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New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan took to This Week with George Stephanopoulos on Easter morning to talk about, among other things, the strained relationship between the Roman Catholic hierarchy and those who support full equality for LGBT people, including a strong majority of Catholics themselves.
Within that interview, Cardinal Dolan asserted that he “loves” gay and lesbian people and that God does too. But he then followed up by saying that he believes gay and lesbian people are only entitled to friendship, and that anything more than friendship “is intended only for a man and woman in marriage, where children can come about naturally.” (He did not clarify, unsurprisingly, whether this rule also applies to men and women who are, for whatever reason, naturally unable to have children)
It’s a familiar one-two punch that LGBT people have heard time and time again. “I love you,” is followed by a litany of incorrect beliefs that we are broken, intrinsically disordered, unqualified parents, or otherwise less-than fully human. By the time the sentence is finished, the “love” that was expressed at the beginning is rendered powerless against the condemnation that follows.
This week, that lack of tangible love is being felt by Nicholas Coppola, a gay Catholic living in Long Island, New York who was incredibly active in his parish. After marrying his husband legally, he was informed that he could no longer serve as a lector, visitation minister, food pantry volunteer, capital campaign board member or catechist. He is allowed to enter the church, but his involvement, which was significant, has been curtailed. This is all because someone sent an anonymous letter to the bishop, who then directed the parish to remove him.
LGBT people are rightly getting tired of merely hearing of this so-called “love” from the Roman Catholic hierarchy, among other places. Especially when this “love” is followed by rejected calls for conversation, and no attempt at understanding, as it always has been.
So does Cardinal Dolan actually love LGBT people? Or does he “love” LGBT people, as long as he doesn’t actually have to listen to any, or learn about their relationships, or speak with their children?
Cardinal Dolan expresses a desire to not be perceived as anti-gay, but has done little to achieve that goal. George Stephanopoulos even pressed further how the Roman Catholic Church can avoid simply attacking LGBT people, but received no good response. It seems as though Dolan either actually doesn’t know what to do, or he knows what to do, but needs the courage to act upon it.
Taking Cardinal Dolan at his word, I’d suggest a few steps that may move him from his expressed “love,” to an actual love that follows Catholic teaching and actually means something for the lives of LGBT people.
1.Cardinal Dolan needs to stop talking about LGBT people and spend more time listening to them.
Couples who have weathered decreased legal protections to take care of one another, families being torn apart by an immigration policy that doesn’t recognize bi-national couples, youth who have been kicked out of their homes at the behest of anti-LGBT clergy, children who are denied good homes because Catholic adoption agencies won’t place them with gay people.
It is by listening to these voices that Dolan can hear how the words and actions of Roman Catholic bishops, like himself, are harming real people. He would be surprised to learn how LGBT people have lost all pastoral support, legal protections and have even suffered physical attack because of what Cardinal Dolan and his peers within the hierarchy have said.
2.If Cardinal Dolan cannot talk about LGBT people without uttering words of condemnation, he should simply stop talking about LGBT people in general.
There are a host of issues that are not condoned by the Roman Catholic Church, including divorce, and birth control. With the exception of its short-lived public targeting of ‘Obamacare,’ the Roman Catholic hierarchy hardly ever talks about these issues in national press interviews. If the church leadership’s opposition to marriage equality is truly never going to change, the next best option is to stop alienating LGBT Catholics and the majority of Catholics who consider themselves allies, by turning their attention away from this issue, and instead fighting against things that everyday Catholics actually want the church to focus on, like poverty or hunger.
3.Cardinal Dolan could turn his stated love into tangible action that would help real LGBT people in their day-to-day lives.
For example, nowhere in Catholic teaching is it acceptable for parents to kick their LGBT children out of the home, and yet as many as 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBT. The Roman Catholic Church has a strong record with charity for the homeless, but this is a special problem that needs special attention. It’s time for the cardinal to revisit the church’s position on homeless youth and lend his support to programs that protect all of them, not just the straight ones.
Additionally, Cardinal Dolan could speak out about immigration, an issue on which the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has already taken the lead. Immigration is especially difficult for gay and lesbian couples, as the U.S. government does not recognize couples who are legally married because of the discriminatory ‘Defense of Marriage act.’ Dolan could lend weight and support to an immigration policy that keeps all legally married couples together in the United States.
God’s love is felt, not simply stated. When Cardinal Dolan makes such blatant attacks on LGBT people, it makes his “I love you and God loves you” in front of the media ring hollow. Such expressions of love need to be backed up with tangible action. Do something that demonstrates that church leaders view LGBT people as more than a threat or a curse.
Cardinal Dolan can keep saying that he loves us and God does too, but until he turns away from the camera to actually listen to the stories of our lives, these words will have no meaning.