Bishops are Republicans, Nuns are Catholic


Archbishop Timothy Dolan has been invited to give the closing prayer at this week’s Democratic Convention in Charlotte. The New York Times reports the New York cardinal will be one of matched pair of high profile Catholics to appear on the podium before the Democratic faithful, with Sister Simone Campbell of “Nuns on the Bus” fame completing the set.

Religion reporter Laurie Goodstein’s story “At Democratic Convention, a Cardinal and an Outspoken Nun” sets the scene and offers a bit of the “why” — but I’ve seen little so far on the “how” — and outside of the religious press, not much on whether this is a good idea at all.

The Times reports the news the:

Democrats are giving a convention speaking slot to Sister Simone Campbell, an outspoken advocate for the poor and elderly, according to an aide with President Obama’s campaign who would speak only on background.

In doing so, the Democratic Party has balanced its own Catholic ticket by showcasing both Sister Campbell, who pushed for the passage of the Obama administration’s health care overhaul, and Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, who is suing the White House over a provision in the health care overhaul that requires employers to cover birth control in their employee insurance plans.

The article is framed in good cop/bad cop terms, but seeks to balance the piece by positing a degree of moral equivalence between the Dolan and Campbell’s political activities.

Cardinal Dolan, who says he is a personal friend of Representative Paul D. Ryan, Mitt Romney’s running mate. has been perceived by many Catholic commentators as being too cozy with Republicans, while Sister Campbell has been seen as being too supportive of Democratic causes. In June, she led the “Nuns on the Bus” tour to call attention to cuts affecting the poor and elderly in the budget proposed by Mr. Ryan.

The two will have different roles at the convention:

Cardinal Dolan will give the closing prayer at the convention, and Sister Campbell will speak but not offer a prayer.

And the story then r0unds off with a few paragraphs about Sister Campbell. All in all a solid story with an editorial voice that favors the nun over the cardinal. The theme of the article is that the liberal Campbell is balanced by the conservative Dolan.

What would have made the story stronger would have been a development of the why and how themes. We have surface story of the Democrats playing “me too”, inviting Dolan because the Republicans did. The import being the Democrats are seeking to curry favor with Catholic voters in the same way the Republicans have. But Campbell?

The Times article notes her support for the President’s healthcare initiative and suggests she is an alternative Catholic voice. Yet is there more? In an Aug 24 story in the New Yorker — before the invitation from the Democrats was given to Dolan, Hendrick Hertzberg wrote:

Dolan, as you may also have heard, heads up the male hierarchy’s drive to portray Obamacare as an attack on freedom of religion and is a leading enforcer in the Vatican-ordered crackdown on women religious who regard ministering to the poor and the sick as more urgent and more admirable than railing against contraception and homosexuality.

He then cites with approval the Aug 24 edition of the Carville – Greenberg Memorandum, where James Carville argues the Democrats should invite Campbell to spite Dolan and exploit the social justice agenda of the church for their political advantage.

And now, a week later, we have Campbell speaking and Dolan praying in Charlotte.  How did we get to this point? Do Dolan and and Campbell represent different wings of the same church, different views of what it means to live a Catholic life? Is it wise for the Catholic Church to allow individuals to become symbols of the conflicting views of its teachings?

Should the Catholic Church allow itself to be used by the national political parties in this way? I am not speaking of separation of church/state issues, but whether the integrity of the church, any church, is damaged when it comes in contact with secular politics. The assumption here is that it is social good for religious organizations — as opposed to religious individuals — to take a stand in the public square. Is that a valid assumption?

And should these issues be raised in the reporting on these questions? Not every story need be an essay on the merits of the marriage of politics and church leaders — but should there not be a voice offered from time to time that sees the arrangement differently? What say you GetReligion readers? Have I strayed into editorializing here by suggesting that clergy might be seen, but not heard at political conventions? Am I pushing my interpretation ahead of the simple facts of who is doing what in Charlotte — or is there a deeper truth that has yet to be revealed in the reporting of these issues?

And the title to this post? It comes from the Carville video –his mangling (deliberate?) of the old saw, “Bishops are Republicans, Nuns are Democrats.”

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  • alypius

    I read Goodstein’s article, and while I would agree with you that the article might have raised the issue, I don’t think it was an egregious omission on her part. If neither Cardinal Dolan nor the nun think it is problematic, then there doesn’t seem to be any call for it in a short article of that nature. An editorial would be a better venue for it or a blog post perhaps. (And, yes, the article certainly has an editorial voice.) Maybe if she was given more space, then perhaps that would make more sense, but I still think it could raised in another venue more profitably.

  • Matt

    Strange that you didn’t provide a link to Hertzberg’s New Yorker story. A quick Google search led me to it, and I found a key fact you seem to be overlooking: This all started with Archbishop Dolan first agreeing to offer a prayer at the close of the Republican National Convention -a move that would seem to violate the protocol around these things. (Ordinarily, the local bishop would perform such a service). Dolan seemed “unusually eager” (Hertzber’s phrase) to give his blessing to the RNC; all of this plays out against that backdrop.

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  • J. Bob

    A so the headline continues, the campaign to divide the Church.

  • michelle

    So….the Nun’s are supporting Obama…who is pro choice…..and the Catholic Church stand on abortion is “what?” pro choice? Way to go Sister’s…you people are really organized as a faith


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