Debate over gays in St. Patrick's parades roils Irish on big day

New York — St. Patrick's Day is associated as much with Roman Catholicism as it is with Irish-Americans, but this year, some of the faithful aren't happy with the inclusion of gays and lesbians marching under their own banner for the first time in parades in Boston and New York.

The Knights of Columbus of Massachusetts and a local Catholic school declined to take part in the Boston parade on Sunday after two LGBT groups -- the military veterans service group OutVets and Boston Pride -- were invited following decades of lobbying and court battles.

"The saint's venerable name should not be cheaply misappropriated by nominally Catholic politicians and anti-Catholic organizations with a same sex agenda," said Catholic Action League head C.J. Doyle, a leader of the opposition.

The New York parade marches down Fifth Avenue on Tuesday, the saint's feast day, and Cardinal Timothy Dolan is facing renewed calls from conservative Catholics to step down as grand marshal because an openly LGBT group is taking part for the first time.

When it was first announced in September that an organization of LGBT employees at NBC -- the network that broadcasts the popular event -- would be marching, Dolan voiced support for the parade organizers and prayed "that the parade would continue to be a source of unity for all of us."

Critics ripped Dolan for his stance, and they ramped up their efforts as the day approached.

"Now there can be no doubt -- Timothy Cardinal Dolan has been played for a sucker by the organizers of the 2015 New York City St. Patrick's Day parade. He must step down as Grand Marshal," Matthew Hennessey wrote at the website of Crisis magazine, a conservative Catholic media outlet.

"By personally leading the procession, he blesses the whole shameful affair," he concluded.

On the other side, gay and lesbian advocates and their supporters are stepping up protests because they say more gay groups should have been included in the Manhattan pageant.

"It is clear that last year's decision was just to placate the parade sponsors," New York City Council member Rosie Mendez said last month. "Until my Irish queer brothers and sisters can march in this parade, I will not be marching at all."

Mayor Bill de Blasio said earlier this month that he would boycott the parade if more gay groups were not included; de Blasio did not march last year either in protest.

"We need something more for it to really feel like we've turned the corner. A lot of people feel -- I think, rightfully -- that that is too small a change to merit a lot of us participating," de Blasio said.

Meanwhile in Virginia, the pastor of a Catholic parish in Norfolk cut ties with a local council of the Knights of Columbus after the group chose Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe to be the grand marshal at its annual parade. McAuliffe is a Catholic who supports abortion rights and gay marriage.

Fr. Dan Beeman of Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Norfolk told parishioners March 8 that "it is dumbfounding how the Knights could ... decide to honor the Governor."

Virginia's two Catholic bishops, Bishop Francis DiLorenzo of Richmond and Bishop Paul Loverde of Arlington, issued a joint statement backing Beeman's actions.

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