Whatever your political beliefs, it must have come as a surprise to hear that Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, the head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops/USCCB, would be offering a benediction at the Democratic National Convention as well as at the Republican one.
The Cardinal’s office did say that at both conventions he “was coming solely as a pastor, only to pray, not to endorse any party, platform, or candidate.” But it is also true that Dolan has led the charge against the Obama administration regarding certain of its health care rules, calling them nothing less than a war on religion. So what gives?
Perhaps Cardinal Dolan found it easy to say “yes” to the Democrats due to a great political irony. Any heartfelt, impassioned outbursts against him from the convention floor will end up unwittingly — very unwittingly — conveying the same impression of the U.S. bishops that he himself is giving: namely, that the USCCB and the Democrats are somehow polar opposites, when in fact that is not the case.
On every major issue except those related to culture/sex, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has long sided with the Democrats. Take your pick: the environment/global warming; immigration rights; opposition to the death penalty; a living wage/labor rights; regulation of questionable business practices; ending our two wars; cutting defense spending (with the bishops arguably to the left of the Democrats in Congress on the latter issue).
And in 2012 the USCCB officially sides with the Democrats on all the issues that matter most to the voters, from jobs to housing to, yes, health care, with the bishops calling it a universal human right.
As for the Ryan Budget that catapulted Paul Ryan onto the Republican ticket, the USCCB sent numerous messages to Congress making clear their opposition to his proposed cuts. In one of the letters that they sent to every member of the House of Representatives, the bishops declared that “deficit reduction and fiscal responsibility efforts must protect and not undermine the needs of poor and vulnerable people,” and they concluded that “the proposed cuts to programs in the budget reconciliation fail this basic moral test.”
The bishop chosen by his peers to draft these official statements, Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, Calif., stood his ground when told that the Democrats might use the letters to their advantage. “I know they have interpreted our response as critical of the Ryan budget and perhaps it is. But, really,” he said, “I want to protect the poor and vulnerable in our country. We will keep speaking out no matter what party is in power.”
Or maybe none of this matters. After all, the bishops lost much if not most of their credibility with their cover-ups of pedophile priests. And Catholics famously vote their conscience even when their views contradict Church teachings, notably on hot button gender-related issues. It is on those issues, of course, that the bishops and the Democrats stand bitterly opposed.
Abortion and gay marriage matter tremendously, on many levels, but they are not the main issues that concern the voters this year. The three main issues are: the economy, the economy and the economy, and here the U.S. Catholic bishops stand opposed to the GOP.
Not that Cardinal Dolan seems interested in pointing this out. But don’t be confused regarding the official position of the Catholic Church when it comes to the Ryan Budget. Yes, Paul Ryan is a Catholic, but as a New York Times editorial noted when Mitt Romney announced Representative Ryan’s selection, the cuts proposed by his budget “are so severe that the nation’s Catholic bishops protested the proposal as failing to meet society’s moral obligations, saying the plans ‘will hurt hungry children, poor families, vulnerable seniors.'”
When it comes to the main issues of 2012, the bishops are with the Democrats.