At Huffington Post, Joseph Amodeo recounts what happened to him and nine other Catholics when they tried to go to Mass yesterday with dirty hands. Before heading to Cardinal Timothy Dolan's church, St. Patrick's cathedral in New York, they blackened their hands with ashes.
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.
They went on to the cathedral in the hope that they would be welcomed, but then:
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.
As Amodeo concludes, the cathedral then closed its doors, leaving his group outside.
The group wanted to make a point, of course, about the recent statement of Cardinal Dolan, who is leader of the U.S. Catholic bishops, that gay people are as welcome as can be in the Catholic church, but like his little childhood friend Freddie, must wash their hands before they come to table. The group had announced its intentions of coming to Mass with dirty hands through its Facebook page.
Built right into the foundations of Christianity through its canonical scriptures is a debate very early in the history of the Christian movement between Peter, who is considered by Catholics the first pope, and Paul. The point of controversy: what's clean and what's unclean for Christians? What's dirty and what's not dirty?
Because Jesus practiced open commensality--he opened his table to everyone, and he ate by preference with the dirty folks of his society--early Christians had a quandary on their hands when it came to deciding whether they should continue following the dictates of their mother religion, Judaism, about rituals separating the clean from the unclean. Peter was on the side of strict observance.
But Paul was of the view that the barriers, the division of the world into clean and unclean, which Peter defended had been eradicated by Jesus. And so we find accounts in Galatians and the Acts of the Apostles of the momentous decision of the first followers of Jesus to follow Paul's lead and reject that of the first pope when it came to accepting non-Jewish members of the movement. The early church decided to accept Gentile members without demanding that they adhere to ritual notions of cleanness and uncleanness that Peter wished to impose on them as a precondition for membership in the church.
This momentous turning point is dramatically depicted in Acts 10 through a transformative vision that Peter had as he deliberated about accepting a Roman centurion, Cornelius, among the members of the first community. As Peter prayed about this matter, he had a vision of a sheet coming down from heaven filled with unclean animals, as a voice commanded him to eat the animals. When Peter hesitated, the voice said to him, "What God has made clean, you are not to call unclean."
What God has called clean, you are not to name dirty: Peter went on to inform his fellow Christians who wanted to maintain ritual (and ethnic) divisions separating the clean from the dirty within the first Christian community, "God has told me I should not call anyone impure or unclean."
When I read His Eminence's recent Dirty Freddie welcome letter to his brothers and sisters who are gay, and when I read about what his cathedral chose to do yesterday to Dirty Freddie, I wonder about his seminary education in the area of scripture. Has he read the New Testament, I ask myself? The gospels? And does he know that the canonical foundations of our church themselves inform us that popes can be dead wrong about some very fundamental issues having to do with the clean and the dirty? And that we're to call nobody dirty whom God has made clean?