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The Cardinal Prays Print E-mail
By Joseph Wood   
Saturday, 01 September 2012

Cardinal Timothy Dolan showed how to speak truth to power in the public square this week.

“Power” in this case was the Republican Party, and the power was in a good mood when the Archbishop of New York went to the podium to close the GOP convention. But rather than just excuse the crowd with a few feel-good platitudes, Dolan delivered a brief blessing that was packed with Catholic teaching. And he did so in a thoroughly American spirit.

As with his decision to invite both presidential candidates to the Al Smith charity dinner in October, Dolan’s acceptance of the invitation to Tampa caused controversy, this time on the Catholic and non-Catholic left. But those who criticized him were a bit surprised, if they noticed at all, when it was announced that he will also give the closing benediction at the Democratic convention next week in Charlotte. 

The difference is that in Charlotte, the speakers’ roster will also include Sister Simone Campbell, whose views of Catholic social teaching line up neatly with the Democratic party platform and who can serve as an “alternative hierarchy” for those seeking Catholic endorsement of a progressive agenda.   

But back to Tampa. Given some of the astonishingly bad reporting of his words to the Republicans, it’s worth a moment to consider some highlights of what Cardinal Dolan actually said.

He began by invoking “Almighty God, Father of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus.”  The “father” name and authority of the first person of the Trinity is mentioned over and over in the Catholic Catechism.  “Father” means something different in the case of Abraham and Jesus, of course.  But starting his remarks with this reference was a solid statement of Catholic belief at a time when the “father” side of God needs renewed emphasis.

He extended his benediction “upon those yet to be born” and on those nearing death, a clear call to cherish life at every stage. And, not shying away from differences on immigration policy, he asked for blessings on those whose families arrived generations ago and those who have come recently “to build a better future while weaving their lives into the rich tapestry of America.”


         Cardinal Dolan: Catholic teaching in a thoroughly American spirit

He invoked the principle of solidarity with those suffering from natural disasters and with the poor, without prescribing a particular set of means to implement the principle.

In a key passage, he recalled that: “the only just government is the government that serves its citizens rather than itself.” From this notion, which goes back to the roots of Catholic thinking about politics, he proceeded to perhaps his central message:  “Renew in all our people a respect for religious freedom in full, that first, most cherished freedom.”

There can be little doubt where that concise petition was aimed.  In this one simple statement, Cardinal Dolan did what he most should have in the context of the convention.

But he went on, asking that we be made “truly free by tethering freedom to truth and ordering freedom to goodness.”  This grounding of freedom in truth, and this placement of freedom as part of a larger order that is good, are the antidote to the nihilism that follows from moral relativism.

That freedom is to be used for a purpose – to lead a good life. And while I am no expert on the history of convention speeches, I would be surprised greatly if any other speaker in recent years has reminded the placard-wielding, costume-bedecked crowd of the virtues of faith, hope, love, prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude as the guides and marks of how a free life should be lived.

Dolan then recalled the words of the Declaration of Independence, asking that we might “know the truth of your creation, respecting the laws of nature and nature’s God…”  While no one claims that America’s founders were predominantly Catholic, this was a reminder that those founders did accept a modicum of natural law as essential to the nature and spirit of the Republic.  This was a key element of what Jefferson, forty-nine years after drafting the Declaration, meant when he characterized the document not as a statement of new or innovative principles, but as an expression of older truths as they were understood in the American mind.

Crucially, Cardinal Dolan added that we must not “seek to replace [the truth of creation and natural law] with idols of our own making.”  This warning against substituting our own ideas of perfecting the world in the place of God’s truth is at the heart of much political and personal discord today, as always in history.  Thus we must have “the good sense not to cast aside the boundaries of righteous living.”

He asked for God’s blessing on “all those in every land who seek to conduct their lives in freedom.”  His benediction was a prayer to the God of truths that are universal, not just American.  But he closed his words very much as an American, reminding us that “we are indeed one nation under God, and in God we trust.”

