Demonstrators protest as members of the NYPD march during the St. Patrick's Day parade in New York March 17, 2014. About one million spectators, mostly dressed in green, streamed into New York for its St. Patrick's Day Parade, even as the city's mayor and beer companies that previously sponsored the event dropped out, amid concerns that organizers excluded gay groups.

© 2014 Reuters

New York City’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade features a new addition: a lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) group marching under its own rainbow banner. While some have called the decision a step in the right direction, others, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, have said the decision does not go far enough.

In contrast to previous years, the leadership of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York welcomed the inclusion of an LGBT group into the parade. This year’s grand marshal, Cardinal Archbishop of New York Timothy Dolan, said he thought “the decision is a wise one.” Despite criticism from some Catholic groups, Dolan made clear that “people with same-sex attraction are God’s children, deserving dignity and respect, never to be treated with discrimination or injustice.”

The willingness of Dolan and some other church leaders to engage LGBT people comes at a crucial time for the Catholic Church. The Synod of Bishops is preparing for its XIV Ordinary General Assembly, which will take place in October. There, the bishops are expected to discuss the state of LGBT people in the Church. After the assembly, Pope Francis will likely issue a post-synodal apostolic exhortation. This document, while not defining official Church teaching, will address the themes of the Synod, and encourage the faithful to action.

As Human Rights Watch has noted, despite increasing numbers of Catholic leaders positively engaging LGBT people, too many disregard Church teachings regarding nonviolence toward homosexuals. In recent years, Catholic leaders around the world have failed to speak out against serious violence and persecution faced by LGBT communities. Some have even supported policies and practices that explicitly or implicitly promote such violence.

Like Dolan, the Synod should explicitly adopt a more welcoming stance towards LGBT people, and condemn the violence and discrimination that these communities routinely face. That would spread some of the joy of the St. Patrick’s Day parade throughout the rest of the year.