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To adapt the “Silent Night” refrain, all was calm, all was bright over the Christmas holidays. And then came the news that Saint Patrick’s Cathedral — America’s parish church, the cathedral cherished by Gothamites of any faith or none at all — had been defaced with vile graffiti attacking both the Catholic faith and the men and women of the New York Police Department.
You may recall that a similar outrage occurred last summer amid the sad violence afflicting American cities. At that time, I let it go, figuring I needn’t stoke the embers of anger that were burning throughout our country.
Not this time. As a woman from The Bronx e-mailed me to say: “Cardinal Dolan, it’s time we learn from our Jewish and Islamic neighbors. A synagogue or mosque is defaced, and they are quick to condemn it. The governor and the mayor would join in. They’re right.”
So is she. This attack on Saint Patrick’s was ugly and unlawful.
Another e-mail, from a man in Manhattan, commented: “In a way, maybe we should be complimented. All anarchists realize that civilization and the common good are built on a reverence for the true, the good and the beautiful. No wonder they deface the cathedral, which embodies all three.”
But knowing that doesn’t allay my hurt and disappointment.
That cathedral, in a towering way, professes that all life matters, as we are all made in God’s image and likeness. For the religion that claims Saint Patrick’s as its mother church in these acres of the Lord’s vineyard called the Archdiocese of New York, “black lives matter” in a dramatic way.
This is more than mere lip service, as we help thousands of black and minority children leave poverty through our acclaimed inner-city schools; as we present minority women the choice of birth for their preborn babies, rather than continue the genocide of unfettered abortion; as we provide ongoing support after birth for both mother and child; as we concentrate on feeding the poor, drug-addiction recovery, assistance to those on parole and health care through our Catholic Charities and Archcare; as we bring the gift of the Sacraments and true community and sustenance to dozens of vibrant but financially struggling parishes in our most challenged areas.
I propose these irrational protesters should be bringing to the cathedral letters of gratitude and offers to assist us in our ministry, not ignorant, hateful, defacing slogans.
Still, I’m honored to be coupled with the brave women and men of the NYPD in those ugly insults sprayed on the stones of the cathedral. They, too, dedicate themselves to serving all New Yorkers, often risking their own health, safety or even their lives.
In these last 12 years that I have been privileged to serve as archbishop, I’ve spent a good chunk of time meeting with, listening to and working together with thoughtful leaders and advocates of all races and religions, making some progress in addressing social iniquity and inherent racism in our city and culture. That is helpful, necessary and productive, and we will continue our work, as we must.
“Protestors” who snicker and posture for the cameras as they defile the cathedral are neither helpful nor productive. Many are quick to say that our culture needs to change and be held accountable for the problems we encounter. Well, those who break the law and scrawl their graffiti on a house of worship must also be held to account for their actions.
Back in the 1850s, thugs called “Know-Nothings,” who bragged about their hatred for Catholics, Jews, blacks and immigrants, publicly vowed to burn down what we now call “Old Saint Patrick’s Cathedral” in lower Manhattan.
I dare you, replied my predecessor of blessed memory, Archbishop John Hughes: A thousand armed men are protecting our churches. Try it, he dared them. (Spoiler alert: They didn’t dare try it.)
I’m not about to follow the example of “Dagger John,” although I can well understand his position. No, as Pope Francis and the world’s great religious traditions, including Islam and Judaism and people like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi, teach us, reason, love, dialogue are the way, not guns, firebombs or spray paint. It’s what Jesus taught, too, and he faced far worse than graffiti.
Timothy Cardinal Dolan is the archbishop of New York.