There are always questions about the role the Catholic hierarchy should play in politics.  As this year has demonstrated, these questions are more acute now than ever before in the history of our country.  They demand a careful reconsideration of when and how the bishops should engage political leaders.  The usual calls for civility and dialogue will not be enough to guide the Church in the current circumstances, when the Church’s own liberty to function is under threat.

But in terms of the central responsibility of the bishops to speak the truth, it was a good week.

 
Joseph Wood teaches at the Institute of World Politics in Washington.
 
 
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written by Graham Combs, August 31, 2012
I watched his eminence give the benediction live. I too was heartened by the sanctity of life message. As for it being universal I wish he had been more specifically American in his prayer. After all this was a political convention for an American party. Given America's demographic complexity, the "universality" of the country is a given. We need a shepherd who speaks to the troubled America of this moment in history. To Americans. I remain discouraged -- not merely disappointed, but discouraged -- by his eminence's invitation of one particular politician to the Al Smith dinner. Another missed opportunity to make a major public statement about the culture of death in this country. And about our foundational freedoms.

As I watched the Archbishop of New York give the benediction I could not shake the impression that he was uncomfortable before this large crowd. Not his usual demeanor in such situations if his appearances on the Today Show etc. are any indication. Bluntly he looked as if he did not want to be there. He was sweating and his eyes seemed almost to roll back into his head. He never looked at the delegates or into the camera.

Last night the Greek Orthodox metropolitan gave the benediction with authority and solemnity and appeared comfortable on stage. The invocation had been given by a leader of the Sikh community who kept his prayer inclusive. He was humble and uncomfortable but moving in his prayer. He was welcomed respectfully even compassionately by the Republican delegates, none of whom I suspect knew about his beliefs but only the tragedy that had recently afflicted his people in Wisconsin. They were quiet, they bowed their heads. As I said, I was deeply moved and for me this was a highlight of the three days of the convention. And yes very American.

Unfortunately I think his eminence's appearance suffered in comparison. And I was troubled and unhappy by this. I'm sorry but I have to disagree with Mr. Wood that this was a great moment in the history of the American Church. Too often when bishops speak in the civic space I have more questions than gratitude.
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written by Jack,CT, September 01, 2012
Thanks Mr Woood, i can only hope people
remember next week that he was at th "RNC"
and is being fair to say a prayer at the "DNC"!
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written by Bangwell Putt, September 01, 2012
If prayer's only significance were the words used and the meaning conveyed from person to persons, Catholics would have good reason to be concerned that the Cardinal's appearance will be misunderstood or, worse, misused.

If however we trust that Christian prayer is received by the Father through the Son in the Spirit and that that God is not left with "nothing to do" as Pope Benedict remarked, then, all misunderstandings and misuses notwithstanding, the Cardinal's prayer will help make all things "work together for the good."
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written by Quaecumque Vera, September 01, 2012
I agree that Cardinal Dolan gave a great benediction. Should he deliver the same at the Democratic convention next week there will be one major difference. His words will come at the end of three days of a Party positively celebrating the culture of death.
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written by Sue, September 01, 2012
What if a bishop-cardinal was invited to invoke at a Nazi Party or Stalin Party event? Would acceptance of such invite not be the only message to receive?
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written by Samuel Johnston, September 01, 2012
Re:“Renew in all our people a respect for religious freedom in full, that first, most cherished freedom.”

Comment: If you take the kings coin you must do the kings bidding*

*"The church is the largest single charitable organization in the country. Catholic Charities USA, its main charity, and its subsidiaries employ over 65,000 paid staff and serve over 10m people. These organizations distributed $4.7 billion to the poor in 2010, of which 62% came from local, state and federal government agencies."
The Economist on Line-The Catholic Church in America

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written by Graham Combs, September 01, 2012
There is a context to everything we do especially public prayer. Too often we receive one message one week then another the next. And in this case the messages conflict; they are incoherent. Words have meaning because words have histories. This includes prayer. Several years ago I attended a Mass of Lebanese Catholics here in South East Michigan. There is a dominant mood to this particular liturgy which reflects the history of Catholics in this region. The words, the prayers are suffused with a sense of insecurity, of being surrounded by a hostile culture. The prayers express a desire for the security of God's love in a world where Lebanese Catholics have felt under seige.

