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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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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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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As yesterday’s statement from religious leaders showed, the House Republican vote to drastically roll back refundable tax credits that benefit working families (which 19 misguided Democrats joined) has put them on the opposite side of the faith community. And not just the progressive and moderate faith community — the GOP plan is so radically anti-family, it’s more extreme than even far-right religious groups.
In particular, by attacking the Child Tax Credit, House Republicans took aim at a key policy priority of the Family Research Council, usually one of their closest allies. Not only does FRC boast of “conceiving” the original idea for the credit, they’ve consistently campaigned for Congress to make it permanent and quintuple its maximum amount from the current $1,000 per child to $5,000. In contrast, the House GOP plan passed yesterday cuts the average family’s tax credit by $854.
When this issue came up last April, FRC was part of a diverse coalition of faith and family groups lobbying to protect this crucial policy. They even launched a petition to Congress that garnered over 37,000 signatures.
But in this latest round, as Republican extremism and obstruction threatens working families with this painful tax hike, FRC appears to have gone quiet. If FRC were truly committed to pro-family policy over partisan politics, they would have leaned on their Republican allies to vote against these dangerous cuts.
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Catholic leaders have been busy cracking down on nuns and theologians while also keeping a vigilant eye on those wily Girl Scouts. The Catholic Diocese of Arlington, Va., is pulling a card from the McCarthy-era playbook by requiring Sunday school teachers to sign loyalty oaths. David Gibson, a prominent Catholic writer, notes in a recent NPR segment that the Vatican is doing all it can to “bring a schismatic right-wing group that rejects the reforms of Vatican II back into the fold while at the same time, it’s censuring nuns and theologians who are actually following the spirit of Vatican II.”
So when will influential Catholic organizations and public figures feel the heat for ignoring church teaching when it comes to issues like poverty, economic justice and workers’ rights? Why the free pass for Catholic conservatives like Rev. Robert Sirico, president of the Acton Institute, who is making the rounds on Fox News defending the aggrieved richest 1 percent of Americans and preaching a gospel of free-market fundamentalism that is at odds with centuries of Catholic social teaching? Fr. Sirco’s public love letters to libertarianism, most recently in his new book – Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy – surely put him in the good graces of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce or even the Romney campaign. But one would hope his bishop might at least raise an eyebrow.
A familiar presence on the op-ed pages of the Wall Street Journal, Rev. Sirico recently told the New York Times that the church’s historic defense of unions might not apply to labor fights at Catholic universities today. In a lengthy interview with the National Review he praised Ayn Rand and smugly disparaged those non-habit wearing Catholic nuns for having the audacity to challenge a House GOP budget that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops described as failing a basic moral test. While the Ryan budget has no chance of passing its been endorsed by Mitt Romney and serves as an ideological blueprint for a conservative economic agenda that insists we must make a false choice between protecting the most vulnerable and being fiscally responsible. Fr. Sirico’s free-market theology and anti-government zeal often sounds more like Tea Party rhetoric than Pope Benedict XVI, who warns about the “scandal of glaring inequalities” between rich and poor, or the late Pope John Paul II who cautioned against an “idolatry of the market.” Vincent Miller, the chair of Catholic theology and culture at the University of Dayton, recently wrote in America magazine that Rev. Sirico’s “well financed defense of libertarian economics often rise to the level of self-parody.” Daniel Finn, a professor of theology and economics at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University, offered a detailed theological critique of Rev. Sirico in Commonweal magazine back in 2008.
Some conservatives have questioned the funding of progressive faith groups working to balance out a values debate that in recent decades has been dominated by the Religious Right. Much of this criticism is overheated conspiracy mongering from those who live in some imaginary world where religious liberals are more organized and well-funded than a politically powerful Christian conservative movement that has helped elect presidents and until recently ran circles around religious progressives in the media. But if we’re going to play the funding game let’s take a look at who has made it possible for a Catholic priest to build a national media profile churning out paeans to the free market and putting a moral gloss on corporate talking points. Not surprisingly, big business and wealthy Republicans are bullish on Rev. Sirico. The Acton Institute is backed by the DeVos family, prominent donors to the Republican Party and various conservative organizations that lobby lawmakers to slash government programs that help the most vulnerable, lower taxes on the rich and deregulate Wall Street. “Other than possibly the Koch brothers, few billionaires have a more established place in conservative America than the DeVos clan,” according to Forbes magazine. The billionaire Koch brothers, the most influential conservative donors in the country (they just hosted a lavish fundraiser for Mitt Romney in the Hamptons and plan to spend $200 million in this election) have also contributed to Rev. Sirico’s Acton Institute in the past, according to the corporate accountability and transparency group Source Watch.
Wealthy conservatives have every right to lobby for a return of trickle-down economics, but popes and bishops for centuries have rejected the blind faith in unfettered markets and radical individualism promoted by groups like the Acton Institute. Last fall, the Vatican released a timely document that calls for more robust global financial reform and offered a sharp moral critique of the kind of laissez-faire economics Rev. Sirico preaches.
The Catholic Church has plenty of room for liberals, moderates and conservatives. We need a spirited debate over how to properly apply Catholic social teaching to public policy challenges in a pluralistic society. But I worry about the message that is sent when nuns, theologians and progressive Catholics are demonized by church officials even as prominent conservative Catholics appear on national television to peddle ideologies that are at odds with bedrock Catholic values.
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