Taking to his blog yesterday, newly elected President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Archbishop Timothy Dolan, wrote a piece entitled “Why we need the Catholic League, praising the right-wing Catholic group’s figurehead Bill Donohue for his most recent efforts to stir conservative outrage over a manufactured controversy.
Dolan frames Donohue as a noble defender of the Church from anti-Catholic attacks, but ignores Donohue’s controversial history–only acknowledging that “some may take occasional issue with his style.” But the criticism of Bill Donohue isn’t just about style, it’s about substance too. Specifically, his track record of offensive, untrue and stridently partisan statements raise many questions as to whether the top American bishop should be endorsing him.
Donohue’s problematic past includes promoting discredited links between pedophilia and homosexuality to scapegoat gays for the Church sex abuse crisis, blaming sex abuse victims for their abuse, calling Catholics he disagrees with “termites” and accusing them of disloyalty, and stoking anti-Muslim bigotry.
Donohue also has a troubling history of anti-Semitic comments. During an appearance on Scarborough Country in 2004 he claimed:
“Hollywood is controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular. It’s not a secret, OK? And I’m not afraid to say it.”
And given the chance to explain or retract his remarks, he chose to defend them instead.
Donohue’s pattern of bombastic bullying and fear-mongering to stoke the culture wars represents the type of behavior that undermines the Church’s credibility in the eyes of Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Is this really the type of Catholicism Archbishop Dolan wants to endorse?
H/T Our Daily Thread
UPDATE: Catholics United has started a petition asking Archbishop Dolan to disassociate from Donohue.
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The Arizona Republic reports that the Catholic bishop of Phoenix is threatening to strip St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center of its Catholic status tomorrow after earlier this year the hospital decided that terminating the pregnancy of a young mother close to death from pulmonary hypertension – a condition that limits the ability of the heart and lungs to function – was medically necessary to save her life. The decision was made by doctors in consultation with Sister Margaret McBride, the hospital’s vice president, who sits on St. Joseph’s ethics committee.
Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted condemned the surgery as an abortion and announced this spring that McBride, a Sister of Mercy, had excommunicated herself. In a recent letter to Catholic Healthcare West, which oversees the hospital, Bishop Olmsted fumed with indignation from his episcopal perch like a disgruntled general. “There cannot be a tie in this debate,” Olmsted writes. “Until this point in time, you have not acknowledged my authority to settle this question.”
In order to retain its Catholic status, St. Joseph’s must now acknowledge that Bishop Olmsted was right in his criticism of the decision, submit to a diocesan review and certification to ensure full compliance with Catholic moral teaching and agree to give its medical staff ongoing training on the Ethical and Religious Directives, a document from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
This is a classic example of why some Catholic bishops have lost the respect of even faithful Catholics, including those who view abortion as a tragedy that undermines the sanctity of life. An imperial style and dogmatic certitude in the face of the messy complexities of ministering to the sick and dying leaves little room for prudential judgment or nuanced analysis. One can believe abortion is wrong and at the same time recognize that in grave situations moral absolutes often collide with the real world, where life-and-death medical decisions are made in the most ethical way possible against a daily backdrop of ambiguity and imperfection. Unlike most bishops who have spent little or no time serving in hospitals, Sister McBride and other Catholic health-care providers have lived experience and practical expertise that should be respected.
Bishop Olmsted’s black-and-white determination also offers a telling contrast with Pope Benedict XVI’s recent statements about condoms, where the pope acknowledged that while the Church teaches condom use is wrong, “in certain cases” contraceptives can be “a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.” This is not situational ethics that violates Church teaching, but practical and humane theology that responds to the world as it is even as we strive to build a world that lives up to our highest ideals. The tragic pandemic of AIDS in Africa, the pope teaches, must have some bearing on the proper application of Church teaching. If it doesn’t, our religious leaders are taking a path radically different from the example of Jesus, who walked among the brokenness and sin of the world not as a moral bureaucrat offering edicts from on high, but as a real person who experienced the human condition in all its frailty.
Bishops are teachers of the Catholic faith. Bishop Olmsted, I’m sure, takes that role seriously. Jesus of Nazareth was also a teacher. But his most pointed words were saved for the Pharisees and Sadducees, those high priests and religious authorities of his time, whose fixation on the letter of the law left them blind to the spirit of the law.
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Last week, we highlighted the Pope’s stance on the right to health care, and noted how, if he’d been an advocate in America, conservative commentators would probably have labeled him a “socialist” or “communist” for his views, such as a “right to health,” an embrace of “health justice” and social justice, and the obligation of governments to ensure all their citizens receive needed care.
Anew roundup of quotes from these pundits just stark a contrast there is between Pope’s teachings and their rhetoric:
We have a right to health care? Really? God doesn’t give health care. Man provides health care. So how can it be a right? If you are endowed by your creator with certain inalienable rights, how can a God-given right be health care? Unless Jesus comes down and starts to open up a clinic and heal us himself, there cannot be a right to health care – because the rights come from God.
The far left is trying to create a huge federal apparatus that will promote income redistribution and ‘social justice.’ Also, the left sees a major opportunity to knock out Judeo-Christian traditions, replacing them with a secular philosophy.
All you need to know about government run health care was that Vladimir Lenin had the brainchild.
These pundits have not hesitated to lash out against faith leaders who defend key tenets like social justice, but it seems so far not one has stepped up to condemn the Pope, or even try to explain away his statements.
Excuse the cliche, but the silence is deafening. Particularly for Catholic pundits and politicians like Newt Gingrich who put their faith at the forefront of their public image. If they sincerely believe government involvement in healthcare is an evil on par with Stalinism and Nazism, don’t they have an obligation to speak up when the most prominent religious leader in the world full-throatedly endorses it?
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…or much worse if we were to apply the rhetoric of last year’s health care reform debate!
Because an individual’s health is a “precious asset” to society as well as to himself, governments and other agencies should seek to protect it by “dedicating the equipment, resources and energy so that the greatest number of people can have access.”
Via Think Progress
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In a surprise move the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops elected New York Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan as their new president this morning.
After three ballots, Dolan edged out current Vice President Gerald Kicanas, whose reputation as a moderate sparked a last-minute campaign against him from right-wing Catholic bloggers and activists.
While Kicanas’ defeat is a blow to moderates and those who embrace the Catholic social justice tradition, Dolan’s election might not be cause for panic.
Dolan is firmly theologically conservative and a staunch defender of church leadership and Pope Benedict, but has not embraced the hard-line enforcer role (thus far he’s chosen not to deny communion to pro-choice Catholic politicians).
Here’s how the New York Times described his approach when he was first installed in New York:
The archbishop is no crusader. He speaks against abortion and the death penalty, and when some parishes pushed to form a health insurance cooperative, he gave his blessing and kept his distance. He seems wary that crusading could distract, not least from the fund-raising needed to keep the church afloat.
The same article said he gets high marks from church reformers on how open and transparently he’s handled church finances.
When Dolan does engage in the public square, he is in line with Rome and his brother Bishops. Dolan favors comprehensive immigration reform and criticized Arizona’s controversial anti-immigrant law.
Dolan also spoke out during the Park51 controversy, condemning prejudice and the rancorous debate, and offering to mediate talks.
Will Dolan’s pastoral and conciliatory instincts help bring together an increasingly polarized church? Or will an emboldened Catholic right succeed in pushing for an even harder line in political life? Only time will tell.
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