Cardinal Dolan Denies Catholics Entry At Cathedral Because Of Dirty Hands

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8).

Today, we knocked at the door of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, but the door was not opened. Rather, it was slammed in our faces. As I began to write this article, I’m cognizant of the raw emotions that I feel deep inside my heart. It’s a feeling that I’m unfamiliar with because until today, I have never been denied a seat at Christ’s table. In fact, today marks the first day that I have ever felt disowned, abandoned, and lost. Earlier today, a group of Catholics including myself gathered on the corner of East 46th Street and Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.

We gathered for a simple purpose: to dirty our hands as we prepared to attend Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

We were soiling our hands as a silent response to Cardinal Dolan’s column last week in which he suggested that LGBT people were welcome in the church so long as they washed their hands. As we began to rub our hands together with pieces of ash, our hands took on the look and feel of the effort that has defined our work to receive an equal seat at the table of Christ in the Catholic Church. Those participating were not only LGBT Catholics, but also allies and, perhaps most importantly, parents of LGBT children. We gathered not in protest, but as a silent witness.

It is what transpired in the moments after soiling our hands that I have trouble understanding and placing in the context of the Christian experience. At around 9:30am, the ten of us gathered were greeted by four police cars, eight uniformed officers, a police captain, and a detective from the Police Commissioner’s LGBT liaison unit. The detective informed us that the Cathedral would prohibit us to enter because of our dirty hands. It was at that moment that I realized the power of fear. The Archdiocese of New York was responding out of fear to a peaceful and silent presence at Mass.

Even in light of this, we decided that we would walk solemnly from our gathering spot to the Cathedral with hopes that we might be welcomed.

As we reached St. Patrick’s Cathedral, we were approached by Kevin Donohue, who identified himself as being in charge of operations for the cathedral. Sadly, Mr. Donohue’s tone was both cold and scolding. What astounded me most was when he said that we could enter the cathedral so long as we washed our hands first. Even now, writing those words I find myself struggling to understand their meaning, while coming to terms with their exclusionary nature.

It was at this moment that Mr. Donohue advised us that if we entered St. Patrick’s Cathedral with dirty hands, we would be arrested and charged with criminal trespassing. Upon hearing those words, I remember standing there thinking, “How can I be charged with criminal trespassing in my own home?” It was then that I realized what it meant to be spiritually homeless. This realization was particularly difficult for me in light of the private meeting that I had with Cardinal Dolan on November 27, 2012, at his office in Manhattan. It was during that meeting that he expressed such love and welcome that I find his subsequent “conditional welcome” to be difficult to understand.

In response to the Archdiocese’s threat of arrest, we opted to remain outside where we stood in silent vigil with our palms turned out facing toward the main doors of the Cathedral.

As the start of the Mass drew near, the temporary steel doors that mark the front of the Cathedral while the original doors are refurbished, seemed to be symbolically appropriate. The cold steel and the means by which the doors closed as we stood outside captured the chill that we felt from the Cathedral’s staff as well as the Cardinal. Our peaceful presence was responded to with a resounding “you are not welcome."

As someone who was reared Roman Catholic from the moment of birth, I have always known the Church and its community of believers to be a place of welcome and affirmation. When I came out as a gay man, my childhood priest and the leadership of my hometown parish stood beside and supported me. Today, this childhood experience of “church” stands in stark contrast to the cold and heartless response of the Archdiocese of New York and Cardinal Dolan to our presence at the Cathedral earlier today.

The other day, I posted on my Facebook page that in the wake of the Cardinal’s recent false welcome, I stand at a crossroad in my faith journey; however, I realize now that it is not I who stands at this crossroad, but rather the Cardinal himself. He stands at a point at which he can choose to see the inherent dignity present in all people or to follow a path laid with judgment and accusation.

Today, I don’t stand at a crossroad, but rather I find myself standing at the threshold of a door. I and others are standing at the doorway to the Church knocking, seeking, and asking. By this action, I hope that the doors of the Cathedral will be opened to us not on a conditional basis, but rather with the understanding that we are all created in the image and likeness of God.

This morning’s vigil was not about dirty hands, but rather in the words of Brendan Fay it was about, “clean hearts.”

