In a way, the existence of the short New York Times story that ran with this headline, “Dolan Says the Catholic Church Should Be More Welcoming to Gay People,” is simply a matter of journalistic math.
Fact 1: Cardinal Timothy Dolan is the Catholic shepherd of New York and the president of the U.S. Catholic bishops.
Fact 2: Dolan is articulate and, at times, even witty. He keeps showing up on television and in highly public places. He is hard to ignore.
Fact 3: In this case, he directly addressed the single most important subject on Planet Earth, from the perspective of the doctrines and worldview of this newspaper’s own college of editorial cardinals.
Add these factors together and, one way or another, you are going to get a news story — for better or for worse.
Now, from the point of view of the Times (classic Bill Keller faith statement here, in essay called “Is the Pope Catholic?“), Catholicism is in a state of crisis caused by its irrational commitment to ancient doctrines carved into dogma in the ages before Woodstock. Thus, the lede:
On Easter Sunday, weeks after he helped elect a new pope for a church struggling with declining numbers and controversy over social issues, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan said that the Roman Catholic Church could be more welcoming of gay men and lesbians despite opposing same-sex marriage.
In recorded interviews with George Stephanopoulos on the ABC News program “This Week” and Bob Schieffer on “Face the Nation” on CBS, Cardinal Dolan, the archbishop of New York and one of the leading voices of the Catholic Church in the United States, did not suggest any changes in church teaching. He defined marriage as “one man, one woman, forever, to bring about new life,” but, he told Mr. Stephanopoulos, “we’ve got to do better to see that our defense of marriage is not reduced to an attack on gay people.”
Actually, that second paragraph is pretty good and stresses the main point that needed to be made: Dolan said absolutely nothing new. The heart of what he said is found here:
Speaking just days after the Supreme Court heard arguments in two same-sex marriage cases, Mr. Stephanopoulos asked Cardinal Dolan what he could say to gay men and lesbians who felt excluded from the church.
“Well, the first thing I’d say to them is: ‘I love you, too. And God loves you. And you are made in God’s image and likeness. And — and we — we want your happiness. But — and you’re entitled to friendship,’ ” Cardinal Dolan said. “But we also know that God has told us that the way to happiness, that — especially when it comes to sexual love — that is intended only for a man and woman in marriage, where children can come about naturally.”
So, try to find the glaring news hook in that.
Actually, if the Times wanted to chase an interesting story, there is one linked to that. It could explore the writings and work of gay and lesbian Catholics who actually support the teachings of their church (sample here). That would be a new point of view for the world’s most powerful newspaper and, trust me, many of the points made in such a story would make the Catholic cultural right as uncomfortable as the usual suspects on the Catholic left.
However, the biggest stretch in this short story came near the end.
During Easter Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan, Cardinal Dolan hinted at more sweeping changes. And he hailed a rebirth of the church as Pope Francis celebrated his first Easter Mass in St. Peter’s Square.
“The church, with a capital C, is undergoing renewal, repair, resurrection,” he said. “I kind of think we’re seeing it today in a particularly fresh and new way with our beloved new Holy Father.”
Do you see a hint of “sweeping changes” in that quote? Me neither.
Thus, I was glad to see Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a veteran press aide to the U.S. bishops, offer a GetReligion-esque take on the mainstream press coverage of Dolan’s words. This ran at The Huffington Post. She starts, naturally enough, at square on:
It amazes me when basic church teaching is received as if it were something brand new. This morning’s New York Times brought the latest example with the headline: “Dolan Says the Catholic Church Should Be More Welcoming to Gay People.” A glance at other media outlets finds similar news accounts. From the NBC website: “Cardinal Dolan: Church Must Embrace Gays, Lesbians.” Then from the NY Daily News: “‘Jesus died on the cross for them as much as He did for me’: Cardinal Dolan says church should not push away gays.”
But here is the heart of what she has to say:
No one is carded at a Catholic Church. Shunning is not the Catholic tradition. … To reiterate Cardinal Dolan’s point: Gays are welcome in the church. So are divorced people. Heck, even in the rare instances that people are excommunicated, they’re still expected at Sunday Mass. Although some sects ban you from the property for violating their rules, the Catholic Church still wants you in the pew. …
More people have been excommunicated by their Aunt Minnie than by the church. Much of the media, and many Catholics, miss the fact that the Catholic Church is a church of mercy and forgiveness, and most of all, communion. … We have seven sacraments — and three, Baptism, the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the Sacrament of the Sick, are geared to bringing people into or back into the fold, sinner or no. It’s practically impossible to get out of the Catholic Church where if you leave we call you an ex-Catholic rather than a Protestant, atheist or the latest term, a “none.” …
Yes, it should be noted that she is taking into account that whole awkward sin, repentance, grace, forgiveness process. She is saying that all sinners, literally everyone, needs to walk that path.
Nevertheless, read it all. There is a story behind Dolan’s words, an important one. The Times team might want to go looking for it.