify his prejudice–the woman caught in adultery (John 8: 1-11):
Jesus did it best. Remember the woman caught in adultery? The elders were going to stone her. At the words of Jesus, they walked away.
“Is there no one left to condemn you?” the Lord tenderly asked the accused woman.
“No one, Sir,” she whispered.
“Neither do I condemn you,” Jesus concluded. “Now go, but sin no more.”
Hate the sin; love the sinner . . .
Another lesson to be learned from this story is that religious people can often let their penchant for judgment get the better of them and forget that love and welcome are more important than judgment. And also that Jesus does not condemn her, even before he knows whether or not she will continue her patterns.
I recommend to Dolan (and to others) to read the ground-breaking book, Jesus, An Historical Approximation (Convivium Press, 2009), in which Spanish theologian Jose Pagola, proves the idea that Jesus’ model of ministry was to welcome all people–even those the religious authorities called sinners–and tell them that they are loved by an all-gracious God, regardless of whether or not they will decide to refrain from what others might consider sin. That is what welcome is all about. Welcome with no “buts” or conditions.
Cardinal Dolan has a long way to go to learn about welcoming not only LGBT people, but all people, too. We all have to continually learn this lesson for ourselves, and practice it fearlessly and generously.
New Ways Ministry repeats its offer to meet with Cardinal Dolan to help him understand effective ways of pastoral outreach to LGBT people.