MIDTOWN — The New York Archdiocese barred a handful of gay churchgoers with charcoal-blackened hands from attending Sunday mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral, church officials said.
The 10 protesters, most of whom were gay, had blackened their hands with charcoal to protest Cardinal Timothy Dolan's assertion that the Catholic Church welcomes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender congregants, but only if they refrain from acting on "their same-sex attraction." In a recent blog post, Dolan said the church's position was similar to his mother welcoming guests to dinner, as long as they washed their hands first — an analogy the protesters found offensive.
Intending to attend the service — and even wash their hands before accepting the Eucharist, organizers said — the demonstrators were instead greeted by a small phalanx of police officers and an archdiocese official, who warned that they would be charged with trespassing if they entered the church without washing the charcoal from their hands, protesters said afterward.
"It is clear that they were trying to make a statement, had hoped to get media attention to spread their message, and were using the setting of the mass in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral as their forum," the archdiocese said in a statement.
"The group was politely told that everyone was welcome at Mass, but that they could not attend if they intended to protest with their blackened hands. The celebration of the Eucharist, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass — the central act of worship for Catholics — should not and must not become the setting for protests or demonstrations."
The church added that Dolan was traveling in France and not present at the mass.
Police at first told the demonstrators that would be allowed to attend the mass, so long as they did not disrupt the proceedings, said organizer Joseph Amodeo, who is gay.
"Initially a cop came over and spoke to me, and he said, 'The Cathedral knows this is going to happen, and they said you can go in as long as you're not going to disturb the mass," Amodeo, 25, recounted.
Minutes later, however, the NYPD's liaison delivered an update: The church's stance had changed.
"He said they are prohibiting you from entering the Cathedral at all with your dirty hands unless you wash them," Amodeo said.
Two of the demonstrators cleaned the charcoal from their hands and attended the mass — escorted all the way by three officers. The rest held a silent vigil on the sidewalk outside, displaying their hands to passersby.
"We went there with dirty hands but clean hearts," Amodeo said on Monday. "We did really want to go inside and participate in mass. This feeling that many of us have after yesterday is not something that we should have to live with: this feeling of somehow what we did was dirty. We did nothing dirty."
Amodeo, a social worker and former member of the archdiocese's junior league of Catholic Charities, organized the protest after reading Dolan's blog post from April 25. Titled "All Are Welcome!" the essay said that the Catholic Church embraces gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender worshippers — so long as they refrain acting on their "same-sex attraction."
"While the condition of homosexuality is no sin at all," Dolan wrote, "God's teaching is clear that sexual acts are reserved for a man and woman united in the lifelong, life-giving, faithful, loving bond of marriage."
Dolan turned to a childhood reminiscence to make his point: Although his mother welcomed his friends over for dinner, he said, they had to follow her rules and wash their hands before taking a seat at the table.
"The article gave unfair linkage between his allusion and LGBT people," Amodeo said. "His article implies that LGBT people are welcome in the church, so long as they wash their hands before entering. I see that as an assumption of sin, which is a judgment I find is unfair.
"You're telling us we're welcome, but at the same time telling us we have dirty hands."
Other advocates agreed.
"It was an analogy for how the church should treat people, but it's also, Do gay people have dirty or tainted hands?" said Ross Murray, 36, director of news and faith initiatives at GLAAD (formerly known as the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), which helped spread word of the demonstration. "That was part of why there was this organized response."