Cardinal Timothy Dolan waves while processing through St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, Sunday, Jan. 22, 2012. (Seth Wenig — AP)
Cardinal Dolan, president of the USCCB, says he needs an “attractive, articulate, intelligent” woman as his personal spokesperson, claiming that “the days of fat, balding Irish bishops are over.” He has chosen Kim Daniels, a long-time effective advocate of conservative causes, and ex-personal domestic policy czar to Sarah Palin. Might one say that Daniels has gone “from Sarah Palin’s brain to Cardinal Dolan’s voice?” But her promotion also signals that the cardinal as head of the USCCB has had more failures than successes.
This is not to deny Dolan’s talents. Seldom has Catholic America had a prelate so effective with media. He uses lunch-pail comparisons to explain even the most complex of church teachings. He stood up to inquisitorial Catholic right-wingers and invited President Obama to the annual Al Smith Dinner. But I believe an honest appraisal would show that influence and respect for the USCCB is lower now than when Dolan assumed the office. These are moments when I think his leadership struck out.
Strike one was in allowing division between Catholic America’s religious sisters and the bishops. Perhaps he could not have controlled a Vatican investigation into the LCWR, but surely he could have influenced Rome’s maladroit handling. Moreover, the Nuns-On-the-Bus tour turned into a symbolic civil war with the sisters on one side and the bishops on the other. Dolan should have known his side would lose because the nuns have always held the warmest spot in Catholic hearts.
Strike two was in silence after the over-the-top comparisons by clerics like the Bishop of Peoria. who compared President Obama to Hitler and by laypersons like the Knights of Columbus’ Supreme Knight Carl Anderson who promoted Catholic resistance to Obama in the spirit of the Mexican Cristeros. The latter group of Catholics, it will be remembered gathered armed militias against the Mexican government and eventually assassinated a president. The legal principle here is “Qui tacuit, consentire,” and it means that silence is the same as acquiesce. This criticism extends to Bishop Finn of Kansas City who was found guilty of violating civil law and his own policy against pedophile clerics. By going easier on Catholic males than on the religious women battling for social justice on economic matters, Dolan widened the deepening rifts in Catholic America.
Strike three was allowing the Fortnight to Freedom to become identified with politicking for Mitt Romney. This effort had been spawned in the murky dark places of the Manhattan Declaration with obvious partisan intent. Tacking on the current immigration law as another instance of “religious persecution” was not enough to dislodge the public perception that the Fortnight was intended to instruct Catholics to vote for Republicans. This alliance with evangelicals was unfruitful. The original evangelical partners were a questionable crew embracing entrepreneurial pastors who raise fabulous amounts of money for partisan causes. Our Catholic tradition, however, obliges bishops to pastoral roles. When the bishops jumped into the same barrel with the right-wing pastors they diminished Catholic tradition. Dolan should have seen this coming. (Let me classify this as a “foul ball” so that the cardinal gets another swing.)
The last strike was in undercutting the policy of a full committee of the USCCB with contradictory statements by individual bishops. After the Social Justice Committee of the USCCB had condemned the Paul Ryan budget, Cardinal Dolan and Madison Bishop Robert Morlino rejected the conclusion that Ryan’s plan was outside Catholic teaching. Given new life, Ryan quickly dismissed his episcopal critics as “not all the bishops” happily trivializing the USCCB committee structure with his quip.
Once you break the code yourself, you give others license to do the same. Thus, while Dolan stated the need to consider more carefully the Obama remedy to the HHS mandate on February 2, 2013, Philadelphia’s Archbishop Chaput issued a statement on February 4, 2013 that jumped the gun, claiming total rejection came from “courage that gives prudence spine and results in right action, whatever the cost.” Two days later, Dolan said “me too.”
I consider it appalling that the president of the USCCB needs a personal spokesperson in addition to the USCCB’s resident Sister Mary Ann Walsh. Ensuring division among bishops to promote the influence of an individual cleric is never good.