New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the American Catholic Church's most outspoken homophobe, caused a stir last month when he acknowledged that the Church needs to be more "welcoming" to gays and lesbians. He then proceeded to denigrate loving and committed same-sex relationships as mere "friendships," although this detail was largely overlooked in coverage of his remarks thanks to a misleading and overly optimistic New York Times headline.
Things got even more confusing at the end of April, when Dolan expounded on his "let's welcome the gays" message in a jaw-droppingly arrogant blog post where he made clear that any such "welcome" would be conditional: only those who accept the Catholic Church's anti-gay teachings could be truly welcomed into the fold, in the same way that children must wash their "dirty hands" before they can be welcomed to the dinner table.
Naturally, Dolan's condescending comments provoked outrage among equality-minded Catholics. Last Sunday, a small group of them -- LGBTs, straight allies, and parents of LGBT children -- decided to see whether Dolan meant his remarks literally. They gathered a few blocks away from St. Patrick's Cathedral, soiled their hands with ashes, and prepared to walk to the Cathedral for Sunday Mass. Their intention was to see whether or not they would be welcomed, and if they were, to be a peaceful, silent presence during the service in order to draw attention to the Cardinal's exclusionary remarks and the marginalization experienced by LGBT Catholics.
How did Dolan respond? By calling out the New York Police Department to prohibit the group from entering the cathedral for Mass -- unless they washed their hands.
According to Joseph Amodeo, an organizer of the action, before the group of ten dissenters could even begin the walk to St. Patrick's, they were greeted by "four police cars, eight uniformed officers, a police captain, and a detective from the Police Commissioner's LGBT liaison unit." He writes at the Huffington Post:
The detective informed us that the Cathedral would prohibit us to enter because of our dirty hands. It was at that moment that I realized the power of fear. The Archdiocese of New York was responding out of fear to a peaceful and silent presence at Mass. Even in light of this, we decided that we would walk solemnly from our gathering spot to the Cathedral with hopes that we might be welcomed.
As we reached St. Patrick's Cathedral, we were approached by Kevin Donohue, who identified himself as being in charge of operations for the cathedral. Sadly, Mr. Donohue's tone was both cold and scolding. What astounded me most was when he said that we could enter the cathedral so long as we washed our hands first. Even now, writing those words I find myself struggling to understand their meaning, while coming to terms with their exclusionary nature.
It was at this moment that Mr. Donohue advised us that if we entered St. Patrick's Cathedral with dirty hands, we would be arrested and charged with criminal trespassing. Upon hearing those words, I remember standing there thinking, "How can I be charged with criminal trespassing in my own home?" It was then that I realized what it meant to be spiritually homeless.
Unfortunately, the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in America -- under Dolan's leadership -- has gone out of its way to make it clear that their church is not a welcoming and inclusive spiritual home for LGBT Catholics, their families, or their straight allies. They want equality supporters to feel unwelcomed and homeless in the Catholic Church, and Dolan's astonishingly hurtful and un-Christian response to these peaceful pro-equality protesters last Sunday is merely the latest confirmation of that fact. It also reveals just how hollow Dolan's words of welcome really are: if his definition of "welcoming" gays and lesbians is so broad that it quite literally includes shutting them out of Mass, it's obvious that Cardinal Dolan is far more interested in excusing and preserving his own bigotry than actually following the radically inclusive example of the first-century bearded hippie he claims to represent.