Cardinal Timothy Dolan greets Pope Francis. (AP )
An old friend, a graduate of a Jesuit high school, called my attention to this story about the decision by McQuaid Jesuit High School in Brighton, N.Y. , to allow two gay students to attend the school’s Junior Ball as a couple. My friend commented: "Of course it's a Jesuit school. Humaneness is in the S.J. DNA.”
But then I learned from another friend that a school operated by the De La Salle Christians Brothers, who taught me, also allowed a male couple to attend a prom. In both cases the reasoning was that the school doesn’t presume that a couple who come to a prom together are engaging in sexual relations.
Father Edward Salmon, the president of McQuaid, put it this way in a letter to parents: “With this decision I am not contradicting the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church with regard to human sexuality; I am not encouraging nor am I condoning homosexual activity just as I do not encourage or condone heterosexual activity at a dance. I am not contradicting the church's opposition to the redefinition of marriage. With this decision I invite and encourage us all, as Pope Francis does, to exercise care, protection, goodness which calls for a certain tenderness ‘which is not a virtue of the weak but rather a sign of strength of spirit and a capacity for concern, for compassion, for genuine openness to others, for love. We must not be afraid of goodness, of tenderness.’ "
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This explanation is open to the charge that it is “jesuitical” in the pejorative sense. Of course schools don’t expect couples at a prom to engage in sex (whether those expectations are honored is another question), but a prom is a school sanctioned recognition of romantic love. As another of my friends noted, the school is allowing gay kids to attend the event as a couple but offers them no hope of ever consummating a same-sex relationship.
A few days after the McQuaid Jesuit announced that the two boys could attend the Junior ball together, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, appeared on the Easter editions of Sunday TV talk shows to say that the church needed to be more gay-friendly. “We’ve got to got to do better to see that our defense of marriage is not reduced to an attack on gay people,” the cardinal told George Stephanopoulos. Easier said than done.
Dolan also told Stephanopoulos that his message to gays was “I love you, too. And God loves you. And you are made in God’s image and likeness. And — and we — we want your happiness. But — and you’re entitled to friendship. But we also know that God has told us that the way to happiness, that — especially when it comes to sexual love — that is intended only for a man and woman in marriage, where children can come about naturally.”
Dolan’s reference to “friendship” was tantalizing; was he suggesting that gays could have a romantic relationship that stopped short of sex (or at least a sex act) but could include attending the prom as a couple or moving in together? That "compromise" isn't likely to appeal to many gays, but I suspect conservative Roman Catholics won’t like it either.