Fr. George Rutler -- like his eminence, a New York priest --has written recently of a new Post-comfortable Christianity in America. That is where we are. But that is a reality the Bishops'Conference seems reluctant to acknowledge. The Mass is more than a memorial to Christ's Sacrifice. It is more than nostalgia for a Love we will never truly understand in this life. Prayer should not be a form of nostalgia expressing a wish for things as they once were in this country. Things have changed and it is past time for the successors to the Apostles to recognize this.
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written by Jacob R, September 01, 2012
I wonder if we'll ever have cardinals who inspire young men and women.

American Catholicism is near collapse because it's an old guys and gals' club.
The old foggies don't even seem to try to bring young people in because that would threaten the integrity of their social club, I mean the Catholic Church in America.

These articles often seem so boring to me because they're well written itineraries of all the old people this or that high ranking member of the Church (and fellow old guy) glad handed that day.

Of course the last thing I mean about getting in touch with the younger generation is guitar mass, but when Christendom was thriving in Europe and the Americas there were groups of monks and groups of knights--social groups which catered to all the diverse and varied personality type sets.
In "the West" now, there seems to be, with a few notable but tiny exceptions, just one formidable force in the Church: old people, who love to talk about themselves but don't seem to know much about that pesky Catholicism that's always infringing on their social club.

I know that new Christian groups have for the most part been outlawed in this country (and, as I said, most the old foggies are too tired and self consumed to think about them anyway), but we can dream of reestablishing them someday, perhaps in Africa...or continue on with this pathetic version of Catholicism where old people babble on about nothing as if it pleases Christ.

"You allowed your culture to fall to the forces of Satan, my son, but you spoke at the conventions of BOTH major political parties in the United States in 2012 and so I shall forget about the least among you because I'm really impressed by big league politics."
--old foggie American Catholic fake version of Christ
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written by Fr. Bramwell, September 01, 2012
I think that Cardinal Dolan speaks to a nostalgic group of Catholics who want a back-slapping bishop who is saying 'can't we all just get along?'. The prayer is nice but really once the Bishop's Conference came out with a complete denial of Ryan's Bill because it does not pass the 'moral test', things have drastically changed. Did Dolan even have to be at the RNC convention?
Dolan seems to be a figure from the past when most of the Church was Democrat and bishops did not worry. Issue a statement of teaching now and again, teaching that would be ignored by the way and let public life flow on.
I wish that bishops would find the new identity that they need in this new time that faces us and that they would do it a lot faster.
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written by Deacon Ed Peitler, September 01, 2012
The Cardinal stated: “the only just government is the government that serves its citizens rather than itself.” I agree wholeheartedly. But when it comes to the immigration issue, let's remember that when anyone comes to the US illegally, they are not citizens. They need to be treated humanely and in charity but like anyone else who commits an illegal act. We recognize our obligation to care for those imprisoned with charity but the Church does not say that justice has no place and all prisoners ought to be let out of jail. One caveat: I am addressing an issue of justice and illegal acts and I am NOT suggesting that illegal immigrants should be sent to jail. But they are NOT citizens (even though Obama wants to give them the right to vote).
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written by Francis, September 01, 2012
There is nothing in Cardinal Dolan's prayer that at one time in America would have been considered controversial. The movement--more like a seismic shift--has clearly been in the Democratic party.

What would be partisan on the Cardinal's part would be to soften the prayer to the DNC's sensibilities, and I doubt he will do that. The interesting thing will be how it is received by the DNC. Think about it: how long has it been since the Democrats allowed a pro-life speaker on their podium? What will their reaction be?

