Fresh from giving the leading prayer at the Republican National Convention, Cardinal Timothy Dolan will also be giving the closing prayer at the Democratic National Convention. Given Dolan’s record though, which includes staunch anti-women’s choice positions and allegations that he paid off sexual abusers in the clergy, should he really be on the bill at all?
The New York Catholic archbishop, who is also Senior Catholic Cardinal in the United States and President of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, has been quick to make it known to both the RNC and the DNC that he would not be backing any candidate and that he would not be politicking, only prayerful. This would be more convincing if Dolan did not have a glaring record of aggressive religious conservatism however.
When New York passed a law legalizing gay marriage last year, Dolan came out blazing with baseball analogies and a comparison to incest.
“Because where then would the tampering stop?” he asked Morely Safer during a 60 Minutes Overtime interview. ”I mean, I love my mom. I don’t have the right to marry her, OK?”
He didn’t stop there either. While saying he could never be classed as anti-gay, he also compared gay marriage to frivolous divorce, polygamy, adultery, forced marriages, communist dictatorships, “Orwellian social engineering“ and, sin of all sins, cohabitation.
His quarrel with gay marriage perhaps pales in comparison to his outbursts earlier this year over the Obama administration’s contraception mandate.
Casting it as a fight for freedom of religion that Catholics had been forced into, Dolan rallied against the Affordable Care Act’s rule requiring insurers and employers to provide preventive care services, including contraception, in a chain of interviews and opinion pieces where he called the mandate “egregiously unfair,” “un-American,” an “unconstitutional detour,” “mandated violations of conscience,” “a radical violation of the First Amendment,” and “morally toxic and an intrusion into the internal life of the church.” He played up to the “war on religion” meme and vowed to take the case to the Supreme Court.
So why is this guy speaking at the Democratic National Convention? Some have praised the Democratic party for offering this olive branch as a smart move to undercut the Republican Party’s claim to the Catholic base. However, it seems all those who have had positive things to say about Dolan’s DNC prayer have overlooked Dolan’s actions as archbishop of Milwaukee.
It emerged earlier this year during bankruptcy proceedings against the Archdiocese of Milwaukee that there was record of Dolan authorizing payments of as much as $20,000 to sexually abusive priests so that they would leave the priesthood, instead of actually reporting the offenders to the police.
Said the The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) in a statement at the time: ”We know, incontrovertibly, that while Dolan was claiming to heal the Milwaukee Church of the sexual abuse scandal he was instead running a shadow operation to pay off priests who had raped, sexually assaulted or abused children so that they could quietly take this money and disappear into the community unprosecuted, undetected, and unrepentant.”
This “laicization” or “defrocking” as it is known, is (staggeringly) not uncommon in the Catholic church. Reports suggest the ex-clergy were also given $1,250 in monthly pension benefits and health insurance until they were able to land a job, this in addition to the $20,000 severance.
Of course, given Dolan’s position as a senior Catholic figure it always seemed unlikely that the DNC would actually dare snub him and therein risk cementing accusations that President Obama and the Democratic Party are, en masse, waging a “war on faith.”
But when does the tipping point occur? When does a religious figure become too extreme? The answer might just be, it seems, when there isn’t an election to win.