Cardinal welcomes decision to allow gay groups in parade

Comments reflect shifting views of Catholic hierarchy towards gay rights

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Archbishop of New York and newly named grand marshall of the city's St Patrick's Day parade next year, welcomed the landmark decision of the parade's organisers to permit openly gay groups to participate.

Speaking last night shortly after the organisers of the Manhattan parade ended a decades-long ban prohibiting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender groups, Cardinal Dolan said he had “no trouble with the decision at all.”

At a press conference announcing him as the grand marshal of next year’s parade, he said: “I think the decision they have made is a wise one.”

His comments reflect the shifting views of the Catholic hierarchy towards gay rights and will help win over support for the decision among Irish Catholics.


The ban was lifted following years of intense political and corporate pressure that culminated earlier this year in New York Mayor Bill de Blasio boycotting the parade and drinks company Guinness dropping its sponsorship over the exclusion of gay groups marching behind their own banners.

The organisers of the parade, the biggest in the world, now in its 253rd year, said that one lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender group at US television station NBC called Out@NBC Universal would be allowed to march in next year’s Fifth Avenue parade under their own banner.

NBC, which hosts the broadcast of he the parade every year, had threatened to end its coverage of the event over the prohibition of openly gay marchers.

Dr John Lahey, the vice chairperson of the St Patrick's Day Parade Committee and the president of Quinnipiac University, said at last night's news conference at the New York Athletic Club on Central Park that the NBC group was the only one from which the organisers had received an application to participate and that it was approved unanimously by the board.

The organisers would not encourage or discourage applications from other gay groups, he said, but that the city authorities were pressuring them to shorten the parade so that would be deter the committee from entertaining more applications.

“This is a very special year and we think that the admission of Out@NBC Universal is appropriate at this time,” Dr Lahey said in response to questions.

The loss of two sponsors from this year’s parade did not influence the decision of the organisers to lift the exclusion of openly gay groups, he said.

“This is an issue that has been out there for many, many years and we thought that this was the right time and we got an application from who we thought was the right group. It wasn’t pressure from any particular group,” he said.

Asked why the NBC gay group and not an Irish one was permitted to march, spokesman for the parade committee Bill O’Reilly said NBC had a long relationship with the parade and the head of the NBC group was Irish-American.

“There was already a preexisting relationship between NBC and the parade so it made a lot of sense,” Mr O’Reilly said.

The parade’s organisers said they had worked hard to keep politics of any kind out of the parade but that, paradoxically, this had ended up politicising the parade.

Dr Lahey said that Mr de Blasio, the first New York City mayor not to participate in the parade in 20 years, was always invited to march in the parade and he trusted that the politician would participate in next year’s event.

The mayor, who said he would skip the 2014 parade shortly after he took office in January because of the ban, would not say whether he would march next year.

“It’s a step forward,” he said. “But I need to know more before I can tell you how we’re going to handle something six months from now.”

Gay rights groups welcomed the lifting of the ban but one Irish-American group, Irish Queers, said they hoped for wider participation. Despite Cardinal Dolan’s endorsement, some Catholics criticised the decision.

"It's a shameful and sinful capitulation by the parade organisers and Cardinal Dolan," Pat Archibold wrote in an opinion article in the National Catholic Register. "If a parade that is meant to honour a great saint is being used to promote a sinful agenda, it should be cancelled rather than allow it to be used in such a way."

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is News Editor of The Irish Times