Which is fair, since they long ago renamed the day itself, starting with Paddy’s Day and moving on to St Patty’s Day. The Taoiseach, perhaps in reference to avian flu, has become Birdy Ahern.
Why was it, one radio commentator asked, that Irish Prime Minister Birdy Ahern always left Ireland on St Patrick’s Day and spent it in Washington? Why didn’t he stay home? The commentator’s sidekick had an explanation for it. He said Birdy had come to invite President Bush to visit Ireland to search for Leprechauns of Mass Destruction.
They referred to St Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland, adding that the chairman of the New York parade, one John Dunleavy, was trying to ‘do a St Patty’ by driving Hillary Clinton out of it. Not suggesting Hillary’s a snake, but Dunleavy claimed she was just exploiting the parade for political purposes.
Mr Dunleavy regards the parade as his personal property, and if participants don’t behave the way he wants them to, he’ll take his ball and go home. The problem is that New York’s Irish gays are never going to behave the way he wants them to, ie, heterosexually. They got livid over him telling the Irish Times that including gays in the parade was the equivalent of allowing a bunch of neo-Nazis into an Israeli parade or including the Ku Klux Klan in an African-American celebration.
“People have rights,” Mr Dunleavy stated, firmly if contradictorily.
“If we let the ILGO (Irish Lesbian and Gay Organisation) in, is it the Irish Prostitute Association next?”
The forthrightness of the Cavan-born chairman ensured that the pictures of his parade in newspapers all over America didn’t focus on the parade at all. Instead, they showed protesters with hurriedly-created posters, one of them claiming “Homophobia is not Irish” while another showed a Ku Klux Klan hood beside a bowler-hatted Ancient Order of Hibernians figure under the headline “Same Bigot, Different Day”. The chairman thus neatly subverted his own aim of ensuring the parade celebrated nothing but “our faith and heritage”.
Faith and heritage have also been lined up against gay interests in the heavily Irish-American Archdiocese of Boston. Catholic Charities, the biggest social service provider in the area, has allowed children in its care to be adopted by gay couples.
The four bishops in Boston (including Sean O’Malley, who’s headed for promotion to cardinal) don’t seem to have been aware of this. When they found out, they described the practice as actually doing violence to the children involved and as being gravely immoral. They sought exemption from the state’s anti-discrimination laws to protect their capacity to have children adopted only by heterosexual couples.
Eight members of the board of the charity promptly resigned, accusing the bishops of trying to bring private morality into the public sphere at the expense of the best interests of children. The eight who resigned said that the bishops’ action “threatens the very essence of our Christian mission”.
The organisation from which these board members resigned has, for more than a century, done a splendid job of placing “challenged” or difficult-to-place children in families. Many of the children thus adopted have intellectual and physical disabilities. Successful adoptions keep them out of institutions and away from cyclical placements in foster homes.
In the last few decades, almost a thousand children have been found homes. The problem - as the bishops see it - is that 13 of those children ended up with gay couples. (It’s fair to assume this latter action was taken with the knowledge of board members, given the resignation of a fifth of the board once it was outed.)
The Catholic Charities controversy has been a great opportunity for lots of people to show their colours. The newspaper which outed the 13 adoptions by gay couples did well out of it. Teddy Kennedy did well out of it, coming out, all guns blazing, against the bishops.
A major human rights body issued a statement claiming that Catholic Charities were putting an “ugly political agenda before child welfare”. Gay activists did well out of it. The bishops, on the other side of the argument, got the opportunity to register strongly that a specifically Catholic adoption agency has to operate within the rules of the Church.
Somewhere along the line, a key fact went missing - that Catholic Charities was just one of close to a hundred adoption agencies operating in the Boston area, the overwhelming majority of which have no problem in allocating children to gay couples.
In other words, a gay couple eager to adopt doesn’t have to go next, nigh or near Catholic Charities, and, since it has never been a secret that this organisation will not countenance gay adoption, would be unlikely to even consider making an approach to them in the first place.
That, for the gay activists, was beside the point. The point, as they saw it, was that an adoption agency should not be allowed to disrespect gay couples by promulgating the notion that they were not fit to adopt children, and break anti-discrimination laws at the same time. The point, as the Catholic bishops see it, was that they could not deliver on their religious mission if they acceded to gay requests to adopt the children in their care. So they downed tools, put that bit of Catholic Charities out of business, ceased to trade on the adoption front.
Now, excluding gays from arguably the definitive St Patrick’s Day Parade showed chairman John Dunleavy, awash in principle, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory and dragging the taint of bigotry across a celebration of faith and heritage.
The Boston controversy is the same thing at a more dangerous level. The bishops and gay activists have been afforded an opportunity to parade their principles, the board members have gone a step further, the political by-standers have taken public stances.
In the process, however, they have closed down an agency devoted to finding homes for children who are ‘difficult to place’. Just who is going to work hard to find loving homes for those children from now on is an unanswerable question. The urge for control seems to have caused both sides in the argument to lose sight of the real needs of the young people involved.
The governor of Massachusetts is trying to rush a law through the legislature that would allow adoption agencies belonging to a particular church to continue to do their work in a way that doesn’t breach the tenets of their faith. His opponents say he’s just trying to make political capital out of the controversy and that his proposal doesn’t stand a chance of becoming law.
It could be suggested that the US President doesn’t need an invitation from Birdy Ahern to come and find leprechauns of mass destruction in Ireland.
There’s plenty of them, just up the road, in Boston.