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JOAN VENNOCHI

Bringing church values to the St. Patrick’s Day parade

file 2009/the boston globe

I have a dream.

In it, Pope Francis — or a local surrogate such as Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley — calls John “Wacko” Hurley and tells him the path to heaven is a Saint Patrick’s Day parade that excludes no one on the basis of sexual orientation or other personal characteristics. Then a call is made to Brother Thomas Dalton, informing the principal of Immaculate Heart of Mary School his students should march in the name of tolerance and love — rather than stay away in the name of discrimination and contempt.

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Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh is doing all he can politically to negotiate a way to include gay marchers in the annual parade. But it’s probably going to take a higher authority to end the two-decade ban on openly gay parade participants. So far, the obvious moral authority in this case — the Roman Catholic Church — stands silently on the sidelines.

The South Boston parade is organized by Hurley and the group Allied War Veterans. As others have pointed out, the parade’s link to veterans doesn’t justify the exclusion of gay marchers. The US military did away with “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and gays now serve openly in the armed forces.

Dalton revealed the true impetus. When it looked like compromise might be reached with the gay advocacy group MassEquality, he put out a press release saying his school was pulling its marching band and float — which shows Saint Patrick blessing the crowds — out of the parade.

“In the footsteps of Saint Patrick, IHM does not condone and will not appear to condone the homosexual lifestyle,” declared Dalton. “We must stand firm with the Church which states in the Cathechism of the Catholic Church, promulgated by Pope John Paul II, that ‘homosexual acts are acts of grave depravity’ and ‘are instrinsically disordered . . . Under no circumstance can they be approved.’ ”

If Dalton truly believes that walking a parade route with people who happen to be gay condones the homosexual lifestyle, he better not venture far from his principal’s desk. There’s a good chance he already walks alongside gays in other venues closer to home.

In the meantime, his harsh words run up against the softer rhetoric uttered last July by the pope. “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” asked Francis, thrilling the media with his gentle tone. Yet Dalton is certainly judging, and his actions speak louder than the pope’s words.

Asked if O’Malley had anything to say about the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade, spokesman Terrence Donilon said the archdiocese “does not have any role in the planning of this event. We are focused on and look forward to observing St. Patrick’s Day at the annual Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and at celebrations in many of our parishes.” Dalton’s school — located in Harvard — is not in the Boston diocese. But on the general issue of homosexuality, O’Malley issued a letter back in 2005 stating that the church “has often warned against defining people by their sexual orientation in a way that diminishes their humanity.”

In an interview he gave recently to the Globe, O’Malley warned that people will be disappointed if they believe the pope’s soothing language means the Roman Catholic Church will be changing its teachings about contraception, abortion, and homosexuality. “I don’t see the pope as changing doctrine,” said O’Malley, who at least gets credit for honesty.

So, how does the church’s teaching on homosexuality translate to a St. Patrick’s Day celebration? Does it mean, as Dalton interprets it, that Catholics can’t stroll down the street with gays? Add drums, floats, and a sea of humanity pointed in the same direction — that’s all a parade is. It’s not a litmus test on gay marriage or the death penalty, both of which the church opposes.

Maybe MassEquality missed an opportunity to declare victory and make history when organizers refused an offer to march with one condition — they would be barred from wearing T-shirts or holding signs that included the word “gay.” The parade has a written code of conduct that prohibits any references to sexual orientation.

But Dalton didn’t want his school participating in a parade with MassEquality no matter what the conditions or state of dress. That’s a sad position for an educator and one that appears to stand unchallenged by the church he represents. So much for dreams.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.
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