Twenty-five years ago, a small group of activists charged the New York City Saint Patrick’s Day Parade with being a public gesture of pure homophobia. They built their case around the allegedly bigoted “Catholic character.” The trial was held before the judges of the left-leaning secular media.
A jury composed of the general public yawned, wondering why a 250-year-old civic and religious institution needed to become a battlefield in the culture wars. The activists found this lack of popular support impossible to fathom. Enraged, they determined to do more than just march up Fifth Avenue. They sought to humiliate their enemies, including the parade’s organizers, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, and the Catholic Church herself.
Then the unexpected: the committee responsible for sponsoring and staging the parade stopped defending itself against the worst of the charges. The case has now moved to the penalty phase.
This week, the victors revealed their demands: a Saint Patrick’s Day parade that is both non-Catholic and—incredibly—non-Irish. As outlandish as that sounds, all indications are that the activists will get what they want, because they’ve somehow managed to capture the imagination of the parade’s new boss—Quinnipiac University president John L. Lahey.
In July, Lahey wrested control of the parade’s board of directors away from longtime chairman John T. Dunleavy—a man defamed for decades by gay activist groups as “the standard-bearer for religious homophobia.” Dunleavy filed a lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court this month alleging that Lahey and a fellow board member, NBC executive Francis Comerford, had manipulated the committee into maintaining a $175,000 contract with NBC. (Unbelievably, the parade pays the network to air the event, not the other way round.) The lawsuit claims that Lahey is using Quinnipiac funds to defend himself. A parade spokesman calls the suit meritless.
Last year, OUT@NBCUniversal became the first openly gay group to march in the parade. The group’s participation did little to placate activists who said they wouldn’t be satisfied until an Irish gay group was allowed to march. In late September, the Lahey-led board of directors unilaterally surrendered, announcing that gay groups—Irish or otherwise—would henceforth be free to march up Fifth Avenue under banners proclaiming their homosexuality.
Contrary to the claims of the activists, the ban was never on gays as such. The old policy focused not on sexual orientation or identity, but on openly political banners. Banners proclaiming a group’s homosexuality were prohibited, as were those celebrating pro-life groups and causes, on the grounds that the parade wasn’t the appropriate place for single-issue advocacy.
“England get out of Ireland” was the only political slogan permitted. Despite this undisguised hostility toward an identifiable group, no one—as far as I’m aware—ever felt compelled to attack the parade as “bigoted to the core” against British people, or to accuse Dunleavy of being the standard-bearer for domestic Anglophobia. There was no percentage in it, evidently.
The parade was, in fact, open to gays, as it was to all people. Gays marched in groups ranging from pipe and drum bands, to county associations, to fire departments, to union locals. But that wasn’t enough. The activists sought a parade that explicitly affirmed and celebrated gays as gays. Their case was less about undoing perceived injustices than it was about punishing the parade for its historic affiliation with the Church, and stripping it of its Catholic character.
Mission almost accomplished.
Lahey has called a meeting of the parade’s board of directors for Thursday, October 29, the purpose of which is a vote on several proposed changes to the organization’s bylaws. According to the meeting’s published agenda, committee members will decide whether to remove the section that states, “The Parade will be held in honor of St Patrick, the Patron Saint of the Archdiocese of New York and the Patron Saint of Ireland.”
Think about that now. If the Saint Patrick’s Day parade is no longer held in honor of Saint Patrick, what in the world is its purpose? We can only guess.
On Thursday, the board of directors will also vote on whether to remove the requirement that members of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade committee be Roman Catholic, active members of a parish, and of Irish descent. The formation of a new executive committee will exclude affiliated organizations like the Ancient Order of Hibernians from any future decision-making role in the parade and grant Lahey near total control of the event.
So where is the Church in all this? The parade committee’s September announcement was hailed as a victory by gay activist groups, yet the Archdiocese of New York issued nary a peep. In the past, my requests to the archdiocese for comment on parade-related issues have all been answered with a version of the same statement: The Saint Patrick’s Day Parade is run by the parade committee, not by the archdiocese, and anything they want to do is up to them. A specific request for comment on these latest developments was not returned.
Last year’s capitulation to the activists was a stunning betrayal of the legacies of John Cardinal O’Connor and Edward Cardinal Egan, who vigorously fought the charges of bigotry and exclusion for two decades. They fought—and stood firm behind the clergy, religious, and regular lay Catholics they’d asked to stand with them in that fight.
“Neither respectability nor political correctness is worth one comma in the Apostles’ Creed,” said Cardinal O’Connor during a 1993 homily at St. Patrick’s Cathedral during the height of the controversy. For whatever reason—and there may be many—the Church has abandoned O’Connor’s fighting spirit.
Explaining his decision to serve as grand marshal of the 2015 parade—the year of OUT@NBCUniversal’s participation—Timothy Cardinal Dolan said, “I think the decision [the parade committee] have made is a wise one … the leaders of the Parade Committee tried to be admirably sensitive to Church teaching.” I was pretty hard on him for that. I said he was being played for a sucker. I said I thought he ought to step down as grand marshal. (He didn’t.)
While I felt bad about challenging His Eminence in public, these latest developments confirm now what I argued then. The activists claimed that all they wanted was to participate in the parade. It was a lie. They—Lahey included—sought nothing less than the total secularization of the Saint Patrick’s Day celebration.
I say: Let ‘em have it. The battle has already been lost. But that doesn’t mean the Church and her allies are powerless. If Lahey succeeds in his radical crusade, Cardinal Dolan must do something even more radical: close the great bronze doors of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral forever to this silly parade.
(Photo credit: Marcus Santos / NY Daily News)