Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Dolan to Pray at Democratic Convention: My Reflections

And speaking of not walking in a vain shew (I'm building on what I just posted about the two Romneys), and of standing on principle and valuing integrity above all vain riches: Common Dreams reports today that Archbishop Desmond Tutu has withdrawn from a leadership summit in South Africa because Tony Blair will be another high-profile participant.  Tutu characterizes Blair's support for the Iraq war as "morally indefensible."

I'm inclined to read this announcement about Tutu's stand on principle, which is consistent with his behavior as a Christian pastoral leader for years now, hand in hand with the announcement yesterday that His Eminence Timothy Cardinal Dolan will attend both the GOP and the Democratic conventions to offer blessings to their proceedings.  I gather from a number of pieces that popped up at Catholic commentary sites immediately after the announcement that those of us who have criticized His Eminence's overt partisanship are now supposed to apologize to him, after he's done the gracious thing and has accepted invitations to bless the work of both national conventions.

I'm all for apologizing when one is in the wrong, but in this case, count me underwhelmed.  Count me unconvinced that this theatrical gesture of bipartisanship really does cancel out Dolan's overt partisanship, as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, throughout the months leading up to the 2102 elections.

In a statement at Huffington Post yesterday that has already earned a zingy rejoinder from Michael Sean Winters of National Catholic Reporter, Steven Krueger counts the ways in which Dolan has shown unabashed pro-GOP partisanship in the past several years:

For the record, consider the following: his signing of the Republican social manifesto, the Manhattan Declaration; his public critique of President Obama before the 2008 election; his criticism of Notre Dame for awarding President Obama an honorary degree in 2009; his close, behind-the-scenes ties to conservative Republican operatives whom he has quoted on his blog; and his support, at least tacitly, for the Ryan Budget, which has been repudiated by 170 Catholic theologians and thought leaders for it's devastating impact on the poor.

As Krueger also notes, it has recently been revealed that Dolan met with Romney in April, and a top Romney aide suggests that the outcome of that meeting was the coordinated strategy of shock-and-awe theatrics we saw this summer, in which the bishops around the nation did everything but stand on their heads to convince Catholic voters that President Obama and his party are at war with Catholics.  And that good Catholics vote Republican.  Krueger notes that, for Catholic parishioners, the price tag of that partisan faux religious liberty campaign in the summer of 2012 is estimated to be between $60 and $100 million.

This at a time when bishops are closing parishes and churches right and left due to fiscal distress, and when the church's coffers are being rapidly depleted to deal with litigation brought by those who were abused by Catholic authority figures when they were minors.

So, okay, the grand "bipartisan" gesture of His Eminence in choosing to bless the proceedings of both conventions is preferable to the initial overt partisanship he communicated by his unilateral announcement that he was heading to Tampa to bless the GOP gathering.  And I suspect that the choice to throw a bipartisan crumb to Catholics incensed by the shameless pandering to the Republican party may have had everything to do with the fierce reaction on many Catholic blog sites and by many Catholic media commentators after the announcement about Tampa came down.  Andrew Sullivan seems to me to suggest such a post-factum revisionist decision on Dolan's part by heading his note about the latest announcement "Dolan Retreats."

But count me underwhelmed.  Though those who still have much invested in wanting to think of Catholic leaders like Dolan as good guys acting from high principle and out of integrity will read Dolan's gesture as a fine, Christian, bless-both-sides statement.  For my part, I'm inclined to see it as theater, and empty theater at that.

I'm inclined to see it as a gesture that tries to buy the limelight and a high-profile media role--a political powerbrokering one--for His Eminence.  Political conventions of any party are, when all is said and done, vain shows.  They're all about style and image and not about substance in the least.

Or about principle and integrity.  The better--the more prophetic--stance of a powerful pastoral leader like Timothy Dolan to these vain shows might be to absent himself altogether.  To avoid giving a blessing to either party.  To retain his right to hold up Jesus's vision of the reign of God as a critique of both parties.

To retain his integrity by choosing not to appear to be on the side of either party, or to be positioning himself as a powerbroker between the two parties.  In going to Charlotte to bless the Democratic convention, will Dolan be blessing: the deals Mr. Obama has cut with the banks and Wall Street and his subvention of both at great expense to taxpayers: the president's decision to continue the previous administration's attacks on civil liberties; the decision of the current president to continue the last president's unjust wars in the Middle East; the use of drones to kill innocent people; the weak response to the economic struggles of poor and working-class Americans?

Count me with Tutu.  And not with the leader of my own national church, His Eminence Timothy Cardinal Dolan.

Vain shews simply don't impress me very much at all.  Given that they're vain, after all.  And empty theatrical shows, when all is said and done.

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