By Ray O’Hanlon
The priest at the center of the storm over the Staten Island St. Patrick’s Day Parade has defended his decision to boycott the event.
Msgr. Peter Finn said that the selection of City Councilman Jerome X. "Jay" O’Donovan to lead the parade was a mistake on the part of the parade organizers, members of the Richmond County Ancient Order of Hibernians.
O’Donovan takes a pro-choice position in the abortion debate and Msgr. Finn told the Echo that the decision by the Hibernians, a staunchly Catholic organization, sent a "mixed message" to parade onlookers.
Organizers of the parade, meanwhile, are standing firm and issued a statement Tuesday backing Councilman O’Donovan while stating that the parade would step off as planned on Sunday, March 4.
Msgr. Finn, who will say a Mass for the unborn and peace and justice in Ireland as the parade starts, said that while the parade would indeed go on, some people would not now be in attendance.
Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter
To date, several units that would normally march, including members of the Knights of Columbus, an LAOH division and two Catholic high school bands have indicated that they will boycott the parade.
"There are no winners in this situation and I’m certainly not out to destroy the parade," Finn said.
"This is not a knee-jerk response on my part. It’s simply a matter of taking a pro-life as opposed to an anti-life position."
Finn stressed that his decision to boycott the parade was not political. O’Donovan, a Democrat, is eyeing a bid for the Staten Island borough presidency. Incumbent Guy Molinari, a Republican, is supporting Msgr. Finn’s stance.
"This is not a political statement. Nothing could be further from the truth," Finn said.
Finn said the position of grand marshal is an honor and distinction and that it had been a mistake for Hibernian organizers to select O’Donovan, because of his pro-choice position.
"I don’t believe he’s a leading proponent of abortion. But the term pro-choice is misleading. The child does not have a choice," Finn said.
Finn would not comment on a recent meeting he had with Archbishop Edward Egan other than to say that Egan was aware of the parade issue and was following it.
The parade organizers, in their statement, said that this was the first year in the Staten Island parade’s 37-year history that anyone had tried to categorize the event as anything other than a celebration of Irish culture and heritage.
"The Committee has never used the parade, or allowed others to use the parade, to advocate any position other than freedom for all Ireland. This year is no exception," the written statement said.
"Much has also been written about the role of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in the parade. While the parade committee is comprised of AOH members, the committee is a separate and distinct entity," the statement continued.
"However, solely for the purpose of the current dialogue regarding the selection of the grand marshal, it must be emphasized that the selection of Jay O’Donovan is not violative of any AOH canon."
The statement reiterated the committee’s position that O’Donovan, a decorated Vietnam veteran, had been selected for his years of service to country and community.
"As to the expected absence of some groups and bands, we want to reassure the community that several new bands that have been clamoring to join our parade have been signed to appear," the committee statement said.
"We’ll be all right. It’s going to be a good parade," parade organizer Bill Reilly said.