Yesterday I read about an episode in New York’s archdiocese that both saddened and angered me.
In response to a blog post by Cardinal Dolan asking sinners to metaphorically “wash their hands” before being fully welcomed by the church, a group of LGBTQ Catholics and their allies stood outside St. Patrick’s Cathedral with dirty hands. They were turned away.
I have a feeling that the operations manager who asked them to leave didn’t mean for his words to be taken literally, but Cardinal Dolan’s message was heard loud and clear: until you clean up your act, you aren’t really welcome here.
Below is a passage from Dolan’s post, titled “All are Welcome!” (Exclamation mark!!).
“It was a lesson I began to learn when I was seven or eight . . .
My buddy Freddie from across the street and I were playing outside. Mom called me for supper.
“Can Freddie stay and eat supper with us?” I asked.
“He’d sure be welcome, if it’s okay with his mom and dad,” she replied …
I was so proud and happy. Freddie was welcome in our house, at our table. We both rushed in and sat down.
“Freddie, glad you’re here,” dad remarked, “but . . . looks like you and Tim better go wash your hands before you eat.”
Simple enough . . . common sense . . . you are a most welcome and respected member now of our table, our household, dad was saying, but, there are a few very natural expectations this family has. Like, wash your hands!…”
Cardinal Dolan goes on to discuss how it’s natural for a community to have certain expectations, and he gives the example of how Jesus forgave the adulterous woman but told her to “sin no more.” Just as the church would love and respect an alcoholic, but not condone his behavior, Dolan argues, the church should love gay and lesbian people but not approve of their actions.
Many progressives don’t give conservatives like Cardinal Dolan the benefit of the doubt. I want to. I don’t think he’s trying to spread feelings of isolation and rejection on the part of the gay community, but that’s what’s happening. So I want to address this difficult topic and emphasize that the last thing I would want is for people to read this and feel hatred toward those who label “homosexual acts” as sinful.
The most obvious problem with Dolan’s column is that the church in the broadest sense disagrees over what even constitutes sin. Living with someone who is not a spouse and engaging in same-sex acts are two examples he gives of anti-Biblical behavior. But many of the individuals he’s addressing don’t believe that these kinds of actions are sinful, or at least don’t believe it’s on the same level as one of the other examples he gives of a wealthy employer taking an advantage of his employees. One of the first steps in engaging in a successful debate is defining terms, and it’s apparent that Dolan and a huge portion of the church, including the LGBTQ community, are nowhere near the same page.
Sidestepping this admittedly huge issue for a moment, there’s another problem with the simplistic analogy Dolan gives to introduce this topic. Washing your hands is something you do in a couple minutes. You go to the sink, turn on the faucet, scrub your hands, and pat your palms dry. It’s something you do to yourself, it’s something that’s done without even a thought.
But who among us can say they’ve washed themselves of their sins? Even if you believe that “homosexual acts” are a sin–and personally, I don’t believe they are–it’s not in anyone’s power to quickly “wash up” before coming to the Lord’s table. Having clean hands is something that’s done to us–it’s an act of Christ himself. And that’s precisely why we need the table and the confessional, because we know all too well that without God’s grace and mercy, we’re at a complete loss. The LGBTQ community only hears the “but” in the statement “all are welcome,” and naturally, many of them feel they’re not welcome at Mass.
Moreover, it almost goes without saying that the Church has had its fair share of scandals, and so Dolan’s condescending language comes across as utterly hypocritical. Examining the proverbial plank in one’s own eye is often more productive than pointing out the speck in someone else’s. In other words, we’ve all got dirty hands.
I want to end this post on a sweet note, not a sour one. The best example of Catholic love for the LGBTQ community I’ve seen is in my own parish I’ve been able to attend since the summer, the Church of the Ascension. The church has a gay fellowship, and Ascension as a whole is very vocal about the fact that all are welcome. No buts. Perhaps in their fellowship sessions parishioners wrestle with who they are, and with what’s right, and how they are called to live. But no one tells them they’ve got to clean up their act before we welcome them, because that’s their own journey. Instead, we all go to the table together, because we know with God’s grace our dirty hands will be made clean.