Last month, like many other people, I watched with a sort of skeptical, tilted head as Pope Francis was introduced to the world in a production number with more fanfare and pageantry than any Broadway show I've ever been in. From the different-colored smoke billowing out of the Sistine Chapel (that was a nice touch) to the lavish costumes, bejeweled props and blaring music, all elaborately performed on the set of Vatican City, Francis' "coming-out party" was quite the spectacle.
I found it all to be kind of "much." As a child growing up in the Roman Catholic Church, I was always told that Jesus Christ was extremely poor and very much against the ostentatiousness of the Pharisees of his day. A man considered to be the son of God, he was born into this world in a dirty manger, surrounded by barnyard animals, to parents who owned nothing except their unyielding faith. That's quite a staunch contrast to the "spare no expense" debutante ball that Francis got. His papal party was a multimillion-dollar affair, after which the "frugal pontiff" returned home to his ginormous palace to sit upon a thrown of gold -- less the son of God and more the son of Liberace, if you ask me. As I try to wrap my mind around the disconnect between what Jesus taught and adamantly stood for and what the Roman Catholic Church is today, I find that I simply can't. This archaic institution is so out of step with the whole "practice what you preach" thing.
For instance, last week, Cardinal Thomas Dolan of New York said publicly that the Catholic Church has to do better at not reducing its "defense of marriage" to an attack on gay people. But when Cardinal Dolan and his establishment try to take away or block the rights of the LGBT community, it is just that: an attack. You can't slap someone in the face and then say you are not trying to hit them. It doesn't work that way. (I know: I've tried.) However, Cardinal Dolan's spin is certainly entertaining and very "Republican Party." If the Catholic Church were indeed defending marriage, they would be going after divorce, or at the very least Kim Kardashian. What they are doing is practicing and perpetuating discrimination, bigotry and malice toward a group of people. Now, I'm no theologian, but that doesn't seem very Christ-like.
Cardinal Dolan went on to say that he "loves" the LGBT community. But make no mistake: Cardinal Dolan's "love" comes with severe conditions and is rooted in pity and fear, making it the furthest thing from love. (I must have missed that day in Sunday school when they said, "Love thy neighbor, or at least say that you love him to pacify him while you continue believing that he is different and beneath you and therefore less deserving of the same things that you deserve in the eyes of the Lord. Amen.") His "love" is no consolation prize when compared with the inalienable equal rights that he is trying to deny my husband and me, both law-abiding, tax-paying citizens of this country.
Cardinal Dolan, an old, white, straight man, saying that millions of LGBT people do not have a right to marriage but a right to "friendship" is laughable. (Who needs equal rights when we can just throw on our best grandma nightgowns, break out the cheesecake and sit around the kitchen table like a couple of old Golden Girls?) Though the cardinal would like the LGBT community to accept his religious rhetoric, all razzle-dazzled up with words like "love" and "acceptance," it is basically just the same old hate-filled speech we've heard before, just said with a big smile and jazz hands.
A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 58 percent of Americans said that they are in favor of marriage equality, and that 60 percent of American Catholics said that they feel that the Catholic Church is out of touch with their views. With more and more people, especially America's younger generation, not identifying with any particular organized religion and standing wholeheartedly behind LGBT equality, it would behoove the Catholic Church to take notice and follow suit.
Cardinal Dolan added that he isn't sure how Catholic leaders should conduct better outreach to LGBT people. Well, interestingly enough, as a gay man and an ex-Catholic, I have some ideas! They already have the flashy, ornate frocks, the jaunty hats, the colorful sashes and the cool shoes. The church is often decorated within an inch of its life, and it seems to work well with jewel tones and metallics. The incense they use can be a little overwhelming, but maybe that's just me being picky. So, Cardinal Dolan, you could start by preaching the teachings of Jesus Christ without interjecting your personal political agenda, recognizing the separation between church and state and the fact that your tax-exempt status means that you are not a political party. You could stop spewing bigotry and hatred from the pulpit, the same sort of hate-filled speech that contributes to high suicide rates among LGBT youth. You could have your priests stop molesting children, and you could apologize for centuries of discrimination against and persecution of LGBT people.
Cardinal Dolan, these are just a few humble ideas offered to you in the "friendship" that you have allowed me. With all that said, I want you to know that I "love" you too.