The Michigan Catholic
October 3, 2014
Like Queen Esther, our time is thrust upon us. In this new moment of American Catholic history, we need a new evangelization born from a new evaluation of our mission field. Earlier priests expected to be chaplains to a fairly stable American Catholic community. Today’s priests realize they are missionaries to a confused, if not corrupt, generation. Laity have awakened to their co-responsibility for the Church. It’s a great but challenging time to be Catholic in America. My next two columns reflect on this new environment by observing the controversy surrounding New York City’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
The cardinal archbishop of New York, Timothy Dolan, will be the parade’s grand marshal for 2015. Gee whiz. That’s about as controversial as Rotarians choosing Lou Holtz or Zig Ziglar to open their next conference, isn’t it?
No. For the first time, a group of homosexuals, employees of parade sponsor NBC, will march in the parade under a “gay” banner. While no individual has ever been barred from marching, the parade committee has always kept a tight lid on groups trekking under their own flags. For more than 250 years, this firm rule has protected the parade from being politicized.
In fact, read the list of approved organizations before hitting the pillow and you could stop taking Ambien. The list tediously catalogues hundreds of school bands and parish organizations that begin with St. or Blessed, Catholic medical clinics recognizable by the body parts they heal or the religious orders that founded them, and police and fire companies from the five boroughs all identified by little more than a number. Occasionally a smidgen of color bleeds through and we find the Equine Ladies and Gentlemen or the Celtic Irish Dancers. Only one “activist” marcher, the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, caught my eye. Not even a pro-life group marches under its own insignia. So, approving an openly homosexual group to march as proud as the NBC peacock represents a clear break in the parade’s tradition.
An opportunity to say more
What was the cardinal to do? Was this like dispensing Eucharist to any grapelover or inviting Ru Paul to preach on “Male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27)? Cardinal Dolan seemed unperturbed. The group would not be “advocating” immoral acts. They simply wanted a “gay” Irish presence at the parade. Identity, not sin, was their concern.
“Who are you kidding? Stop ignoring the obvious,” his critics charged. “People celebrating ‘gay’ identity are not champions of Catholic moral teaching.” Likely not, but who wants to administer a chastity test or sexual inventory?
The cardinal restated the Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2358: Homosexual acts are sinful; disordered feelings are not. Homosexuals must receive “respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination … should be avoided.” Where his critics saw a very tiny fig-leaf, the cardinal saw an open door to present a neglected aspect of Catholic teaching. Extramarital sex is sinful, but that’s hardly news. We have more to say to homosexuals and, after all, this is a civic parade, not a Eucharistic procession.
Couldn’t he just play the prophet, shake the dust from his feet or demand that the parade conform to the Church? No can do. While the Church has authority to recognize Patrick as a saint, she bears no formal authority over his parade. Even our moral authority has weakened.
We have opponents. Guinness threatened to withhold funding and NBC refused to broadcast the event without the gay marchers. The cardinal archbishop’s voice is still strong, but only one among many. For most parade organizers, Irish and Catholic are no longer synonyms.
Giving our enemy a hand
Can Catholics disagree over this prudential strategy? Absolutely. Can one discredit the bishop’s authority and trash his reputation? Absolutely not. Still, good Catholics proved that one can be catechized beyond one’s obedience. Bitterness seduced them to sin against the truth (CCC, No. 2475-2488). False witness, detraction, calumny and rash judgment filled comment boxes and emails. While the prophet Amos did call the rich women of Bashan “cows,” non-prophets should probably avoid name-calling. What is ugly in our conversation is usually self-defeating for our mission. Our opponents delighted in our display of wrath. Irrational “homophobia,” they concluded, was the real motive behind our facade of righteousness. “Catholics and their alleged concern for the moral order,” they said, “are just like the old Southern bigots who disguised their racism under a concern for rule of law.”
Our anger read like a script from our enemy’s playbook. Hollywood and the media don’t need any help caricaturing us. They do propaganda better than we do. They paint with images while we argue with words. They exercise power while we plead for truth. I’m afraid the more vociferous critics of the cardinal have been co-opted by our opponents because they know neither their spiritual enemy nor their moment in history.
Internal strife undermines our message. Consider a teaching of Gregory the Great. In his 17th encyclical, he warned laity to never publicly attack the bishop because the bishop, as successor to the apostles, should be revered as the Lord’s anointed. Even accounting for a bit of homiletic overstatement, St. Gregory’s central point is sharp, penetrating and painful. If ever there needs to be public disagreement, it should be through tears, not rage.
Al Kresta is president and CEO of Ave Maria Communications in Ann Arbor. His radio program, “Kresta in the Afternoon,” can be heard from 4-6 p.m. daily on 990 AM-WDEO and EWTN.