'American Pope' will pray at Republican, Democratic conventions
by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
New York's Roman Catholic Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and sometimes not-so-jokingly called 'the American pope,' is treading a fine line in this election year.
On August 22, Dolan's Archdiocese of New York confirmed that he would deliver the closing prayer at the Republican National Convention in Tampa. On August 28, the archdiocese announced that Dolan would also pray at the close of the Democrats' convention in Charlotte, N.C.
Dolan also personally invited President Obama to the annual Al Smith Dinner in October, becoming the target of a protest by Catholic hardliners as a result.
The cardinal led his church to challenge Obama's Affordable Care Act because it requires insurance companies to cover contraceptives. The Catholic Church opposes contraception and wants Catholic hospitals, colleges, and other institutions to be exempt from the law.
Dolan also found Obama's endorsement of equal marriage rights for Gay and Lesbian couples 'deeply saddening' and called on Catholics 'to promote and protect marriage and by so doing serve the true good of all persons.'
On the other hand, Catholic bishops have denounced Republican vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan, a Catholic himself, for a budget plan they contend harms the poor.
NOT AN ENDORSEMENT
A spokesperson for Dolan told CNN that Republican Party officials insisted that Dolan deliver the closing prayer, even though church protocol would normally dictate that the prayer be delivered by a local bishop. The spokesperson, Joseph Zwilling, also said there were no partisan implications in the cardinal's decision to attend the Republican convention.
'The Cardinal made it clear to the RNC (and to the Democratic National Committee as well) that he was only there to offer a prayer, not to engage in any partisan politics,' Zwilling said, 'and that he would be willing to accept a similar invitation from the DNC if they were to invite him to pray at their convention as well.'
Less than a week later, Zwilling repeated to CNN that the cardinal is coming to the Democratic convention 'solely as a pastor, only to pray, not to endorse any party, platform, or candidate.'
Obama's re-election campaign revealed on August 28 that Dolan would not be the only high-profile Catholic at the Democrats' convention. Among the speakers in Charlotte will be Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of the social justice group NETWORK.
Campbell's group led the recent 'Nuns on the Bus' tour protesting the Ryan budget, but it was also the target of formal criticism from the Vatican. Papal officials alleged the group is influenced by a 'radical feminist agenda' and should instead put more energy into promoting the church's anti-choice, anti-Gay teachings.
ROASTED FOR DINNER
Dolan is regarded as conservative both on theological and social issues, and has been closely associated with Pope Benedict XVI, but he may have done his work too well. When it was reported that he had personally asked Obama to attend the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner, it was too much for some Catholic hardliners to bear.
On August 27, the American Life League, which describes itself as 'the largest grassroots Catholic pro-life education organization in the United States,' issued an almost hysterical call to its supporters to send the cardinal postcards protesting the invitation.
'THIS INVITATION GIVES THE APPEARANCE OF GOOD FELLOWSHIP WITH A PRESIDENT WHOSE ACTIONS AND POLICIES ARE NO LESS HOSTILE THAN THOSE OF THE ROMAN EMPEROR DECIUS, WHO TRIED TO ROOT OUT THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION BY ISSUING AN EDICT ORDERING ALL CITIZENS TO WORSHIP THE STATE GODS OR FACE DIRE CONSEQUENCES,' the appeal said, all in capital letters.
'Cardinal Dolan's invitation to Obama is an outrage. OBAMA IS THE MOST PRO-ABORTION AND ANTI-CATHOLIC PRESIDENT IN U.S. HISTORY.' The cardinal's office has not commented on the protest.
The Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation, named for the first Roman Catholic to run for president on a major party ticket, funds Catholic charities, and the annual dinner is its signature fundraising event. Although Smith was a Democrat himself, Democratic candidates have sometimes skipped the dinner because of their differences with the Catholic Church on reproductive choice.
Bill Clinton, for example, never spoke there. Walter Mondale skipped the event in 1984, as did John Kerry in 2004. In 1980, Jimmy Carter spoke but was booed by the crowd, because he refused to let his personal anti-abortion views intrude on public policy. In 2008, both Obama and his rival, John McCain, spoke at the dinner.
The Roman Catholic Church is the largest religious denomination in the U.S., and Catholics are considered a crucial swing vote. No recent presidential candidate has won the White House without winning a majority among Catholics.
In spite of repeated statements by the pope and the U.S. bishops, most American Catholics support marriage equality. A 2011 Pew poll found Catholics favoring equal marriage rights by a margin of 52% to 37%. Among white Catholics - the Irish, Italian, Polish, and German ethnic voters among whom Democratic candidates struggle for support - the margin is even bigger, with 57% supporting equality.
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