This week, over 18,000 Faithful America members signed a petition asking USCCB President Cardinal Timothy Dolan to turn down an invitation to appear at the Values Voters Summit — the annual gathering of Religious Right figures and right-wing politicians. The signees were particularly concerned that in this election year, Dolan’s appearance would amount to an implicit endorsement of Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan at what essentially will be a Republican campaign event.
Today, the Archdiocese of New York confirmed to Bold Faith Type that Cardinal Dolan will not be attending the Summit. Archdiocese spokesman Joe Zwilling said the Cardinal’s office did not even receive an invitation as far as they could tell, but that His Eminence would not be going either way.
Unfortunately, Dolan appears to be turning down a pseudo-partisan electoral event for the real thing, agreeing to give the closing Benediction just after Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention next week.
Dolan’s office is attempting to qualify his appearance as “not an endorsement” but simply a “priest at prayer.” Unfortunately, at a time when the Cardinal has presided over a highly-politicized national campaign against the current administration, called VP candidate Paul Ryan a “great public servant” who he is “anxious to see…in action,” and walked back his own conference’s criticism of the Catholic congressman’s draconian budget plan, Dolan doesn’t need an official endorsement to send a loud and clear message.
This hyper-partisanship represents a real split from the recent approach of the Catholic Church in America, which has taken pains to stay above party politics. Past leaders have recognized that Catholics fall across the entire political spectrum and direct engagement with electoral efforts of any one party runs the risk of alienating millions of adherents who identify with the other.
Dolan’s decision to do exactly that, at a time when Americans and Catholics are more deeply politically polarized than ever, exemplifies just how far the American bishops have gone in uniting church hierarchy with Republican politics.
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Mitt Romney’s selection of Rep. Paul Ryan as his vice-presidential choice is an insult to many Catholic leaders who have consistently challenged Ryan’s claims that coddling the rich while expecting the working poor and middle class to bear the burden of deficit reduction reflects the values of Catholic teaching. A presidential candidate aggressively courting Catholic voters – including with this scorching ad that accuses President Obama of waging a “war on religion” – has now picked a running mate who is the most vociferous champion of an economic agenda that makes a mockery of Christian values. There is nothing Christian, “pro-life” or courageous about policies that gut effective programs that help pregnant women, the hungry, the jobless and low-income children.
Catholics are steeped in a religious tradition that puts community and the common good before extreme individualism. Ryan’s libertarian love affair with Ayn Rand and his Tea-Party flavored anti-government zeal is alien to this Catholic worldview. His proposals find no endorsement from centuries of Catholic social teaching or the Gospel. I expect a sizable swath of moderate Catholic voters in key states to roll their eyes at Ryan’s lofty appeals to the wonders of the free market and privatization. Some of these working-class voters might not be staunch Democrats, but they know that Medicare helps their grandmother and food stamps are often the difference between paying the bills and sending the kids to bed hungry. They might ask why Ryan, who benefited from his deceased father’s Social Security survivor benefits to pay for college, now wants to pull the rug out from other families who can be given a hand up by effective government programs that for decades helped grow the middle class.
In a flurry of letters to House leaders, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has unambiguously denounced Ryan’s budget proposal – the ideological blueprint for the GOP’s economic agenda – as failing a basic moral test. Catholic nuns recently highlighted the immorality of the Ryan budget (now the Romney-Ryan budget) during a nine-state bus tour. These Catholic nuns recently joined the Franciscan Action Network – an organization made up of priests, nuns and lay Franciscans – to invite Mr. Romney and Rep. Ryan to spend time at agencies that would be decimated by their policies.
Here’s my question for Catholic bishops. Will you expend even half as much institutional energy educating Catholic voters about Rep. Ryan’s deeply un-Christian economic plans as you have on flogging the Obama administration over contraception coverage? Letters to Capitol Hill are important, but most voters don’t read them. When will we see a parish bulletin insert about the devastating consequences of Ryan’s economic plans from the U.S. bishops’ conference? Unlike the recent two-week “Fortnight for Freedom” religious liberty campaign, launched with special Masses and great fanfare in dioceses across the country, I haven’t seen any bishop strongly challenge the GOP’s war on the poor and middle class. Bishops could draw some inspiration from their own history, and the example of another Ryan.
