What is this? If you're down on Dolan, then you're down on Francis, says RNS

If you're down on Dolan, then you're down on Francis, says RNS

The headline of the Religion News Service piece on backlash against the official admission of gay group OUT@NBCUniversal into the New York City St. Patrick's Day parade reads: "Are Catholic conservatives turning on Cardinal Timothy Dolan?"

If that alone were the theme of the article by correspondent David Gibson, it would be old news indeed. Catholics who uphold the Church's teachings on life issues and sexual morality have criticized Dolan for years over his welcoming stance toward public figures who contradict such teachings. Witness the reaction to Dolan's permitting abortion-rights supporter Vice President Joe Biden to receive Holy Communion at St. Patrick's Cathedral, saying "bravo" to out-and-proud football player Michael Sam, and inviting President Barack Obama to the annual Al Smith dinner.

But there is one difference between the above-cited instances of Dolan's irritating conservatives and the latest case: This time, Catholic League Bill Donohue is taking a public stand against that of the cardinal. The RNS story doesn't mention that this is a first for Donohue, but its opening paragraphs play up his concerns:

NEW YORK (RNS)  -- Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s positive reaction to this week’s decision by organizers of New York’s annual St. Patrick’s Day parade to allow gay groups to march under their own banners initially drew charitable responses in many Catholic Church circles.
But it didn’t take long for conservative church critics to turn.
After initially signaling his grudging acceptance, William Donohue of the Catholic League came back with a revised view when he realized that more than one gay group could be allowed to march in the future.
“The goal of these activists, supported by the corporate elite, is to neuter the religious element of the parade,” Donohue said. “This is an Irish-Catholic parade, and if what comes after the hyphen is cut, so will the parade’s support, beginning with the Catholic League.”

Note that Donohue is not turning directly against Dolan, as the headline would have it, though he is certainly not with the cardinal in his welcoming the parade organizers' decision.

RNS then explains that the parade is "closely identified with Irish-Catholicism but it is not a church-sanctioned event." That is technically true -- though it would have been helpful to mention that the parade sure looks like a "church-sanctioned event" when the cardinal archbishop of New York is grand marshal. The key is history: How has the church been linked to the event in the past? A sentence or two of facts would help.

The article goes on to quote bloggers criticizing the parade's decision more forcefully than Donohue. A quote from Rod Dreher is particularly astringent:

Rod Dreher, a writer for The American Conservative and a former Catholic-turned-Orthodox, chimed in with a post titled “You’ve Been Dolanized,” in which he said his Catholic friends in New York are very unhappy.
“I wonder how long it’s going to take before (Dolan) realizes that he will have earned no new friends -- the people he’s trying to charm are still going to hate him and make fun of him -- and alienated the old ones who would have normally been his most loyal ones?” Dreher wrote.

I understand that it would have been awkward for RNS to end on Dreher's quote; it would have allowed one of Dolan's sharpest critics to have the last word. But the way the story does end suggests a different kind of bias. RNS says that Dolan is simply doing what Pope Francis does:

How much impact this criticism will have is unclear. But Dolan clearly seems to be comfortable with the more inclusive posture adopted by Pope Francis.
The cardinal last month gave a lengthy interview to the Boston Globe’s Vatican expert, John Allen, in which Dolan indicated that the days of the culture wars in the church were coming to a close.
The effort to withhold Communion from pro-choice Catholic pols “is in the past,” he said. And he also said that Francis wants pastoral, social justice-focused bishops “who would not be associated with any one ideological camp.”

Got that? "Dolan clearly seems to be comfortable with the more inclusive posture adopted by Pope Francis."

That, dear reader, is not a journalistic statement. It is an opinion, pure and simple. 

RNS is saying that if you criticize Cardinal Dolan over his enthusiasm for the parade organizers' decision, you are criticizing the pope. And that is simply irresponsible, in terms of the facts.

I will grant that RNS is following in a (very) long line of news outlets that cite Francis's "who am I to judge" comment as evidence of a "more inclusive posture" toward people who identify as gay. But even if Francis has taken the tone of one who does not rush to judgment, to say that he would support gay identity politics is a real stretch. As my friend William Doino Jr. has observed in First Things, in the very same breath in which he said "who am I to judge," Francis said, "This is what is important: a theology of sin." 

In fact, a close read of the Pope's words shows that he speaks, if anything, against "gay identity." He does not have a problem with an individual who "seeks the Lord and has good will," but he does have a problem with the idea a "lobby" that would push for having "gay" on their "identity card." Again, read the context:

Agh… so much is written about the gay lobby.  I have yet to find on a Vatican identity card the word gay.  They say there are some gay people here.  I think that when we encounter a gay person, we must make the distinction between the fact of a person being gay and the fact of a lobby, because lobbies are not good.  They are bad.  If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge that person? The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this point beautifully but says, wait a moment, how does it say, it says, these persons must never be marginalized and “they must be integrated into society.”
The problem is not that one has this tendency; no, we must be brothers, this is the first matter.  There is another problem, another one: the problem is to form a lobby of those who have this tendency, a lobby of the greedy people, a lobby of politicians, a lobby of Masons, so many lobbies.  This is the most serious problem for me. And thank you so much for doing this question. Thank you very much!

So here is Pope Francis: "The problem is not that one has this tendency," rather "the problem is to form a lobby of those who have this tendency." What kind of tendency? A tendency that, when expressed as an "identity" within the Church, becomes a self-serving agenda -- akin to "a lobby of the greedy people, a lobby of politicians, a lobby of Masons."

My question for RNS: What is OUT@NBCUniversal if not a "gay lobby," in this case a secular one"? And, if it is such a group, wouldn't Cardinal Dolan be more in keeping with Pope Francis's "posture" if he called its inclusion in the parade a "serious problem"? Or has the St. Patrick's Day parade simply "neutered" its religious element (to use Donohue's term) in favor of a secular identity? 

In other words, there is a debate going on here. Where is the other side of this debate in this news report, if this is a news report rather than a commentary?

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