If you have, through the years, followed the legal and cultural wars about gay rights and the New York City and Boston St. Patrick's Day parades, you know that these battles have often included discussions of a very interesting question.
That would be this question: Do these St. Patrick's Day events have anything to do with one of the greatest missionary saints in Christian history, the bishop now called St. Patrick? The saint associated with these words:
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ in breadth, Christ in length, Christ in height,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity, through belief in the Threeness, through confession of the Oneness of the Creator of creation.
As is often the case, fair-minded journalists should note that this is an emotional story about a debate that has, at the very least, two sides.
On one side are people who say that these events are essentially about Irish culture, history and political clout. Thus, as essentially secular/civic events, they should be open to everyone. This has little or nothing to do with Catholicism and St. Patrick, in other words.
On the other side are people, usually in Catholic groups such as the Knights of Columbus, who acknowledge the cultural side of all this (the seas of beer, for example), but argue that these events are clearly rooted in the Catholic traditions of Ireland. This they insist, yes, that these St. Patrick's Day events are still in some meaningful way still linked to the life and faith of St. Patrick and, thus, must in some meaningful way remain Catholic. If it's a civic parade, then call it the Green Irish Pride Day Parade.
This leads us to The New York Times coverage of the St. Patrick's Day parade in Boston -- a story that offers zero hints that this second group even exists. The headline, for example, explains that the whole city of Boston was united in celebration:
Boston Celebrates End of Ban as Gays March in St. Patrick’s Parade
Search this story for the word "Catholic." Nothing.
Search it for the word "Knights." Zip.
Search it for the word "saint." Zero.
Search it for the word "church." Nada.
Now, the story does stress -- as it should -- that the Boston event is organized by a military veteran's organization. Thus, readers are given this summary of what this debate is all about.
The South Boston Allied War Veterans Council, a private group that organizes the 114-year-old parade, had banned gay groups from participating for decades, saying it was no place for people who were vocal about their sexual orientation. In 1995, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld what it said was the group’s First Amendment right to exclude whomever it wanted.
But that stance turned the parade into an annual battleground for the gay-rights movement, and it forced many Massachusetts politicians, including Boston’s mayor, to skip the parade, which is an essential part of Boston history and culture. Not only does it celebrate the city’s important Irish heritage, but the parade also honors a Revolutionary War holiday unique to Boston and its environs called Evacuation Day. On March 17, 1776, the Continental Army, under the command of George Washington, forced the British to retreat.
Now, as I stressed earlier, this side of the debate is crucial and those making the "secular St. Patrick's Day" argument need to be heard and quoted accurately. That point of view is half of this debate, after all.
But what about the other side? What about those arguing that these St. Patrick's Day events are still meant to honor, to one degree or another, the great saint and his importance in Irish life and tradition? What is the argument for doing a story on this Boston event and not even mentioning the other side of this long, long war in the public square?
Meanwhile, over at Religion News Service, the veteran Catholic-beat columnist and commentator David Gibson did write a piece specifically about this other side of the debate, focusing on the reaction of among leaders of church-related groups:
NEW YORK (RNS) St. Patrick’s Day is associated as much with Roman Catholicism as it is with Irish-Americans, but this year some of the faithful aren’t happy with the inclusion of gays and lesbians marching under their own banner for the first time in parades in Boston and New York.
The Knights of Columbus of Massachusetts and a local Catholic school declined to take part in the Boston parade on Sunday (March 15) after two LGBT groups -- the military veterans service group OutVets and Boston Pride -- were invited following decades of lobbying and court battles.
“The saint’s venerable name should not be cheaply misappropriated by nominally Catholic politicians and anti-Catholic organizations with a same sex agenda,” said Catholic Action League head C.J. Doyle, a leader of the opposition.
What? The Knights of Columbus of Massachusetts actually withdrew from the Boston event? Was this the first time that this highly symbolic retreat took place?
That sounds like a fact worth mentioning in a story about this debate. That is, if the goal is to produce a journalistic report about this event and the debates surrounding it.