New York City, N.Y., Sep 15, 2014 / 05:39 pm (CNA).- Controversy over the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade continues as the Catholic League has withdrawn its delegation, charging that parade organizers have not fulfilled a promise to include a pro-life Catholic group.
“The decision is disappointing. The Catholic League will always be welcome in the parade,” said parade spokesman William O’Reilly to CNA Sept. 12.
Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, on Sept. 11 said parade organizers had consulted him about plans to include an LGBT advocacy group under its own banner in the 2015 parade. At the time, he had said he could only support the decision “if there were a formal revision in the parade’s rules governing marching units.”
“To be specific, I asked them to pledge that a pro-life Catholic group would also be permitted. I was told that a formal change in the rules had been approved and that a pro-life group would march.
“Now I am being told that the list of marching units is set and that no pro-life group will march in next year’s parade. Accordingly, I have decided to withdraw our participation.”
The Catholic League’s small delegation has marched in the parade for 20 years.
The parade has had a long-standing policy that banned most forms of political signs and advocacy, which had resulted in targeting by LGBT activists and their allies in politics, media and business who demanded the traditionally Catholic parade include LGBT advocacy groups.
Supporters of the previous policy included past New York archbishop Cardinal John O’Connor, who died in 2000. The parade committee previously defended the parade against lawsuits aimed to force it to approve LGBT groups’ applications.
The St. Patrick’s Day Parade website said that in the early 1990s the parade was “attacked for its traditional values” but noted that organizers’ rights were “upheld all the way to the Supreme Court.”
The parade committee on Sept. 3 announced that the LGBT group Out@NBCUniversal, an employee resource, recruitment and affinity volunteer group for LGBT people and their supporters within the media corporation NBCUniversal, would march in the parade.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York will be grand marshal of the 2015 parade. On Sept. 3 the cardinal voiced his “confidence and support” for the parade committee. He said that he and his predecessors have “always left decisions on who would march to the organizers of the individual parades.”
Donohue voiced his own support for Cardinal Dolan, saying his criticism was intended for the parade committee.
“They not only told me one thing, and did another, they decided to include a gay group that is neither Catholic nor Irish while stiffing pro-life Catholics,” Donohue said Sept. 11. “This is as stunning as it is indefensible.”
O’Reilly said that space in 2015 parade is now “full” and any new applications will be for the 2016 parade.
On the question of a pro-life group marching, O’Reilly said an application was “unfortunately” never filed for 2015.
“One still hasn’t been. But an application to march in the 2016 parade is certainly welcome,” he said.
Donohue said that there was no reason for a pro-life group to apply “given the reality that there was no public announcement of a rule change.”
“So what about the NBC gay group? How did they know there was a rule change when no other group did?” Donohue asked.
The Catholic League head has previously raised concerns that despite his conversations with parade committee leaders about including a pro-life group, this change was not announced on Sept. 3, but the inclusion of the LGBT advocacy group was.
O’Reilly told CNA he had been unaware of the conversation about including a pro-life group before the Sept. 3 announcement.
“The fault is mine. I was unaware of that conversation at the time of the announcement,” he said. “I apologize if that caused confusion.”
O’Reilly has rejected claims that the parade committee changed its policy due to outside pressure.
Donohue, the Irish Central news website and the New York Times have all reported that NBC had threatened to end its broadcasts of the parade because of the previous policy. Some sponsors, like brewers Guinness and Heineken, have pulled their sponsorship in previous years. The Irish Central reports that the Irish government had also been pressuring the parade committee.
The well-known parade dates back to 1762. The parade’s website says it is the oldest and largest parade in the world, with participants ranging in number from 150,000 to 250,000. The Archbishop of New York traditionally reviews the parade from the steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
The Archdiocese of New York did not respond to a request for comment.
Cardinal Dolan said Sept. 3 that he looked forward to celebrating Mass in honor of St. Patrick.
He said he prayed “that the parade would continue to be a source of unity for all of us.”