Dolan and Donohue dance around Pope Francis' comments on civil unions

Last week, Pope Francis told an Italian newspaper, “Marriage (matrimony) is between a man and a woman. Civil states want to justify civil unions in order to regulate (normalize) different arrangements of cohabitation; – prompted by the necessity of regulating (normalizing) economic aspects among people, for example in providing health insurance or benefits. This consists of different kinds of living arrangements which I wouldn’t know how to enumerate with precision. We must consider different cases and evaluate each particular case.”

Comments like that really mess with the narrative that anti-LGBT activists and leaders have been building. New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan appeared on Meet the Press yesterday, in which he was asked about Pope Francis' recent comments concerning civil unions, among other topics. Bill Donohue also weighed in.

Dolan continued the dance that he has performed ever since Francis took office, both displaying enthusiastic support for Francis' comments, while also maintaining that nothing has changed within the Roman Catholic Church.

You can see examples of that in Dolan's comments on civil unions.

DAVID GREGORY: Do you imagine the church might open the way to accepting civil unions?

CARDINAL DOLAN: He mentioned-- I haven't see-- I'm-- I'm as eager as you are to-- read the-- the full extent of that interview. And if I saw the reports accurately, they-- he didn't come right out and say he was for them. Once again, in an extraordinarily-- sincere, open, nuanced way, he said, "I know that some people in some states have chosen this. We need to think about that and look into it and see the reasons that have driven them."

It wasn't as if he came out and approved them. But he-- he just in-- in a sensitivity that has won the heart of the world, he said, "Rather than quickly condemn them, let's see if-- let's-- let's just ask the questions as to why that has appealed to certain people--"

DAVID GREGORY: Would that make you uncomfortable?

CARDINAL DOLAN: The-- what, the civil unions?


CARDINAL DOLAN: I-- it would. It would, in a way, David. Because I don't think-- marriage, between-- one man and one woman forever leading to life and love, that's not something that's just a religious, sacramental concern. You bet it is that, and-- and we-- that's how god has elevated it, to making a sacrament.

But it's also the building block of society and culture. So it belongs to culture. And if-- and if we water down that sacred meaning of marriage in any way, I worry that not only the church would suffer, I worry that culture and society would.

Roman Catholics continue to be the strongest supporters of LGBT equality, despite the strong and vocal opposition from the hierarchy. David Gregory pressed Dolan about whether the actions taken by the hierarchy in the United States has pushed the faithful out of the church. Recent examples of Mark Zmuda, Nicholas Coppola, and Carla Hale would suggest that the hierarchy is better known for firing its brightest and most dedicated people than for anything else.

Later in the same interview, Dolan stated that God was calling him not to judge openly gay NFL hopeful, Michael Sam, stating simply, "Bravo."

Anti-LGBT activist Bill Donohue also began shifting his tone after Pope Francis' comments. He told "The Steve Malzberg Show" on Newsmax TV:

"I live with civil unions provided that it wouldn't go any further.... How many of us really care about whether or not two people of the sex have visitation rights and some other things of that nature? I mean, I'm okay with that. I don't think that does any damage or devaluing of the institution of marriage," he said.

"My problem with gay marriage is that it makes it part of a smorgasbord. It makes it an alternative lifestyle. So you have cohabiting straight people, you have married straight people, you have cohabiting gay people, you have married gay people, you have polygamists. Where do you stop with this? What about Tom, Dick, and Harry?"

This slight acceptance of LGBT people is in contrast to Donohue's earlier statements:

-- Despite the existence of gay-affirming faith groups, said: "Every world religion is either opposed to homosexuality or takes no position on it; not one finds it acceptable. So if being opposed to homosexuality makes one phobic, then almost the entire world (throughout all of history) suffers the same malady….How about adultery and incest—is opposition to them also phobic?" 

-- Says God smites faith communities who welcome gay people: "In other words, those religions whose teachings on abortion and marriage approximate the views of the New York Times and NPR are in free fall. Looks like God is truly looking out for those religions that don't treat Scripture as if it were a post-modern text to be deconstructed by left-wing ideologues." 

-- On marriage equality: "If somebody said this while I was a kid growing up, they would've said 'let's call 911 and take me to Bellevue' -- that's how crazy this idea of two men getting married" (4:36)

-- Said: “The idea of two men marrying is so bizarre and so anti-marriage that it is a great tribute to the American people that they continue to respect the right of gays to participate in American life without harassment while simultaneously rejecting the extremist gay agenda.” 

It is likely that both Donohue and Dolan will continue to dance around comments made by Pope Francis, which are not so clear-cut in their condemnation. It will be important for media to remember to ask both Dolan and Donohue about their earlier anti-LGBT comments.