CommunityFDL Main Blog

After Sowing the Wind, Cardinal Dolan Is Reaping the Whirlwind

For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.    Hosea 8:7

For quite a while, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops has been ratcheting up their rhetoric against Democrats — especially Roman Catholic Democrats — because of the party’s stance on a woman’s right to make her own decisions. The most outspoken of them railed against things like Notre Dame inviting President Obama to speak, and all of them have gotten very bent out of shape over the mandate to provide insurance that covers the full range of reproductive health options. Bishops have put their medical expertise ahead of doctors at (formerly) catholic hospitals, and are taking the lead in reining in the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (whom the bishops accuse of having been insufficiently outspoken on the issue of abortion and excessively outspoken on the issue of women in the church). They have reproached Catholic groups for giving honor, awards or even a platform at which to speak to even mildly pro-choice Democrats, like President Obama’s speech at Notre Dame.  Both within and outside the church, the bishops have been flexing their muscles and exerting their power to purify the church and push society in the same direction.

Today, Cardinal Timothy Dolan is reaping what he and his brother bishops have been sowing.

Once upon a time, there was a New Yorker named Al. He came from a working class Irish-American family in New York City, he attended mass at the local Catholic parish and he went to school at the parish school. He was elected governor not once or twice or three times, but four times. In 1928, Governor Al was the Democratic party’s nominee for President — a race he lost, in part because of fears that because he was catholic, he would take orders from his bishop and the pope. In 1936 and 1940, he backed not FDR but Wendell Wilkie, because he thought the New Deal was unconstitutional. During his political life, he pushed for many progressive reforms, including child labor laws and expanded educational funding. When he died, the Archdiocese of New York created the Al Smith Foundation to raise money to support the poor, the sick, and the underprivileged. The big fundraiser for the foundation is the annual “Al Smith Dinner” in October, which in presidential election years often brings to the same stage the two rival candidates for a nice evening of fun and civility. Once upon a time, that’s how it worked.

But not this year.

Civility is apparently out the window. When it was announced that Obama and Romney would both be at this year’s dinner, the Catholic right wing went nuts. But . . . but . . . he’s an abortion-loving religion-hater! He’s out to force the church to kill babies, and Cardinal Dolan is going to break bread with him? Outrageous! From LifeSiteNews:

The appearance of Obama at the Al Smith Dinner in 2008 caused considerable controversy.  At the time some pro-life leaders questioned the appearance in light of a 2004 policy of the U.S. bishops regarding politicians who “act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles.”

In ‘Catholics in Political Life’, the U.S. bishops said: “The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.”

The idea of cancelling the traditional appearance of the presidential candidates is not without precedent. On two occasions since 1960 the presidential candidates were not invited by the Archdiocese of New York to the dinner – in 1996 (Cardinal John O’Connor), when strongly pro-abortion Bill Clinton was a candidate, and in 2004 (Cardinal Egan), during the candidacy of also strongly pro-abortion Democrat John Kerry.

Obama is often referred to as “the abortion president” because of his record that is viewed by pro-life leaders to be the most extreme in U.S. history.

So now it’s the new Cardinal’s turn. The invitation went out, and the right wing went nuts. The invitation was accepted, and they really went nuts. The inevitable online petition has sprung up (over 5000 signatures so far), and Dolan appears to have been forced to explain himself on his own website.

For seven decades, the Al Smith Dinner here in New York has been an acclaimed example of such civility in political life. As you may know, every four years, during the presidential election campaign, the Al Smith Dinner is the venue of history, as it is the only time outside of the presidential debates that the two presidential candidates come together, at the invitation of the Al Smith Foundation, through the archbishop of New York, for an evening of positive, upbeat, patriotic, enjoyable civil discourse.

The careful reader will note that LSN has their facts right, while Dolon somehow missed the fact that both Clinton and Kerry were not invited. Full list of past speakers here. Also, Dolan’s attempt to put this off on the Foundation — it’s their invitation, and I’m just the messenger — is a bit disingenuous. Note, please, the name atop the list of the Board of Directors: “His Eminence, Timothy Michael Cardinal Dolan, President”. There’s also the precedent set in St. Louis several years ago, when then-Archbishop and now-Cardinal Raymond Burke resigned from the board of a local catholic children’s hospital foundation when they refused to disinvite Sheryl Crow from a fundraiser over her pro-choice, pro-stem cell research views.

In the comments of Dolan’s post, the polite folks say things like the inevitable photo of Obama laughing it up with Dolan will confuse the faithful, leading them to vote the wrong way. The angrier folks say things like “God have mercy on you if you still allow your Office to be used by [Obama]!” or like “I wonder what Bishop Sheen would have had to say about all of this, as he spoke so openly against Communism. He warned us then, and I am sure he would be warning us again. I am praying for all our bishops as the Lord gave stern warnings to the Shepherds in Ezechiel 34.” [Ezekiel 34 is not good news for bishops,  beginning with “The word of the Lord came to me: Mortal, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel . . .”]

Oddly — or perhaps predictably — Nancy Pelosi seems to appear in the comments more frequently than Mitt Romney. Pelosi, of course, is the embodiment of evil Democrats, while Mitt . . . isn’t. Indeed, I only saw a single comment speak disapprovingly of Romney’s presence, noting that religiously speaking, the LDS are quite different from Catholics: “Although I would vote for a fire hydrant before voting for Obama, voting for Romney will not be easy. Nothing against him personally, but the theology of the Church of the Latter Day Saints is disturbing.”

These comments are all the more noteworthy because the comment section at Dolan’s blog is usually a quiet place and rarely if ever offers criticism. Most posts get fewer than a dozen or two comments;  this post has over 300. Something tells me this isn’t going to blow over with one blogpost, though. When rightwingers feel the need to issue a warning to the Cardinal, you know something big is up.

With the growing USCCB concern for purity in the church, the growing demand that Catholic politicians turn their judgment over to the judgment of the bishops*, and the growing rhetoric of battles and warfare, Dolan should not be surprised at the reaction to the Al Smith dinner invivations. When you plant seeds of anger, Your Eminence, don’t be shocked when they bring forth anger at harvest time.

*at least when it comes to abortion — voting against the pope on war and the death penalty is apparently still OK.


photo of high wind warning sign h/t to Sayjack. It is only a rumor that this has been installed in the mailroom of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York.

Previous post

Assange, Folk Hero or Cyber-Terrorist?

Next post

Bullish on Stupidity



I'm an ordained Lutheran pastor with a passion for language, progressive politics, and the intersection of people's inner sets of ideals and beliefs (aka "faith" to many) and their political actions. I mostly comment around here, but offer a weekly post or two as well. With the role that conservative Christianity plays in the current Republican politics, I believe that progressives ignore the dynamics of religion, religious language, and religiously-inspired actions at our own peril. I am also incensed at what the TheoCons have done to the public impression of Christianity, and don't want their twisted version of it to go unchallenged in the wider world. I'm a midwesterner, now living in the Kansas City area, but also spent ten years living in the SF Bay area. I'm married to a wonderful microbiologist (she's wonderful all the way around, not just at science) and have a great little Kid, for whom I am the primary caretaker these days. I love the discussions around here, especially the combination of humor and seriousness that lets us take on incredibly tough stuff while keeping it all in perspective and treating one another with respect.

And Preview is my friend.