With our clean hearts and dirty hands, we will continue to knock at the door of the Cathedral with hopes that one day, Cardinal Dolan might finally realize that we too are worthy to enter the church as children of God.

Photo via Gay Marriage USA

Comments (28)

My heart breaks for you. I am a Christian here in Scotland and I pray for every church to be open always to everyone. I know our God loves us all equally and unconditionally. It is our shame that our earthly "leaders" have not chosen to truly be Christ's body. God bless you all. Xxxxx

This absolutely sickens me.I too was raised Catholic and although straight I am unwelcome at communion because I divorced a man who put us so deeply in debt that our children were almost homeless.I remarried without an annulment so I am now unclean.The God I know loves EVERYBODY..just ask for his love.The Catholic church needs to pull people to it not push them away.Jesus was kind and loving to all,rich,poor,sick,dirty,clean...we are all His flock..the church should not be allowed to pick and choose.I am sorry that a church did this to you all...just remember that God didn't do it.Peace to you all.

Martin Luther got the same for calling the church back to the Good News of Jesus Christ. There are plenty more sisters and brothers who will welcome you to partake of and participate fully in the One Body.

As a Roman Catholic Since Birth, I join my brothers and sister in heartfelt pain at the reception they received today by this silly savage who proclaims to be a "Catholic and a leader of Christs flock.
As the Arch has acted in Bad Faith, I refuse to acknowledge his power and control of Gods [people and call for his resignation and retirement to a life of mortification and Penance for his continued abuse of Gods people.. Sadly, he has made himself and all that serve him, anathema to the Good New of Jesus the christ! +neil. c.s.e.f, Abbot.

I stand by you as a Gay woman of Faith and should you need me to physically stand with just send me a message and I too, will be there, with you and for you.

Love Minister Diamond Saunders

My heart aches for you all. To be denied your place at the family meal, to be denied entry into what should be a sanctuary for ALL of us is despicable. Christ turned none away! There are not words enough to describe the travesty of turning God's children away from their home, from the feet of Him. Thank God we know that He isn't limited to buildings that carry His name. It becomes very hard to act with grace when shown such spiritual brutality, yet you managed to be Christ to those who failed you. Praying for you & for the Church to wash the scales from Her eyes.

I went through a similar experience when an Episcopal youth leader literally threatened to call a sexton to escort me out of a church hall, because I went public with a sexual misconduct case. It was horrible. It was like being kicked out by your own family. "If you publicly challenge us on sexuality, you're not welcome on our property." And those were Episcopalians, who are supposed to be liberals. Catholic, Anglican, whatever, church leaders will resort to physical force rather than admit to being wrong on an issue related to sexuality. They think they'll lose their jobs if they don't go with the status quo... damn the parishioners.

Dear Eric, as a "cradle Episcopalian," I certainly hope that the situation that you describe was many years ago. The Episcopal Church is much more open, welcoming and affirming now. I know. I am a member of Integrity. I am a STR8 ALLY who carries her button attached to her purse proudly. Please go on the Integrity website and find an Episcopal Church that is truly open and welcoming. They are P3 Parishes or members of Believe Out Loud, or both. I feel pain and I hope my e-mail helps you.

Come to the Episcopal Church - at many parishes like mine you will be welcome regardless of the condition of your hands because you are God's children, whom Christ invites to his Table.

This doesn't make much sense out of context. Could you please post a link to the Cardinal's column about washing your hands, so I that I can understand the protest?

I know it's horribly troubling for those who have invested their lives in the Catholic Church, but perhaps it's time to try to put that pain (and the hate on the part of church heirarchy) aside and leave. You likely won't find a more welcoming place than the Episcopal Church. Give it a try. We want you in our fold.

Just... ick. I believed that, too.

It's kinda' tasteless to use these people's suffering as a platform to try to recruit them to your religion. That should be an act of conscience and choice on their part. Show some respect when they say they want to knock again on the door of the Catholic cathedral.

Although better than the Roman Catholic Church, the Episcopal Church still has a lot of entrenched homophobia. It's just more insidious, because the clergy won't admit to it. At least the Catholic leadership is honest about whom it discriminates against. And don't get me started on the way I've seen some transgender people treated in Episcopal churches.

