The Ad Hoc Moral Theology of Cardinal Dolan

As readers of TCT may know, we have been at work for some time on a book called, Sons of St. Patrick: A History of the Archbishops of New York – from Dagger John to Timmytown, and in the course of our researches have had the opportunity on several occasions to interview two cardinal archbishops of New York: Edward Egan and Timothy Dolan.

These men present quite distinct approaches to episcopal leadership – differences made abundantly clear with word on Wednesday that Cardinal Dolan has agreed to serve as grand marshal of the 2015 St. Patrick’s Day Parade. In itself, that news would be unremarkable, since Cardinals Egan and John O’Connor had previously accepted the honor. But this time is different, because – at the NYC Saint Patrick’s Day Parade and Celebration Committee press conference designating Dolan as figurehead – it was also announced that, after years of controversy concerning the exclusion of organized and designated homosexual marchers, the Committee has decided that one such “LGBT” group, Out@NBCUniversal, will be given a place in the parade. (The parade is broadcast in New York by the local NBC affiliate.)

“I have no trouble with the decision at all,” Cardinal Dolan said at the press conference. “I think the decision is a wise one.”

Our friend Austin Ruse wrote a column late on Wednesday in which he noted Cardinal Dolan’s explanation that “neither he nor his predecessors have ever told the St. Patrick’s Day parade organizers who could or could not march.” There is some truth in the archbishop’s assertion, in that the head of the Church in New York is not ipso facto the head of either the Ancient Order of Hibernians, former organizers of the parade, or of the current Parade and Celebration Committee.

However, his predecessors have often taken strong positions against past attempts to politicize the event.

In 1983, Cardinal Terence Cooke strongly objected to the choice by parade officials of Michael Flannery, a man alleged to have engaged in gunrunning on behalf of the Irish Republican Army. Cooke called the IRA’s violent actions “futile and immoral” and said the choice of Flannery as grand marshal distracted from the “religious, cultural, and family richness of the celebration.” The organizing committee refused to rescind its invitation to Mr. Flannery. So on March 17, 1983, as the grand marshal’s retinue marched by St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the great bronze doors were shut tight and the cardinal archbishop was nowhere to be seen. Cooke reappeared later, but he was not about to endorse turning New York’s greatest celebration of Irish Catholicism into a partisan event.

Ten years later, pressure mounted on parade organizers to include homosexual marchers – as homosexuals. (No one ever thought there were no gays or lesbians among those marching under other banners.) Mayor David Dinkins was adamant about the need for the parade to become “inclusionary,” and applied pressure on the police commissioner, Ray Kelly, to refuse to issue a parade permit unless the organizers allowed homosexual groups to march openly.

In a homily at St. Patrick’s, Cardinal O’Connor asked: “Do the Mayor and the Police Commissioner agree to this arbitrary transformation from the religious to the political? Will other religiously related activities become equally vulnerable to arbitrary politicization in this land which boasts of its tradition of separation of church and state?”

Pressing a point at the parade presser

And this was the key question: Is the St. Patrick’s Day Parade a Catholic religious event? The Ancient Order of Hibernians thought so and took their case to court. (Cardinal O’Connor was questioned about this by state-court judge Alice Schlesinger.) In an expedited decision, the state court ruled in favor of the Hibernians, declaring that the parade was a Catholic “religious procession,” and, therefore, its organizers were constitutionally protected from being compelled to include any group representing views in opposition to the teaching of the Church

Which brings us back to Cardinal Dolan.

During one of our interviews with the cardinal – just after this year’s NFL Draft – we asked him about comments he’d made concerning the self-“outing” of Michael Sam, the University of Missouri defensive end, who is currently a member of the Dallas Cowboys’ practice squad. Dolan had never heard of Sam when he was asked on “Meet the Press” about Sam’s proclamation of homosexuality, but he offered a reply anyway:

I don’t think. . .Look, the same Bible that tells us, that teaches us, well, about the virtues of chastity and the virtue of fidelity and marriage also tells us not to judge people. So I would say, “Bravo!”

Cardinal Dolan confessed to us the wish that he’d made clear the Catechism’s distinction between “homosexual acts and the state of homosexuality.” When we pointed out that Mr. Sam celebrated finally being chosen (late in the Draft) by passionately kissing his male companion, the cardinal winced, wondering again if he’d gone too far in his comments on “Meet the Press.”

We believe so, since the cardinal’s words were subsequently and frequently construed as a subtle endorsement of the “gay” lifestyle.

Perhaps he was simply naïve. But what did he expect? That Sam himself might at some point say: “Though I’m gay, I lead a celibate life in conformity with the Christian faith. . .”?

And Cardinal Dolan truly is naïve if he imagines his participation in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade will not be seen by – dare we say? – most Catholics as yet another endorsement of the “gay” agenda.

For this he will receive faint praise from anti-Catholics. In its coverage of the decision of parade organizers to include the not-even-Irish Out@NBCUniversal, the New York Times called the Church hostile and characterized the parade organizers’ decision as a retreat. It said of Dolan that he represents “changing attitudes in the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church.” Perhaps that’s true. But the Magisterium hasn’t changed.

Guinness Brewery will surely end the parade boycott it recently declared. But many Catholics faithful to Church teaching will wonder why Cardinal Dolan won’t be shutting the doors at St. Patrick’s.

As Cardinal O’Connor put it in 1993: “Neither respectability nor political correctness is worth one comma in the Apostles’ Creed.” Or one jot or tittle in the Catechism.

George J. Marlin, Chairman of the Board of Aid to the Church in Need USA, is the author of The American Catholic Voter and Sons of St. Patrick, written with Brad Miner. His most recent book is Mario Cuomo: The Myth and the Man.

Brad Miner is the Senior Editor of The Catholic Thing and a Senior Fellow of the Faith & Reason Institute. He is a former Literary Editor of National Review. His most recent book, Sons of St. Patrick, written with George J. Marlin, is now on sale. His The Compleat Gentleman is now available in a third, revised edition from Regnery Gateway and is also available in an Audible audio edition (read by Bob Souer). Mr. Miner has served as a board member of Aid to the Church In Need USA and also on the Selective Service System draft board in Westchester County, NY.