Cardinal Dolan Must Step Down as Parade Grand Marshal


February 24, 2015

Now there can be no doubt—Timothy Cardinal Dolan has been played for a sucker by the organizers of the 2015 New York City St. Patrick’s Day parade. He must step down as Grand Marshal.

According to reports, parade organizers are engaged in last-minute negotiations with city officials to allow additional Irish LGBT advocacy organizations to march in this year’s parade. Such groups had been prohibited from marching by a long-standing ban on explicitly political banners in the parade, a policy that also kept pro-life groups off Fifth Avenue.

In September, the parade committee announced that a single group, OUT@NBCUniversal, would be allowed to march in 2015. The media hailed the change of policy as a historic victory for the gay activists who have targeted the parade since 1991. The New York Times called the decision “a measure of changing attitudes in the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church.”

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But many in the Irish gay community felt the decision was merely a PR move designed to placate NBC, which airs the parade. Groups such as Irish Queers felt the new policy was not what they had campaigned for—a genuine gesture of surrender on the part of organizers. They called it “a trick to fool sponsors.”

The real trick appears to have been played on Cardinal Dolan, who assured critics at the time that he knew what he was doing. “If the Parade Committee allowed a group to publicize its advocacy of any actions contrary to Church teaching, I’d object,” he said. “In fact, the leaders of the Parade Committee tried to be admirably sensitive to Church teaching.”

Given how things have shaken out, one wonders what Cardinal Dolan thinks qualifies as “sensitive to Church teaching?” Like many, I had high hopes for Dolan when he was named archbishop of New York in 2009. His considerable personal charm seemed the perfect fit for American Catholicism’s biggest stage. He promised to be a commanding presence at the helm during a period of increasingly virulent political attack.

But when many questioned his decision to serve as Grand Marshal—this year of all years—Dolan defended himself with an appeal to semantics.

“[T]he committee’s decision allows a group to publicize its identity, not promote actions contrary to the values of the Church that are such an essential part of Irish culture,” he wrote in his weekly column. “I have been assured that the new group marching is not promoting an agenda contrary to Church teaching, but simply identifying themselves as ‘Gay people of Irish ancestry.’”

Instead of explaining us to them, Cardinal Dolan seems to think his job is explaining them to us.

I wonder if the parade committee—that bastion of integrity—has reassured the Cardinal that any additional groups it chooses to march will also not promote “an agenda” contrary to Church teaching. It’s hard to believe Dolan is so naïve as to think that groups with names like Irish Queers and the Lavender and Green Alliance seek nothing more politically potent than a moment in the sun on Fifth Avenue.

Does 25 years of labeling Cardinal O’Connor, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, and anyone who dared defend the old policy a homophobic religious zealot not count as an agenda in Dolan’s book?

Here’s a question for His Eminence: Does the Catholic Church have an agenda? Or is it just a group of likeminded people who meet once a week, chant a few ancient riddles, break a little bread, and split?

In fact, the Church has multiple spiritual, cultural, and political agendas, including its well-known agenda to protect and uphold the dignity of every human life from conception to natural death. Catholics in the New York area—and, indeed, around the world—have valiantly dedicated themselves to this agenda, sometimes at great risk to their professional reputations and personal safety.

Yet, even as the parade committee is now looking for ways to increase the number of gay advocacy organizations marching in the parade, it is stiff-arming pro-life groups who thought the change in policy would apply equally to them. If Cardinal Dolan is going to lead this parade, he needs to answer for this shabby treatment. And if he thinks he’s going to go on national television and be congratulated for his forward-thinking leadership, while the faithful Catholics who supported and defended the old policy at the behest of his predecessors are labeled hate-filled bigots, he should know that this betrayal will not soon be forgotten.

Cardinal Dolan has dutifully noted that neither he nor his predecessors were involved in deciding who marches. Fair enough, and probably true. Furthermore, it wasn’t his decision to change the long-standing policy to keep political banners out of the parade. Fine.

But by personally leading the procession, he blesses the whole shameful affair.

That’s a slap in the face to anyone who ever took strength from the Lorica of St Patrick:

I arise today
Through God’s strength to pilot me;

God’s shield to protect me,
God’s hosts to save me
From snares of the devil,
From temptations of vices,
From everyone who desires me ill …

Christ prepared us to be hated on account of His name. We’ve taken the abuse and the name calling for 25 years, we can take it for a while longer yet.


  • Matthew Hennessey

    Matthew Hennessey is a writer from New Canaan, CT, and a graduate of Hunter College and Fordham University. You can follow him on Twitter @matthennessey.

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