What could Archbishop Dolan have done to fight gay marriage?

I came back from a few days away to see that Archbishop Dolan lit the first “virtual candle” on the St. Patrick’s Cathedral website.

It’s been a busy few weeks for Dolan.

He heard from several priests who don’t want to see their Catholic schools closed.

And he emerged as the face of the anti-gay marriage lobby in NYS. The losing face.

I blogged a couple of weeks ago about the growing social acceptance of — or lack of interest in — homosexuality and gay marriage. There was little public debate that I picked up on in the months leading up to the big vote in Albany.

And, honestly, I didn’t get a sense that the opposition — mostly the Catholic Church and a few evangelical lobbyists — were all that worked up about it. They were, and remain, clearly opposed to gay marriage. But maybe they thought there was little they could do.

I’ve come across a few anti-gay marriage commentators who feel the church could have done more to rally, or at least awaken, the troops.

Academic John Zmirak, writing for the conservative Catholic magazine Crisis, compared the church’s combativeness to France’s capitulation to the Nazis.

He writes: “Instead of pulling out all the stops and calling in all its chips, the Church shrugged off the effort to defend the natural law as a good thing for all New Yorkers — and went scrambling for exemptions to guard its institutional interests. Republicans who were wary of gay marriage spent their political capital not fighting against the bill, but carving out little enclaves of protection for such oddball cults as might not want to solemnize same-sex rites.”

The conservative religion commentator Rod Dreher, a former Catholic-turned-Orthodox Christian, writes that Dolan fought with a stunning half-heartedness.

He writes: “The archbishop was undoubtedly correct to describe the pro-gay forces as “very strong” and “well-financed” — but what is the Archdiocese of New York, chopped liver? Though greatly diminished in power from the glory days of Cardinal Spellman, there is no bully pulpit like the one Dolan has. Given the razor-thin margin of victory for the pro-gay side, it’s entirely possible, even likely, that a fully engaged Archbishop Dolan could have won this round for his side.”

Dreher also takes the Orthodox leadership in the U.S. to task.

He writes: “It’s not just the Catholic leadership. Bishops of the Eastern Orthodox churches, whose teaching on same-sex relations is equally ancient, and equally strong, are possibly even more tongue-tied than their Catholic counterparts. Metropolitan Jonah, the primate of my own church, the Orthodox Church in America, finds his authority effectively shattered by the Synod of Bishops, in part because they resented his signing the Manhattan Declaration in support of traditional marriage.

“True, Michael Dahulich, the OCA bishop of New York and New Jersey, issued an archpastoral letter condemning the New York legislature’s action. But one wonders how active the bishop and Empire State Orthodox clergy were in the fight when their voices might have made a difference?”

And Tom Deignan, a columnist for IrishCentral.com, somehow compares Dolan to Whitey Bulger, the old Boston mobster who got picked up recently. His headline: “How the mighty have fallen.”

Yeesh. He writes that both are Irish-American institutions who were “taken down.”

Deignan writes: “Not too long ago, there would have been an undeniable sense of war in the air, with Catholic leaders vowing to drive out the Catholic vote at election time, if lawmakers chose to stand against church teaching.

“Can you imagine what would have happened if a gay marriage bill was being debated during John Cardinal O’Connor’s reign as New York’s Catholic leader?”

But Deignan concedes that times have changed, even since O’Connor’s time, and there may have been little Dolan could do: “The problem, of course, is that vast numbers of Irish Catholics across New York — and America — are not exactly passionate in their opposition to gay marriage. Sure, some are not enthusiastic supporters.  But what we do know is that they do not simply follow the church’s clear opposition to it.”

And that, it seems to this observer, is the real issue.

(AP Photo/Richard Drew)