The trade-off with the Episcopal Church is, though you're welcome at first, you're more likely to be kicked out later. Report sexual misconduct? Disagree on social issues? Don't think the Rector of Trinity Wall Street should be making $1.3 million/year? Well then, we'd like to ask you to take a voluntary absence. That's one thing you'll very, very rarely see in Roman Catholicism. For all their differences, Catholics all take the same bread and wine. They come from all ethnic groups and parts of the world, whereas the Episcopal Church remails one of America's whitest and richest denominations, if not the whitest and richest. The Episcopal outreach to LGBTQ is probably motivated in part by genuine concsience, but also because gays and lesbians are a wealthy target demographic, and letting them in just happens to appease liberal New Yorkers (where the HQ is based) who otherwise are suspicious of religious organizations and, frankly, would like to tax them more, given the huge amount of real estate they own in prime areas of Manhattan.

I'm not saying all Episcopal clergy are money-hungry, deceptive clerics trying to hang onto their fancy apartments. Many do really good things. But the church is infused with a culture of finance and lawsuits. If you're an LGBTQ Catholic and want a spiritual community, there are so many groups now within Roman Catholicism for you, that you don't need to skip over to a denomination founded by a serial monogomist English King.

Alternately, you can question whether Christianity is the right path at all for you. Just find where the Bible ultimately recognizes gender as not binary but a spectrum, and affirms a variety of preferences, lifestyles, and family combinations. When you do, please let me know. From page one, it's Adam and Eve, they're ashamed of how they look, and they reproduce as heterosexuals. Heternormativity is the basis of the whole bible and no matter how much theological twisting the Episcopal Church does, it can't escape that fact.

Erik, your heart seems filled with hatred for the Episcopal Church. Whatever faith you choose to practice now, you are not following Jesus' admonition to love others as he loves us, among others. In your own way, your actions are as hateful as Cardinal Dolan's actions. Obviously from your statements you are not aware of actions passed at the 2012 Triennial General Convention of the Episcopal Church, in Indianapolis, last summer.

One of my best friends in the church is a Transwoman Deacon. We are both members of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin, CA, who chose to remain Episcopal after the Bishop took the whole Diocese out of TEC, in 2008.

May I suggest that you view the video "OUT OF THE BOX" on the Integrity website? I will pray that you will find it in your heart to forgive the Episcopal Church the way that God and his son, Jesus, the Christ, forgive you.

I stand with you as a fellow Catholic. Shame on Cardinal Dolan. This is so UN-Christ like it is unbelievable! Christ would throw him out, I am sure of that. PLEASE PLEASE organize something like this nationwide. Catholics across america should go to church with dirty hands weekly- esp the priests! Keep it up. I am sorry you were shut out- but please keep fighting..

We Episcopalians are praying for you and for the Roman church. But in the meantime, please join us. We welcome all, especially all of those who suffer from exclusion from a table that Jesus welcomed all to join.

“You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning. I have said these things to keep you from stumbling. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, an hour is coming when those who kill you will think they are offering worship to God. And they will do this because they have not known the Father or me.” (John 15:27 – 16:3) It seems pretty clear to me that Jesus anticipated Cardinal Dolan and his ilk. They put Jesus and the early Christians out of their churches too. Sad thing is that we, the Church, are kept out. Maybe at times like this, we are closer to Jesus when we are on the outside.

As a "recovering Catholic" I pray that you will find a church who will love you, because you were created in the image of God, gay or straight, black, white, hispanic, and disabled, genius or learning delayed, we are all made in His image and He loves us without conditions. Too many churches say one thing (all are welcome!), but reality speaks differently when you walk to the Table. Thank God, when all others turn away, He never turns away.

Every gay person need to be able to define his faith and found by him/her self (independent of the ignorant faith leaders) the road to God. It is a personal journey. Faith is no faith until it makes some meaning to individual despite the mystery in it. It is an illusion to think that a person abides by everything taught by a particular religion, faith denomination or a sacred book. If you fail to find your path, those who claim to be experts of salvation will eventually turn you over to the hell that they claim they want to save you from. "God is love but hates gay." Really!
Sorry brothers and sisters in NY, I share your pain deeply too because it is also mine.

