NEW YORK -- Declaring that political correctness is not worth "one comma in the Apostle's Creed," Car dinal John O'Connor triumphantly reviewed a St. Patrick's parade kept tightly secure from homosexual intruders yesterday on a raucous, rain-drenched day in which more than 200 gays and lesbians were arrested in sit-ins on Fifth Avenue.
"Yo, Kelly! Love ya!" one Irish lesbian shouted to another as the latter was passively carted off under arrest when the Irish Gay and Lesbian Organization, barred from marching by the courts, resorted to civil disobedience before the parade began.
As the police moved in on the peaceful protest group at West 43rd Street, the cardinal was drawing repeated applause from a throng of Catholic faithful seven blocks north in St. Patrick's Cathedral for his defense of church orthodoxy as a rebuff to the group's challenge.
Avowing love and prayers for homosexuals, the cardinal warned that he "could never even be perceived as compromising Catholic teaching" by entertaining their admission as an identifiable group in the city's annual parade up Manhattan's showcase avenue in honor of St. Patrick.
As the day developed after the arrests, the parade proved to be a confrontation-free event, but one nevertheless enjoyed by die-hard Irish partisans.
"Very dignified, let's say," said Carol Cambio, watching under a big umbrella. She professed love of all parades, even yesterday's sodden six hours of color guards and pipe bands.
"The Gay Pride parade was wonderful, too, last summer," she said with a tolerant smile. "The cross-dressers were beautiful."
Even without the gays, the sponsoring Ancient Order of Hibernians was still dumbfounded at one point. The Guardian Angels, a publicity-bent vigilante group that wasn't invited, somehow inserted themselves up front and marched happily past the cardinal in their red jackets and berets.
At the same time, Bernie Morris, president of division seven of the New York County Hibernians, which allowed the gay Irish group to march with it unofficially two years ago, charged that it was ejected from the march yesterday by parade officials taking vengeance.
The parade was notable for the few major politicians in sight and for the sparseness of the crowds watching along Fifth Avenue. Mayor David N. Dinkins, a supporter of the gays' demand, boycotted this Kelly green fleck of the "gorgeous mosaic" of a city that he normally celebrates.
His likely Republican rival this year, Ralph W. Giuliani, marched prominently as aides papered his route with "Rudy" pamphlets. Police officers along the way openly applauded him for his criticism of Mayor Dinkins in their behalf.
For all the day's evidence that the sentimental hegemony of the Irish might be fading in the city, the adaptability of Irish humor was also clear, particularly in playing off the court fight's citation of sexual morality as a marching standard this year.
"I'm marching with the contingent of Irish Catholics who had sex before marriage," Maureen Bernadette, a bright-eyed matron, announced with a grin.
Some of the gay protesters had sharp things to say about the cardinal. "He's a bigot in a dress," one shouted at the arrest scene in opposition to the Hibernians' court-backed, free-speech nTC right to run their own parade free of political interference.
Others treated their arrest as an important act of personal commitment. "At first we were all scared about today," said Paul O'Dwyer, a spokesman for those arrested.
"But there's a much stronger emotion," he added as police closed in to carry off the protesters in what used to be called Paddy wagons before Irish ascendancy made the reference impolitic.