It’s been a headline-grabbing month for Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York and president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. First, he agreed to host President Obama at the Al Smith Memorial Dinner. Now, he is going to give the closing invocation at the Democratic National Convention.
Fifty years ago, neither of these events would have merited anything but mildly positive acknowledgment. Nevertheless, in today’s political climate, where issues such as abortion, gay marriage, and the freedom of the Catholic Church are among the most critical of the day, a number of Catholics are wondering why the cardinal seems to be, for lack of a better term, fraternizing with the enemy.
That enemy is Barack Obama and his Democratic Party. On every crucial moral issue, the Democratic Party has placed itself in complete opposition to the Catholic Church’s teaching.
So why is Cardinal Dolan — who is usually so forceful and reliable in defending the more controversial points of Catholic teaching — hanging out with Democrats so much? Well, he gives a number of reasons.
It is traditional for both major presidential candidates to attend the Al Smith dinner. When faced with critics who thought it was unseemly for him to be at such a festive event with the radically pro-abortion president, Dolan urged that his intent was not to give President Obama any kind of honor, or a platform to promote his agenda. He stressed that the invitation was intended toward furthering dialogue, good-will, and civility in politics.
But this explanation gives the Al Smith dinner a lot more credit than it is due. The event is a fancy fundraiser for various Catholic charities. There’s not a lot of dialogue to be had. Further, it’s hard to say it isn’t an honor for Obama; Romney and the president will be seated to Dolan’s right and left, and will be the obvious focus of attention.
A lot of Catholics, particularly those most invested in the pro-life movement, found this invitation to be unsettling. There’s something wrong with a Catholic cardinal guffawing at jokes told by a man with Obama’s extensive pro-abortion record, who even wants to force Catholic institutions and business owners to pay for abortion and contraception. If Dolan wants to start a dialogue with the president, he can have a private meal with him and actually talk about substantive issues. He doesn’t need to give him a fancy party in front of television cameras.
Next, the cardinal agreed to give the invocation at the Democratic National Convention. Dolan had earlier agreed to give the invocation for the Republican convention; his presence at the Democratic convention is clearly an attempt to avoid any appearance of bias or favoritism toward Republicans.
But why shouldn’t he show them a little favoritism? I’m not saying Dolan should stump for Romney, but look at the 2012 Republican platform. It is unequivocally opposed to forcing religious groups or individuals to pay for contraception or abortifacient drugs in opposition to their consciences. It continues to support a constitutional amendment to outlaw abortion. It affirms that the institution of marriage is between one man and one woman. It opposes any federal funding for abortion or embryo-destructive stem cell research.
The Democratic platform, as is to be expected, is contrary to all of the above. And these questions are not just of secondary importance to the Catholic Church: they are fundamental moral questions on which no difference of opinion can be harbored among Catholics. For Catholics, abortion — because it is responsible for the deaths of over 50 million American children since 1973, the year Roe v. Wade was decided — should dwarf political issues like immigration, social welfare spending, and others where Catholics can hold a variety of positions in good conscience. The Republicans stand squarely behind the Church on the most critical issues where the Church speaks the clearest; the Democrats stand firmly against it.