Cardinal Timothy Dolan made headlines at the beginning of April because he acknowledged that the church could do better in terms of outreach to lesbian and gay people. Commentators all over the U.S. offered him suggestions as to how he could begin better outreach. A month later, though, and Dolan has not shown any evidence of following any of this advice. Instead, he has offered a blog post on hospitality which offers, quite frankly, a bizarre notion of welcome, and he particularly mentions lesbian and gay people in this unusual message.
On his personal blog, Dolan recounts a story from his childhood when his playmate, Freddie, was invited to dinner, but first admonished to wash his hands before eating. While he claims that as a child he was excited that his friend was welcome, he also notes that he learned the lesson that “All are welcome, but. . . .” And he thinks that is a good lesson to learn. His words:
“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!…
“So it is with the supernatural family we call the Church:all are welcome!
“But, welcome to what? To a community that will love and respect you, but which has rather clear expectations defining it, revealed by God in the Bible, through His Son, Jesus, instilled in the human heart, and taught by His Church.”
I don’t know about you, but I don’t find this notion to be welcoming at all. I find it condescending. Dolan continues:
“We love and respect everyone . . . but that doesn’t necessarily mean we love and respect their actions.
“Who a person is? We love and respect him or her . . .
“What a person does? Truth may require that we tell the person we love that such actions are not consonant with what God has revealed.
“We can never judge a person . . . but, we can judge a person’s actions.”
So, Dolan wants an escape clause: he still wants to be able to sit in judgment about something. Humans judge. It’s part of our condition. But when we are trying to offer a welcome, we do best to check our judgments, and instead observe and listen in holy dialogue. We do best to take off our shoes on the holy ground of someone else’s life and experiences.
Dolan doesn’t see it this way. In his view, he has the right to tell people that they are dirty, and then the presumption of calling that a welcome:
“Freddie and I were loved and welcomed at our family table, but the clear expectation was, no dirty hands!”
And then, most stingingly, Dolan offers examples of people that the church wants to welcome while at the same time standing in judgment of : alcoholics, greedy businessmen, exploitative capitalists, women who’ve had an abortion, and. . . . lesbian and gay people. Does he not see how offensive that notion is to include lesbian and gay people with those who are physically challenged or who have moral choices to make? Being gay or lesbian is not an activity or an action or a choice one makes.
Another offensive angle on this commentary is the Scripture story that Dolan uses to justify his prejudice–the woman caught in adultery (John 8: 1-11):
Jesus did it best. Remember the woman caught in adultery? The elders were going to stone her. At the words of Jesus, they walked away.
“Is there no one left to condemn you?” the Lord tenderly asked the accused woman.
“No one, Sir,” she whispered.
“Neither do I condemn you,” Jesus concluded. “Now go, but sin no more.”
Hate the sin; love the sinner . . .
Another lesson to be learned from this story is that religious people can often let their penchant for judgment get the better of them and forget that love and welcome are more important than judgment. And also that Jesus does not condemn her, even before he knows whether or not she will continue her patterns.
I recommend to Dolan (and to others) to read the ground-breaking book, Jesus, An Historical Approximation (Convivium Press, 2009), in which Spanish theologian Jose Pagola, proves the idea that Jesus’ model of ministry was to welcome all people–even those the religious authorities called sinners–and tell them that they are loved by an all-gracious God, regardless of whether or not they will decide to refrain from what others might consider sin. That is what welcome is all about. Welcome with no “buts” or conditions.
Cardinal Dolan has a long way to go to learn about welcoming not only LGBT people, but all people, too. We all have to continually learn this lesson for ourselves, and practice it fearlessly and generously.
New Ways Ministry repeats its offer to meet with Cardinal Dolan to help him understand effective ways of pastoral outreach to LGBT people.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry