For the fourth year in a row, openly gay groups will march under their own banner in a parade founded to honor Ireland's patron saint — as the archdiocese of New York looks the other way. Only this year, they will be given pride of place: marching at the front.
The 2018 New York St. Patrick's Day Parade will feature two gay groups: Out@NBC-Universal and Lavender and Green Alliance. On Thursday, a parade spokesman told Church Militant that the initial controversy is waning.
"That's pretty much disappeared," he said. "No one's brought it up, there's been no comment, no media references. You're the first one who's asked that question."
According to a former representative of the affiliated organizations marching, the controversy seems to be shifting to the positioning of marchers. Reportedly, the gay groups are being given more prominence this year. On Thursday, Fr. John Sheehan, SJ told Church Militant:
I was very involved in the parade controversy when I was in New York, and I continue to watch it with dismay. For instance I have just learned that two gays groups who have been in the parade for two years are this year marching at the front. Now your position in the line of march is something that has been organized by tradition and seniority for years — and now this?
"It's not about sexual identity," he added, "it's about the long-standing tradition of service and participation."
Church Militant reached out to the New York archdiocese for comment, but the archdiocese did not respond.
The story of the sea change is one of leaders acquiescing and embracing the spirit of the age. Twenty-five years ago, the situation was very different.
In the early 1990s, gay activists began agitating for admission to the parade — specifically, to be allowed to march under their own banners identifying them as gay groups. But principled Catholic leaders held the lines, adhering to Church teaching.
In spite of increasing social and political pressure, John Dunleavy, chairman of the St. Patrick's Day Parade and Celebration Committee, refused to budge. From the beginning of his tenure in 1993, the chairman was fiercely opposed to gay groups marching in the parade. Dunleavy's position was reinforced by Cdl. John O'Connor, archbishop of New York from 1984–2000.
In 1993, O'Connor was being pressed by activist group the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization and New York Mayor David Dinkins to give his blessing to gay groups' participation. Like Dunleavy, he rebuffed the pressure.
In his homily for the 1993 St. Patrick's Day Parade Mass, he declared that political correctness isn't worth "one comma in the Apostles' Creed." The cardinal warned he "could never even be perceived as compromising Catholic teaching" by approving the admission of gay groups to the parade.
But two decades later, a radical shift was in the works. Dunleavy, still in his post as chairman, remained resolutely opposed to admitting gay groups; but other parade leaders weren't. Nor was New York's Catholic hierarchy; though sporting a reputation of conservatism, Cdl. Timothy Dolan was proving more pliable on the issue than O'Connor had been.
By 2014, gay groups and their political allies were threatening to boycott parade sponsors. That year, Irish beer giant Guinness yielded, announcing it would pull its support unless gays could march under their own banners. Dutch competitor Heineken followed.
The lynchpin, though, seems to have been NBC. Reportedly, OUT@NBCUniversal, a group of gay employees won the backing of the network which in turn "brought a great deal of pressure on the committee." The parade leadership, minus Dunleavy, buckled and opened the parade to gay marchers.
In a September 3, 2014 statement, the committee announced OUT@NBCUniversal would be admitted to the year's parade; in 2015, it became the first sanctioned gay group to march under its own banner.
In June 2015, Dunleavy vowed to bar gay groups from the 2016 march. "The parade itself is not there to promote anybody's particular agenda in any way, shape or form," he said, adding it "represents our faith, our heritage and our culture, nothing more and nothing less. So, we're going to keep to that, and anybody who wants to mix that up is going to have a problem next year."
But just a month later, Dunleavy was ousted from his position as chairman, and gay groups have been marching since.
Since Dunleavy's dismissal, John Lahey has steered the enterprise in a different direction, troubling many long-time participants. Accusations of secular manipulation have dogged the leadership, suggesting Lahey is"trying to shed every vestige of Catholicism that it can."
One representative denounced what he called the infiltration of "Communism" and "secularism" in the parade. Another declared, "We, as Irish Catholics ... say that we are entitled to our beliefs. ... We celebrate our Catholicism."
For his part, Lahey has insisted the parade "would always be first and foremost in honor of St. Patrick." But behind the scenes, reportedly he's floated proposals to revise the corporation's bylaws to remove requirement that members of the committee be Catholic and to remove the section which 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.”
None of this would have been possible without a nod by Cdl. Dolan. In 2014, he seemed to welcome the inclusion of gay groups, saying, "I think the decision they've made is a wise one. ... I have no trouble with the decision at all."
Also troubling was his appointment as grand marshal for the 2015 parade. By choosing to serve in that capacity the very year OUT@NBCUniversal joined the parade, Dolan added to the scandal, despite criticism from orthodox Catholic media outlets. (On the day of the march, Church Militant's Michael Voris was even illicitly removed after challenging the cardinal about his acquiescence, despite the fact he showed authorities a legitimate press pass at the scene.)
As Church Militant reported in 2014, Dolan caved as part of a behind-the-scenes quid pro quo: Democrats in the state capital, Albany, promised to open Catholic schools to the voucher system in exchange for Dolan's acquiescence over the parade issue.
Dolan agreed, but the Democrats failed to keep their part of the bargain. Dolan made a "deal with the devil," some say, that he hoped would help stave off the collapse of the N.Y. Catholic school system — itself a victim of modernist corruption, with half having closed under Dolan's leadership. But it was all for nothing; the Democrats failed to keep their part of the bargain.
Four years later, gay groups are marching forward under their own banners, while accounts suggest the parade's Catholic identity is in full retreat.