Another posting this morning linking to something I discussed here yesterday--in this case, the announcement that the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic bishops, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, will pray at both the GOP and the Democratic conventions. National Catholic Reporter has published an editorial statement about the announcement that Dolan will be heading to Charlotte after his Tampa foray.
As my analysis yesterday sought to do, the editorial points to the dangers of Dolan's decision to intrude boldly into the political decision-making process of the nation's two major parties. There's a clear, albeit a fine, line between seeking to influence the decisions of political groups by preaching, praying, or lobbying, and seeking to exert powerbrokering control within political parties from the inside.
The former position salvages a religious leader's moral credibility as a pastoral leader and allows her to stay above the fray as she exercises the prophetic role of critiquing all parties and all partisan agendas in light of Jesus's proclamation of the reign of God. The latter enables political leaders to use a religious leader as a tool, to make him captive to their partisan agendas.
As NCR notes, there's a certain degree of naivete about the argument of some Catholic commentators in the last day or so that Dolan's "bipartisan" decision to pray at both conventions demonstrates that "he stands as a lone priest, above the fray, making his appearances only to pray."
NCR's assertion in response to that naive claim: "Right, just as a K Street lobbyist intends only the best for the democratic process." And then the editorial adds,
To the contrary: By accepting the Democrats' invitation, Dolan steps deeper into the fray. And he steps into it as a Catholic leader, a cardinal heading one of the most powerful sees outside of Rome, and as president of one of the most influential national conferences of Catholic bishops on the planet.
He is, by symbol and reality, making both sides admit that Catholics are essential to winning a national election in the United States and that the church, for all of its internal conflicts and scandals, remains a player. But his appearances also further expose the fact that at this moment of great division within the culture, the church is hardly a place of unanimity, and Catholics no longer have a natural political home.
In its conclusion, the NCR editorial builds on the preceding sentence by noting how serious is Dolan's challenge as the president of the nation's bishops' conference to curb some of the extremist rhetoric of his brother bishops (about which, I notice, there's never any fraternal correction at all when that rhetoric leans hard-right). NCR writes:
Developing consensus among the bishops might be his greatest challenge. He can't have bishops elsewhere declaring, for instance, that infringement of the right to property is an intrinsic evil. As John Gehring of Faith in Public Life recently pointed out, the Vatican's Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church states, quoting Pope John Paul II: "Christian tradition has never recognized the right to private property as absolute and untouchable. 'On the contrary, it has always understood this right within the broader context of the right common to all to use the goods of the whole of creation: the right to private property is subordinated to the right to common use, to the fact that goods are meant for everyone.' "
Every time a bishop calls socialism an "intrinsic evil" (certainly to the surprise of, say, our British, French or German friends), compares the president to Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin, or makes exaggerated claims about religious freedom being in jeopardy, Dolan and the rest of the conference become easier to dismiss as serious moral arbiters in the culture. It is one thing to be part of the scenery on a convention stage every four years. Quite another to be a responsible and respected participant in the nation's ongoing political conversation.
One of the bishops declaring that infringement of the right to private property and socialism are "intrinsic evils" is, of course, Paul Ryan's bishop Robert Morlino, who has sought to give Ryan cover by gravely distorting Catholic social teaching on these points--as I noted several days ago.
At Commonweal, J. Peter Nixon similarly addresses the bishops' public voice, the voice with which they speak in the public square and vis-a-vis political matters. He notes that, in contrast to the "measured and moderate" things the bishops have said about topics like immigration, when it comes to issues of abortion, same-sex marriage, or "religious liberty," the U.S. bishops are inclined to pull out big-gun terms like "good," "evil," "life," and "death"--implying that there is no middle ground to be found between political groups or groups within the church who regard these issues as less than clear-cut, as needing further discussion.
And then Nixon makes a point I find fascinating--and compelling. He writes,
More than partisan or ideological preferences, I think the bishops’ public voice reflects their roots in a predominantly white Catholic culture. In that culture, the plight of Latinos subject to racial animus can be acknowledged as a concern, but it’s easier to discount it when compared to issues like abortion. Latino Catholics may not have that luxury.
I think this has implications for how the bishops engage both the public square and their own flock. I suspect that many of them are going to be disappointed that so many Catholics–particularly Latino Catholics–will have voted to re-elect a man they have painted as the enemy of life, marriage and religious liberty. Reading Vega’s letter may help them understand why.
Vega is James Vega, to whose recent statement about the moral difference between the Democratic and Republican parties at The Democratic Strategist site Nixon links.
As I noted several days ago, there's considerable evidence that Latino Catholics are poised to vote strongly against the Republican ticket in the 2012 elections. The GOP is aware of this, and as Aviva Shen reports at Think Progress today, the party is using Ann Romney to try to lure Latino voters into the Republican fold.
Ms. Romney wants Latino voters to understand that the GOP has their best interests at heart. It cares about family, after all. So forget Mitt's remarks about encouraging undocumented immigrants to "self-deport." And forget those draconian GOP-engineered policies targeting Latinos in Arizona and Alabama.
Family. Yes, that's the ticket: it's all about family. Concern for family. We have your back, Latinos; we speak your language. We'll take care of you. Even if this GOP convention is 98% white in its make-up . . . .
And even as NCR encourages the bishops to stop the politicking and begin the preaching and pastoring, and as J. Peter Nixon notes that the bishops can't speak credibly to the Latino community because they have allowed themselves to become captive to the interests of "a predominantly white Catholic culture," Catholic News Service is reporting that Latino business leaders have just met in Miami for
a Latino Republican rally for the Catholic Association of Latino Leaders' (CALL) conference. With a bevy of bishops in attendance . . . .
CALL has met, and has heard rousing speeches from one speaker after another who, in barely veiled terms, announced to the Latino community that its Catholic responsibility is to vote Republican. With what CNS calls a "high-powered roster of bishops and speakers" in attendance: the roster included Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, papal nuncio to the U.S.; Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley of Boston; Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles; Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia; Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami; and Carl Anderson, supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus.
The organization was founded by Gomez in Chaput's former archdiocese of Denver when Chaput was bishop there. The attempt to use the Latino community as a wedge-group weapon to divide the Democratic party and to score more Republican votes is very overt and very shameful, and the attendance of these big Catholic players at a conference that is clearly primarily a partisan political gathering and not a cultural or religious event at all undermines the moral credibility of Catholic pastoral leaders and their insincere claims to be non-partisan.
Fortunately, as I said several days ago in response to Michael Sean Winters's appeal to the bishops to "catechize" the Latino community so that it can begin to understand "real" Catholic social teaching (i.e., so that it can hold the conservative line on the issues of abortion and gay marriage), many Latino Catholics give strong evidence of having clear heads on their shoulders. And sound consciences.
And I suspect they see right through the mendacious rhetoric of Ann Romney and the attempt of the Catholic big boys to bully them into voting Republican. The "high-powered" bishops using "high-powered" Latino business leaders to herd Latino voters into the Republican party might well stand to be catechized by everyday Latino Catholics struggling to make a good living and feed their families in a nation one of whose major parties, which enjoys episcopal blessings, is now overtly hostile to their interests. Or so it seems to me.