US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Dolan, Campbell at GOP/Dem conventions = bad idea

By Bryan Cones | Print this pagePrint |

Keeping tabs on the coverage of New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan's "benediction" at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, my initial reaction to his attendance is confirmed: What a terrible idea. It divided Catholics and made the U.S. bishops look more partisan than they already do. (See Meghan Murphy-Gill's and LIz Lefebvre earlier posts on this topic here and here.)

Now as we await Sister Simone Campbell of NETWORK's appearance at the Democratic National Convention (along with Dolan's Timmy-come-lately blessing), which NETWORK's press release describes as "an important opportunity to talk about what she has learned after decades of work for social and economic justice," I have identical feelings. 

No matter what each of these religious leaders say, their participation at an event that is by definition a partisan part of the campaign inevitably communicates endorsement. Don't think that party operators don't know this; when Dolan agreed to appear also at the Democratic convention, an anonymous Romney adviser noted, "[We] can no longer claim to be the party that got the 'pope of America' to do the benediction. . . . It neutralizes at least that part of Romney's outreach."

Get it? Dolan and Campbell are being used, and the Catholic witness to the gospel is going to be diminished rather than enhanced by this participation. Sister Simone doesn't need an appearance in Charlotte to promote Catholic social teaching; she did that well with NETWORK's Nuns on the Bus tour. Dolan doesn't need a bigger bully pulpit--by the way, he is not the "pope of America," just the bishop of a single big diocese, thank you very much--especially since he can make his voice heard in The New York Times with a phone call.

It would be far better to for figures such as Dolan and Campbell to stay outside these gatherings, literally on the margins, to best represent the failures of both parties: a health care law that completely excludes immigrants without U.S. documentation; a continuing campaign of drone warfare that inevitably kills the innocent with the guilty; a proposed budget that would cut $810 billion from Medicaid over 10 years.

The Catholic community is already divided along party lines; now our two parties--neither of which embodies Catholic teaching in any meaningful way--have found a marvelous way to exploit that division. We should not fall into their self-serving trap.