Back in 1919, Catholic bishops recruited Monsignor John Ryan, a Catholic priest whose thinking on labor and social inequality were widely read in the decades following World War I, to write their Program for Social Reconstruction. This was a bold plan for what at the time were visionary social reforms: minimum wages, public housing for workers, labor participation in management decisions, and insurance for the elderly, disabled and unemployed. The bishops’ proposal and Ryan’s rising star in Washington laid the groundwork for New Deal legislation proposed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the following decades.
It’s tragic that nearly a century later influential Catholics like Rep. Paul Ryan, flush with cash from billionaires funding the Tea Party movement, are now promoting Darwinian policies that betray this proud legacy.
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Analyzing the Catholic dimensions of the 2012 Presidential race now that Paul Ryan has joined the Republican ticket, Catholic conservative Deal Hudson attempts to minimize the critique of Ryan’s budget plan levied by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Hudson decries that media who covered the critical letters from the USCCB failed to note that they came from only two bishops, suggesting that their concerns only represent some bishops, not all.
That’s the same defense Ryan employed when questioned about the bishops’ rebuke earlier this year. Unfortunately for both Ryan and Hudson, the conference definitively shot down their excuse.
Responding to reporters who inquired about Ryan’s apparent discrepancy in understanding, the USCCB said:
“Bishops who chair USCCB committees are elected by their fellow bishops to represent all of the U.S. bishops on key issues at the national level. The letters on the budget were written by bishops serving in this capacity.”
While there might be individual bishops who disagree with these committees’ criticisms of the Ryan budget, they (and Hudson and Ryan) do so as dissenters from the official position of the U.S. Catholic Church.
Photo from the National Catholic Reporter
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This weekend, all Catholic parishes in the diocese of Spokane, Washington read a letter from Bishop Blase Cupich about the state’s current debate on Referendum 74, a ballot initiative that would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in the state.
While Bishop Cupich notes that the Catholic Church’s official position urges voters to reject the initiative, he urges parishioners to view the debate in the broader context of the experiences of their LGBT neighbors.
First, Cupich acknowledges the history of discrimination and oppression that motivates many supporters of the law:
Proponents of the redefinition of marriage are often motivated by compassion for those who have shown courage in refusing to live in the fear of being rejected for their sexual orientation. It is a compassion that is very personal, for those who have suffered and continue to suffer are close and beloved friends and family members. It is also a compassion forged in reaction to tragic national stories of violence against homosexuals, of verbal attacks that demean their human dignity, and of suicides by teens who have struggled with their sexual identity or have been bullied because of it.
Then, urging that the debate be conducted with respect and civility, he issues a stern warning to those who would do otherwise:
I also want to be very clear that in stating our position the Catholic Church has no tolerance for the misuse of this moment to incite hostility towards homosexual persons or promote an agenda that is hateful and disrespectful of their human dignity.
Bishop Cupich demonstrated a similar sensibility earlier this year when he ignored a right-wing campaign to block Archbishop Desmond Tutu from speaking at the commencement ceremonies of Spokane’s Gonzaga University in part because of Tutu’s views on LGBT issues.
It’s a shame that comments such as these are so rare from Catholic bishops. While same-sex marriage is still a hotly contested issue among people of faith, there should be no controversy about Bishop Cupich’s basic acknowledgment that all people deserve respect and dignity and that this issue should not be used to incite bigotry and intolerance.
H/T Michael Sean Winters
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The Catholic Thomas More Law Center has already revealed itself to be more committed to promoting right-wing politics than protecting real religious rights, but they took an even more extreme step yesterday appointing anti-Muslim conspiracy theory champion Michele Bachmann to their board.
The appointment comes just as Rep. Bachmann is finding herself chastised from all sides for her sloppy, offensive attack on Muslim Americans in government. Relying on unsubstantiated conspiratorial ramblings from anti-Muslim activist Frank Gaffney, Bachmann publicly alleged that State Department employee Huma Abedin and fellow Minnesota Congressperson Keith Ellison have ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and have “infiltrated” the government.
Despite condemnation even from conservatives such as John Boehner, John McCain, and her own former campaign advisor Ed Rollins, Bachmann has doubled down, painting herself as a valiant gladiator against political correctness.
Ultimately, Bachmann’s appointment to the TMLC board isn’t a surprise. The group’s anti-Islam bigotry is well-documented and has earned condemnation from the Becket Fund, a similar conservative religious liberty legal organization.
People of faith, and particularly Catholic leaders, should stay away from working with TMLC and any other group whose defense of religious rights stops short of our Islamic neighbors.
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