I have been a big fan of Cardinal Dolan ever since I read his book Priests for the Third Millennium during my early days in seminary. Years later, I was delighted to have him as my Archbishop while carrying out my ministry in New York City. I had the good fortune of running into him on a number of occasions, and I was always impressed by his jollity and accessibility. He is a very down-to-earth man without pretentions, someone who exudes good-will and charity to everyone he meets.
On one occasion, while I serving mass for him in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, I watched him stand in front of his cathedra and look around at the packed church with a big smile and eyes full of joy. It was very evident that he was genuinely thriled to be there. There is no doubt that he loves his people and he loves to be with them.
Lately, the good cardinal has drawn quite a bit of flack for agreeing to be Grand Marshal of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, even though the Parade Committee has recently decided to allow gays to participate under their own banners. While I understand the frustration and confusion his decision has caused, I agree with what he is doing. Here are my reasons:
1. The Church is trying to evangelize a post-Christian society.
As a priest friend of mine once told me, “We just have to admit it: we live in a post-Christian society”. It’s true and there is no way around it. The New Evangelization is taking place within the context of the most secular society to exist in the West since the Edict of Milan. We are faced with quasi-pagan world that is spiritually ignorant and morally confused. Our world is so aggressively secular and poorly catechized that we are faced with a situation similar to that of the early Christians in pagan Rome. Consequently, before we can even begin to evangelize, we have to pre-evangelize. This means that even before we begin teaching the Gospel, we have to “remove new barriers by deconstructing the false notions”, as another friend of mine put recently.
One of the major barriers facing us is that many people paint the Church as a hateful, antiquated organization seeking to impose outdated rules on modern society. Perhaps no one promotes this erroneous view more than those advancing the homosexual agenda. To disarm these anti-family lobbyists of their anti-Church propaganda, we have to go out of our way to show them that we do not hate homosexuals or anyone else for that matter. This is what Cardinal Dolan is doing by participating in the next St. Patrick’s Day Parade. He is removing one more barrier between the Church and the secular world, thus making it all the easier to bring more people to true repentance and the fullness of the truth.
2. Christ was not afraid to socialize with sinners despite the scandal that it caused.
It has already been pointed out by many that Cardinal Dolan is in very good company. Jesus Christ himself ate with tax collectors and sinners, incurring the indignation of the Pharisees. In Jesus’s time, socializing with such people was often seen as an endorsement of their sins, but he did not care whether his actions were seen that way or not. All he cared about was reaching out to lost sheep desperately in need of his love and mercy.
I believe that Cardinal Dolan is doing the same thing by marching in the parade. His action is sending a very clear message similar to what he told ABC’s “This Week” about gay and lesbians who felt rejected by the Church: “Well, the first thing I’d say to them is, ‘I love you, too. And God loves you. And you are made in God’s image and likeness.'” Cardinal Dolan is a very loving man, so I like to think that his going to the parade is his way of offering a big bear hug to all of those who feel disowned by the Church. His action is a very significant one that clearly says that the Church’s doors are wide open.
All this being said, it should be remembered that the Cardinal is in no way changing Church doctrine. It also goes without saying that returning to the Church always requires repentance and acceptance of the truth. He is not saying that homosexual activity is permissible, but rather that Christ loves everyone, even those who struggle with homosexual attraction, and he is waiting to embrace them as the merciful father embraced the prodigal son.
3. The Cardinal is entitled to prudential judgement.
Real life is not always black-and-white. We are often faced with situations that are messy and have no easy solution. In such predicaments, it is necessary to discern the best way forward based on principles of action. The conclusion of such discernment is called a “prudential judgement” which applies broad and general principles of action to very concrete and particular circumstances.
Cardinal Dolan found himself in a tricky catch-22 type of situation: he could refuse the offer to be grand marshal and thus enrage many homosexuals, or he could accept the offer and anger many Catholics. He was faced with two options, each with corresponding risks and benefits: refusing would further distance the secular world from the Church but would avoid the risk of internal turmoil; accepting would make it easier for the secular world to approach the Church while probably causing some unrest within her.
In the end, he chose the option that would make it easier for the lost sheep to return to the flock. It is easier for him to mitigate the internal confusion caused by his decision than it would have been for him to mitigate the secular rage he would have otherwise incurred. But in so doing, he is not neglecting those who are already in the fold. His outreach to homosexuals is balanced by his continual upholding of the Church’s teaching on the family and on chastity.
Some may not agree with his decision, but at the end of the day, he is the one who is Archbishop of New York. He knows his flock better than we do, and he has the power and authority to make the prudential judgement that he made.
In this new post-Christian era, the pastors of the Church will be faced with more and more situations where they must achieve the delicate balance of making the Church accessible to the secular world while at the same time clearly upholding her teachings. We must pray hard for our bishops and our Pope to be illumined by the Holy Spirit, and we need to respect the decisions that they make.
The bottom line is this: before the Church can even hope to successfully instruct our post-Christian world on moral truths, she must make it abundantly clear that she loves the people of this world, no matter how post-Christian they may be. This does not mean watering down doctrine, but it does mean leaving the comfort of the fold to go out to seek those who are lost.
For an excellent reflection on the significance of this controversy, please read this excellent article at http://www.mainstitute.org: “St. Patrick’s Day and the Challenge of the New Evangelization”.