Every gay person need to be able to define his faith and found by him/her self (independent of the ignorant faith leaders) the road to God. It is a personal journey. Faith is no faith until it makes some meaning to individual despite the mystery in it. It is an illusion to think that a person abides by everything taught by a particular religion, faith denomination or a sacred book. If you fail to find your path, those who claim to be experts of salvation will eventually turn you over to the hell that they claim they want to save you from. "God is love but hates gay." Really!
Sorry brothers and sisters in NY, I share your pain deeply too because it is also mine.

Your qualification to sup at the Table of Jesus Christ is the blood of Jesus. All of these man-made rules are carnal, not spiritual.

It seems a reasonable thing that, as a self-identified Catholic, the writer of this article might have given thought to the merely practical implications of going into Mass with dirty hands. After all, one would certainly not receive the Eucharist with intentionally "soiled" hands (the word used in the article). From the article, it doesn't sound like they were denied entrance to the cathedral so much as denied the chance to attend the Mass. It seems plausible that, in order to protect the dignity of the Eucharist, a reasonable non-violent response is to simply close the doors. In this instance there was no scene, no one was injured - it doesn't sound like anyone was arrested despite police being present and the protestors remaining on church property... sounds like the Cardinal acted reasonably in response to this situation. Additionally, it has always been scandalous to use the Mass as a forum to voice dissent from the church or one of its figures. You can be outside of the Mass, outside of the rectory, hold a march... but you have to respect the Mass and what goes on there: especially as a Catholic.

Also as a 'RECOVERING CATHOLIC" I welcome everyone to THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH where all children of GOD ARE WELCOME WITH OPEN ARMS, Dirty Hand, Cleans Hands whatever All are Wecome and where Blessings of Same Sex Couples are Preform and....A Strong and Loving Community That Welcomes, Encourages, and Empowers All To Grow In Christ and to Do GOD'S WORK In The World. Pray for Cardinal Dolen and all who enter the Catholic Church. The

A sad day. I will pray for you, the R.C. Church, and the whole Body, that all may be welcome.

I am not LGBT, but I stand beside my LGBT friends. I found it hypocritical that I was going to a church that claimed to be spreading Christ's love - but only to those people they felt deserved it. Like Frank R, I too left the Catholic church and was received into the Anglican/Episcopalian church - a place where everyone is welcome and treated the same regardless of race, gender, LGBT status, marital status, etc... We even have openly homosexual priests and bishops. Stop by for one of our services. There is a reason why the Episcopal church has been dubbed "Catholic lite". Most of our beliefs are the same - except for the fact that Anglicans/Episcopalians actually practice what they preach and welcome everyone who walks in their doors. My prayers go out to you and to those who denied you entry into God's house.

Did the Lord who fed 5,000 check their hands first to see if they were respectful enough/clean enough to be fed? I doubt it.

Many years ago, a member of a Chicago parish in what was then a "changing neighborhood" objected to receiving communion from an African-American eucharistic minister, telling the priest, "I don't know where his hands have been." The priest replied, "How do you know where MINE have been?" I think the priest is still alive - probably retired by now. Maybe he should pay a call on Cardinal Dolan!

The most astonishing thing to me about this story is not the continuing outright homophobia of the Catholic church. I've come to expect that. Nor is it the brave act of these people in continuing to fight and to attempt to find peaceable ways to do so. I wonder as to why they wish to stay a part of an church that has institutionalized bigotry against them for no more reason than who they love, but I salute both their bravery and their tactics.

However, what really shocks me is the willingness of the church to use the police and government officialdom as the thug-agent-enforcers of their discrimination. And especially to use them against people who are clearly involved in a peaceful protest, precisely as taught by the words and actions of Christ. Shame on Cardinal Dolan, the New York Archdiocese, and the Roman Catholic church for calling out the police on their fellow believers and brothers and sisters in Christ.

This was a beautifully written piece. As a former Catholic and today, a non denominational Christian, my heart grieves for you and the situation. I pray daily that the Holy Spirit will infuse the Catholic church with love and grace. Things must change, so be encouraged and continue to knock on the door. God is there.

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