Cardinal Dolan’s Rightward March?

The New York Times highlights the U.S. Catholic bishops’ enthusiasm to see Dorothy Day’s canonization cause move forward. And how convenient that a “conservative” cardinal — New York’s Timothy Cardinal Dolan — is leading the effort, allowing him to reach across party lines, so to speak, the Times observes. (The headline is: “In Hero of the Catholic Left, a Conservative Cardinal Sees a Saint.”) I take exception to this contention that Cardinal Dolan is a conservative. What’s the evidence? He opposes abortion and works to keep women from feeling like they have to have them. He supports marriage. He is suing the federal government.

Well, the Times doesn’t actually mention the Archdiocese of New York’s lawsuit against the Obama administration, because that might suggest there is still a controversy and religious-liberty problem Catholics and others face because of Obama-administration policy.

(There is, and there are lawsuits — 40 of them, with 110 plaintiffs. And not just the Hobby Lobby suit that got attention when a court ruled against their injunction request just before Thanksgiving. The family that runs Hobby Lobby, by the way, is Protestant, not Catholic.)

For these aforementioned reasons he is “one of the most visible symbols of the rightward shift of America’s Catholic bishops,” according to the Times.

But it is also fact that Cardinal Dolan prayed at both political conventions this year (though word was the Dems weren’t that keen on having the pro-life opponent of their Department of Health and Human Services abortion-drug, contraception, sterilization mandate on their stage in Charlotte). He has talked with some nostalgia about John F. Kennedy. That he was criticized by many on the right for hosting Barack Obama, alongside Mitt Romney, for a charity dinner in October.

The Times notes:

“I am convinced she is a saint for our time,” Cardinal Dolan said at the bishops’ meeting. She exemplifies, he said, “what’s best in Catholic life, that ability we have to be ‘both-and’ not ‘either-or.’ ”

It notes, however:

Describing for reporters at the bishops’ meeting Day’s life as a young woman, Cardinal Dolan offered a litany of concerns: “Sexual immorality, religious searching, pregnancy out of wedlock and an abortion.” But, he said, after her conversion, she not only flourished, but she also became an icon “for everything right about the dignity of the human person and the sanctity of human life.”

I’m not so sure those were “concerns” for Cardinal Dolan; I think he was pointing to an open door — to the nearest Catholic Church, to the confessional, to all who have fallen away. You can do all kinds of things and yet choose to seek redemption, resting and soaring in Divine Mercy.

The article goes on to explain that “he and other conservative Catholics have come to embrace Day, finding inspiration in her decision to support the church’s opposition to abortion, as well as her distrust of government and her overall religious orthodoxy.”

What the Times misses here — besides the reality that Christians are called to a life beyond political parties, life beyond dividing Christ’s Church along political lines — is that Dorothy Day’s life can be a tremendous source of mercy in the lives of women and men today. Those supposedly necessarily right-wing bishops who talk about the innocent unborn, they know that there are countless women and men in pain today because of the children they no longer have in their lives, because of the regret and pain they feel. The life of Dorothy Day can help. Do these supposedly necessarily right-wing bishops believe that we must serve one another and not expect the government to do it for us? Of course, but it’s not because they learned it at the Heritage Foundation and Dorothy Day provides some convenient coverage for their ideology, but it is because we are called to love and serve one another, in love and service of our God.

Knowing Dorothy Day’s Christian witness can help us all be better. Another bishop who has been labelled in ways similar to the Times treatment of Dolan, Archbishop Charles Chaput in Philadelphia, has recently warned that if we do not help the poor, we will go to hell. Protect life, love one another. They are no political plays.

And anyone who reads Cardinal Dolan as a mere politician misreads and misses out. And in the case of Dorothy Day and abortion, doesn’t help with the great healing her experience can open the door to.

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