NEW YORK — There is no more natural spot for Roman Catholic Cardinal Timothy Dolan — a proud, ebullient Irish-American — than grand marshal of the city’s historic St. Patrick’s Day Parade. But the honor now has an added significance: Parade organizers said Wednesday they will allow the first gay group to march under its own banner.
Dolan was quick to issue a statement of support for the parade organizers, accepting their decision. While supporters of gay and lesbian Catholics are cheering, some conservatives want the archbishop to withdraw from the event.
“I think we’re seeing the Catholicism of Pope Francis come to the Archdiocese of New York,” said J. Patrick Hornbeck, chairman of the theology department at Fordham University. “Cardinal Dolan’s statement is welcoming. He did not make this decision, but sees the parade as an opportunity for unity.”
Pope Francis last year said church leaders should focus more on mercy than on divisive social issues. He famously said, “Who am I to judge?” when asked about gays and lesbians who are seeking God.
Dolan said in a statement the parade organizers have “my confidence and support” and he thanked them for keeping the parade “close to its Catholic heritage.” He said he and his predecessors have never determined who could march in the parade, but left that decision to the organizers.
However, in 1993, Cardinal John O’Connor opposed the campaign by the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization for permission to march under their own banner. More than 200 gay rights protesters staged a countermarch that year and were arrested.
“Irish Catholics have been persecuted for the sole reason that they have refused to compromise church teaching,” O’Connor said. “What others may call bigotry, Irish Catholics call principle.”
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