Bishops: God votes Republican

Cardinal Dolan's benediction at the GOP Convention makes clear the Catholic bishops have taken sides

Published August 23, 2012 5:35PM (EDT)

Cardinal Timothy Dolan    (AP/David Goldman)
Cardinal Timothy Dolan (AP/David Goldman)

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is scheduled to deliver the concluding benediction at the Republican National Convention next week, after Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech.

The Eternal Word Television Network leaked word of Dolan’s appearance last night in a press release about Romney’s exclusive appearance, to be aired tonight, on the program “The World Over.”

The news — both its substance and the venue in which it was conveyed — make clear three things: that Romney intends to make the Bishops’ bogus arguments about religious liberty infringements a centerpiece of his campaign’s faith outreach; that any efforts the Obama administration made to placate the Bishops’ unattainable demands on insurance coverage for contraception were a fool’s errand; and that the USCCB has unequivocally attached itself at the hip to the Republican Party.

EWTN, the Catholic television network founded by the nun Mother Angelica in 1981, and which recently acquired the National Catholic Register (“America’s most complete and faithful Catholic news source”), sued the Obama administration in February, charging the contraception mandate violated its First Amendment rights. Michael Warsaw, the network’s president, decreed it a “moment when EWTN, as a Catholic organization, has to step up and say that enough is enough.” In its support of the Bishops’ “fortnight for freedom” earlier this summer, the network quoted — on the same page! — Sir Thomas More just before his beheading and the Rev. Martin Luther King. That was all alongside network head Warsaw asserting, “these are rights not given to us by governments. They are rights given to us by God.”

In its press release, EWTN notes that Dolan hasn’t endorsed a candidate in the presidential race, but emphasizes that “he has been an outspoken critic of a mandate issued by the Obama administration to require employers to offer health insurance plans that covers contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so violates their consciences.” (This repeats the falsehood, which Dolan himself has perpetuated, that the contraceptives covered by the insurance requirement include abortifacients.)

Belying the claims of the nonpartisan nature of Dolan’s RNC appearance, EWTN goes on to highlight that “Obama has also voiced support for abortion and is the first U.S. president to openly advocate a redefinition of marriage to include homosexual couples.” Just in case you weren’t clear who the enemy is.

Michael O'Loughlin, who blogs at the Jesuit magazine America, quickly weighed in, and didn’t spare the Bishops any criticism: “The cozy relationship between a sizable portion of U.S. bishops and the Republican Party should be cause for concern, and not just among progressive Catholics. For the church to be able to live out its role as prophet, it cannot be tied to one political party. Cardinal Dolan’s appearance in Tampa will damage the church’s ability to be a moral and legitimate voice for voiceless, as those who view the Catholic Church as being a shill for the GOP have just a bit more evidence to prove their case.”

Jon O’Brien, the president of Catholics for Choice, took a slightly softer stance, saying, “I feel that Republicans probably need to be blessed as much as Democrats do, so I cannot imagine Catholics having a problem with” Dolan delivering a benediction. But, O’Brien added, “what is more worrying is the backroom lobbying the Bishops engage in to try and pressure the body politic in this an election year to give them a free pass and endorse their bogus claims of imagined infringements on their religious liberty when they are really seeking politicians to bestow on them religious privilege.”

The move, though, is about more than placing “religious liberty” center stage, a favor the Republican Party has been granting the Bishops for nearly a year now. It’s about blessing Paul Ryan, his economic proposals and his claim to base his economic policies on Catholic teaching. Despite cries from many corners of the Catholic community — from activists, from scholars, from theologians — that Ryan’s budget contravenes the faith’s core teaching of a preferential option to the poor, Ryan’s own bishop, Robert Morlino, has taken to the pages of (where else?) the National Catholic Register to defend the most famous member of his flock.

“The preferential option for the poor, which is one of the primary tenets of Catholic social teaching, means don’t keep people poor, don’t make people dependent on government so that they stay stuck at their station in life; help people get out of poverty, out onto life of independence,” Morlino told the Register earlier this month.

Morlino further praised and defended Ryan in a column published on the Archdiocese of Madison’s website the day after his Register interview. Violations of “sacredness of human life from conception to natural death, marriage, religious freedom and freedom of conscience, and a right to private property,” he argued, constitute an “intrinsic evil.” Those violations would be “abortion, euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide, same-sex marriage, government-coerced secularism, and socialism.”

Caring for the poor and unemployed, however, for Morlino, involves choices “where intrinsic evil is not involved.” Dolan, similarly, has called the contraception mandate “literally unconscionable” but about Ryan’s budget proposal said only, “I appreciate your assurance that your budget would be attentive to such considerations and would protect those at risk in the processes and programs of such a transition.”

Morlino defended Ryan’s adherence to Catholic teaching in formulating his budget proposals, arguing, “Vice Presidential Candidate Ryan is aware of Catholic Social Teaching and is very careful to fashion and form his conclusions in accord with the principles mentioned above. Of that I have no doubt.”

Romney’s selection of Ryan as his running mate was a clear move to bring religion—and in particular, religion other than Mormonism—to the center stage of the campaign. Placing the Bishops’ imprimatur on Ryan’s Catholicism, though, does something more: It solidifies a partisan partnership between the GOP and the Bishops, eclipsing Catholic social justice teaching with incendiary culture war rhetoric, whether American Catholics like it or not.

By Sarah Posner

Sarah Posner is the senior editor of Religion Dispatches, where she writes about politics. She is also the author of God's Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters" (PoliPoint Press, 2008).

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Catholic Bishops Catholicism Religion Timothy Dolan