A Kinder, Gentler Dolan?



Cardinal Timothy Dolan, asked on two Easter Sunday morning news shows about his message for the LGBT community, sounded open enough that the New York Times headlined its story “Dolan Says Catholic Church Should Be More Welcoming to Gay People.”

On ABC’s “This Week,” Dolan said the Church “has to do better to see that our defense of marriage is not reduced to an attack on gay people. I admit we haven’t been too good at that.”

The Times didn’t speak to any gay Catholics — or gay folks, at all — but the LGBT Catholic group Dignity-USA has sent an open letter to Dolan (tinyurl.com/cmsm3ma) asking for a meeting to learn what he means by doing “better.” The group, the letter said, was hopeful that “your recent comments mark the beginning of a new chapter in the relationship between the bishops and LGBT Catholics.”

In addition to leading the Archdiocese of New York, Dolan is president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. Joseph Zwilling, the communications director for the Archdiocese, told Gay City News he was unaware of the letter, but when called about it by DignityUSA executive director Marianne Duddy-Burke, he promised to show it to Dolan when he receives it.

As LGBT Catholics seek meeting, cardinal declines to elaborate on pledge “to do better”

The cardinal left no doubt during his Easter appearances that the boundaries of his compassion remain fortified. Asked what he would say to gay couples who love each other, he replied, “I love you, too. And God loves you. And you are made in God’s image and likeness. And — and we — we want your happiness. But — and you’re entitled to friendship. We also know that God has told us that the way to happiness, that — especially when it comes to sexual love — that is intended only for a man and woman in marriage, where children can come about naturally.”

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York. | ARCHNY.ORG

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York. | ARCHNY.ORG

Asked to clarify Dolan’s acknowledgment that the Church hasn’t “been too good” in its dialogue with the LGBT community, Zwilling replied that the cardinal’s comments were “self-explanatory,” but went on to say, “The Church has to do a better job of presenting its message so that the real Church teaching is understood.” He said Dolan was “always open to meeting people,” but added he was not aware of specific plans for more outreach to LGBT people.

Gay City News asked Dignity’s Duddy-Burke how she felt about Dolan’s assertion that he loves gay people and that they are entitled to friendship but not sexual love.

“I just want to throw up my hands and say, ‘How often do you invite people in and then scold them as you are issuing the invitation?,’ she said. “It just points to this quagmire that the Church hierarchy has gotten themselves into. You cannot be pastorally sensitive and uphold the current doctrine.”

Jeff Stone, media relations director for DignityUSA and secretary of Dignity New York, said, “It feels as if we’re being relegated to second-class citizens. He claims to love us, but refuses to listen to what our experience of love is — and that is disrespectful.”

Stone said that when Dignity New York stood witness outside St. Patrick’s Cathedral in June 2011 after Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the same-sex marriage law, Dolan was inside voicing his opposition. On that occasion, as well, the cardinal emphasized that his refusal to support equal recognition of committed same-sex couples doesn’t mean he doesn’t love gay people.

“We’re standing not 100 feet away and he neglects to come out and acknowledge our existence,” Stone said. “You can’t claim to love people and then refuse to enter into a genuine dialogue.”

DignityUSA has 10-point agenda it encourages the Church to adopt, a program laid out in a 2007 “Letter on the Pastoral Care of LGBT People” (tinyurl.com/cd9jc7f). It calls on the Church to end its opposition to LGBT rights, develop a “revised theology of sexuality” that affirms gay intimate relations as “an expression of divine love,” and allow sacramental marriage for committed same-sex couples. Referring back to the 2007 agenda, Dignity’s letter to Dolan last week acknowledged that some of these points may be “controversial,” but asserted that most “are entirely consistent with both Gospel imperatives and current Catholic teaching.”

Just days after Dolan made his Easter comments about doing better with gay people, St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in Oceanside, Long Island removed Nicholas Coppola from his lay parish posts after an anonymous letter was sent to Bishop William Murphy of the Rockville Centre Diocese informing him that Coppola had married his longtime gay partner. Coppola had served as “a religious education teacher, lector, altar server, and visitation minister for shut-ins,” the Religious News Service reported.

Responding to that development, Duddy-Burke said she laments the “shunning, shaming, and exclusion from Church officials” that gay married couples face.

“I would say to anybody in power, ‘You do have the power to change this doctrine,’” she said. “If you hear there is a need and fail to respond appropriately, you are failing in your duties.”

Still, Duddy-Burke recognizes the uphill nature of her struggle.

“I’m realistic,” she said. “I understand Dignity’s place in the institutional Church. The Vatican prohibition on groups that dissent is still out there — rather than [seeing us] as a group that is trying to get people to be spiritually responsible. They can’t continue to make policy about us without talking with us. It was clear in this comment [by Dolan] that he realized there is a whole world of gay and lesbian people — he didn’t mention bisexual and transgender people — who are in relationships, are having kids. Anyone with common sense would have to acknowledge that we exist. Official Church has to deal with the reality that we’re not going to play the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell game.”

“Telling” is a strategy Dignity is urging on LGBT Catholics and their allies.

“We’re encouraging other Catholic individuals and groups to take [Cardinal Dolan] up on his comments, challenge him, and point out the tension that exists in the Church on these issues,” Duddy-Burke said. “Rank and file Catholics poll high in support of LGBT rights including marriage, but the hierarchy is in total opposition.”

Father Bernárd Lynch — an out gay priest who did groundbreaking work on LGBT and AIDS issues in the 1970s and '80s in New York, only to be hounded out of the city by the late Cardinal John O'Connor — was dismissive of the notion that the cardinal made news in his Easter comments.

In an email from his London home, where he has continued his AIDS work, he wrote, “Cardinal Dolan's words do not impress me at all. They come from a false paradigm that love between two people of the same gender sexually expressed is evil. How can love be evil whether sexually expressed or not?

“His 'house is built on sand' and does not give any authentic hope to the lives and loves of millions of LGBT people. I want to see real action: An apology for the terrible violence done to the spiritual lives of LGBT people — especially during the HIV/ AIDS pandemic in New York City — and down the ages. Acts of penance by the Church for the gay souls destroyed — people's relationship with an all loving God.

“This would involve the open affirmation of sexual minorities — their lives and their love relationships. Then I would want Cardinal Dolan and his fellow bishops to propose to the Vatican magisterium the blessing of same-sex unions, as part of the sacramental life of the Church. Finally, the Church would donate whatever money is needed to help LGBT people work through the poisonous teachings that have stultified their relationship with God in Christ. This would be a start and is nothing less than what is demanded in the Gospel.”

The DignityUSA letter to Dolan was also sent to the Office of the Secretariat at the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, but that office did not respond to a press call.