Cardinal Dolan’s benediction makes news

Cardinal Dolan’s benediction makes news September 7, 2012

I could not have had more fun watching the conventions. Before they began, if someone had asked me which convention would have the more dramatic religious stories, I would have picked the Republican one in a heartbeat. What with Mitt Romney’s Mormonism and his evangelical base and all that. But it turned out that all the interesting religion news action was over in Charlotte, where the Democrats gathered.

There are so many stories — and their coverage or lack thereof — that I’d like to get to but one big one from last night was the evening’s conclusion. As with the Republican Convention, Cardinal Timothy Dolan offered the benediction. And he gave an almost identical prayer to the one he gave in Tampa. But while the prayer in Tampa made roughly no news, his prayer in Charlotte has generated quite a bit of coverage and controversy.

To my ear, having heard both benedictions, I thought the prayers were identical. But there were some changes and the prayer at the DNC had some additional words. To compare the two prayers, I was thankful for this Huffington Post story that simply quoted the entirety of both of them. You can read them for yourselves as they are pretty long. The two minor changes were not minor in content, however, and reporter Jaweed Kaleem picked up on those:

“We ask your benediction on those waiting to be born, that they may be welcomed and protected,” Dolan, who as the Archbishop of New York and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has spoken out strongly against abortion, said at the DNC.

And making what seemed to be a allusion to same-sex marriage, which President Barack Obama and the DNC have endorsed, Dolan said: “Show us anew that happiness is found only in respecting the laws of nature and of nature’s God. Empower us with your grace so that we might resist the temptation to replace the moral law with idols of our own making, or to remake those institutions you have given us for the nurturing of life and community.”

While Dolan prayed for the “sacred and inalienable gift of life” at the Republican National Convention, he did not ask specifically for protection for the unborn. At the RNC, he said, “We ask your benediction upon those yet to be born, and on those who are about to see you at the end of this life.”

Religious liberty was also a petition in both prayers.

You may find it interesting how ABC News characterized the pro-life portion of the prayer. Here’s the first paragraph:

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York and a leading Catholic-American voice opposing abortion and President Obama’s health care reform law, inserted what some saw as an anti-abortion remark into his benediction Thursday night at the Democratic National Convention.

I get that journalists have decided that all references to the pro-life movement must be in terms of “anti-abortion” and many references to the pro-choice movement must be in terms of “abortion rights” but I think this shows the limitations of the phrases. Not only does the pro-life movement, and Dolan’s prayer, encompass far more than just protection for the unborn, to frame the entire movement as restrictive, rather than protective, is telling. When someone specifically argues for protection (rather than restriction), the journalistic buzz words are pushed to the limit.

Anyway, there are some interesting side stories to this piece, in terms of how this prayer was covered by the media (few outlets showed it — this is why everyone should watch these things on C-SPAN) and how it was received at the Democratic Convention relative to the Republican one and why.

The Los Angeles Times‘ Mitchell Landsburg got into that in his piece on the prayer, which ends:

Dolan was criticized by some in the church when he initially agreed to deliver the benediction at the Republican convention, an act that was seen as taking sides in a partisan fight. He said at the time that he would also be willing to give his blessing to the Democratic convention, and the Democrats took him up on the offer. By the end of the night Thursday, some of them may have been wondering why.

I don’t get the passive language. If someone accused Dolan of “taking sides in a partisan fight” we should know who that person or those persons are, right? Maybe we should hear why they made that accusation. There’s just no need for passive newswriting like that. Anyway, please let us know if you see any particularly good or bad media coverage of the prayer.

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  • Jerry

    By the end of the night Thursday, some of them may have been wondering why.

    That sentence surprised me and I made an assumption. That assumption proved wrong when I read the story and understood the context:

    It also seemed noteworthy that when he spoke to the Republican convention in Tampa, Dolan asked for God’s guidance for “those who would govern us,” and cited Republican nominees Mitt Romney and Rep. Paul Ryan by name. At the Democratic convention in Charlotte, he named President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden in the same context– but then added Romney and Ryan. Democrats had little choice but to say, “Amen.”

    So the reporter’s sentence was a political not a theological reference. But it was in any event a bit of editorializing that a news story could have done without.

    Side comment: Mollie, you have a strange sense of fun. To me, watching days of the political equivalent of the home shopping channel is not fun. But to each his or her own.

  • jh

    I find it interesting that in the DNC prayer it appears this part was added

    ” Strengthen our sick and our elders waiting to see your holy face at life’s end, that they may be accompanied by true compassion and cherished with the dignity due those who are infirm and fragile.”

    It has not been commented on but I do wonder if perhaps some folks in Boston called the Cardinal up to remind them of a certain huge ballot issue they are fighting this election cycle

    • Kristen

      Not just in Boston. Lots of folks out west dealing with the physician assisted suicide issue.

  • I wonder if the HuffPo reporter noticed the allusion to immigration in the Republican prayer:
    “May we strive to include your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, in the production and prosperity of a people so richly blessed.”
    Maybe I missed it, but I didn’t see the same allusion in the Democratic prayer.

  • Kate

    Joel – it was there, briefly. “May we welcome those who yearn to breathe free and to pursue happiness in this land of freedom, adding their gifts to those whose families have lived here for centuries.” It came right after the bit about not remaking those institutions that nurture life and community.

  • I suspect the reason the Cardinal included both sets of candidates in his prayer at the DNC is that he is aware that many of his flock consider the bishops to be a subsidiary of the Democratic party and the conservative ones resent it. In fact, the positions of the USCCB on social justice matters does tend to reflect that. Also, there is the radical difference between the Democratic platform on abortion and gay marriage and Catholic moral teaching. There are obvious reasons why he would have been extra careful to appear non-partisan that didn’t have to do with politics but rather clarity about the faith.

    I thought it was a superb prayer, by the way.

  • Actually “not to support the Democrats” would be better than “to be non-partisan” here.

  • Kristen

    Do read both. I spent a lot of time looking at them. cautions against idolatry in both prayers, and carefully addresses each audience “as a pastor” – that was how he characterized his visit. That there might be a spiritual aspect to the whole process of running for office, or even for voting for some candidate, is an alien thought in many circles, including Republicans. I loved that Dolan was completely comfortable encouraging and admonishing both conventions.

  • pagansister

    Not having watched anything but the speech President Obama gave in the DNC, did either convention have a representative from other faiths do their thing? A bishop from the RCC is certainly just a representative of one faith—-Christian, yes, but most certainly not all Christians. Was there a Rabbi, a minister from another Christian faith, a cleric from the Isamic faith etc.? Why only Dolan?