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written by MRD, September 01, 2012
1) If you think anyone but the "professional Catholic" crowd heard Cardinal Dolan's oblique reference to "life" as saying something relevant to the fact that the Democrats are by an large promoters of abortion on demand and the Republican's are in general pro-life you are clearly delusional.

I would remind everyone that in the 112th Congress, of the 53 Democrats in the Senate ( 51 Democrats and 2 Independents who caucus with them) 51 had a O% voting record according to the the National Right to Life Committee. That means that they never voted with NRLC once. The 2 most "Pro-life" Democrat Senators had a record of agreeing with the NRLC 20% of the time! The Republicans had an average voting record of 93%, meaning the 47 Republicans voted with the NRLC on average 93% of the time. In fact most had 100% voting records. The most pro-choice Republican voted with the NRLC 66% of the time. That means the pro-life movement is better off with the worst RINO Republican versus the very best "pro-life" Democrat. (Indeed there are no prolife Democrats, only those claiming to be, at least in the US Senate. Given that abortion is an unspeakable crime, it should simply rule out any serious Catholic from voting for a Democrat.

I suppose some will say what about the poor? To which I answer perhaps if you actually care about the poor you would take the trouble to inquire as to the result of the policies your Democrat friends have foisted on them. For Example prior to the Johnson Administrations "war on poverty" The rate of poverty was actually rapidly declining, this decline ceased following 1965 and the Great society programs. The evidence is clear, these programs actually did harm ( they obliterated a decline in the poverty rate.) What helps the poor the most are policies which foster economic growth and that keep the family intact. Cities like Detroit have had one party liberal Democratic rule for decades and have been decimated. It might be nice for those folks concerned about the poor to do more than say they are concerned. They resemble an incompetent physician who says he cares about his patients but continues to administer a drug that has been shown to be harmful.

Given all this it is hard for me to see any utility for Cardinal Dolan treating the Democrats and the Republicans like to even choices with fairly innocuous Benedictions at both the RNC and DNC abortion fest.The Democrats as the DNC will make clear are the party of unlimited abortion on demand, abortion of course being an unspeakable crime and as stated by Blessed John Paul II a particularly foul form of murder. ( As noted in Evangelium Vitae). In addition the Democrats do not express a "preferential option for the poor" because they favor policies that further crush and ruin the poor. The Republicans while very imperfect, for the most part will limit abortion and the evidence suggests in general favor policies that will do a bit to alleviate the plight to the poor. If you are not deliberately deluding yourself this choice is simple.
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written by R. L. Hails Sr. P. E., September 01, 2012
It is well and fitting that a Catholic lead prayers in both national conventions; Catholics are the largest religious tradition in America. It is fitting that he, "speak truth to power", as all are sinners. The fact that he may shortly be in court against the Democratic leader is no reason to avoid his convention. Jesus spoke to sinners. The key decision is how to confront evil, hate the sin, while loving the sinner. In North Carolina, Cardinal Dolan will be a moral giant in the midst of pigmies. He should stick to simple basics: If you cheat, lie, and steal, then you will go to hell.
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written by Dr.Todd, September 01, 2012
I would point out that the Cardinal did not avoid the DNC, they tried to avoid him. Only public pressure caused them to allow him in. I pray that he will use the same prayer, word for word. Though I am not a Catholic these words speak for all of us as serious disciples of Christ.
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written by Mike Petrik, September 01, 2012
MRD,
The utility will be apparent when boos emerge from those sad souls attending the DNC at the moment Cardinal Dolan references "those yet to be born, " which he will.
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written by valwayne, September 01, 2012
I thought Cardinal Dolan's benediction was strong and clearly welcomed at the Republican Convention, but then the Republican party isn't waging war against Relgious Freedom and the 1st Amendment. My question is when he goes to the Democratic convention, the convention of a President and a party waging war on the Catholic Church, if he will rebuke Obama for waging that war against both the Catholic Church and Christianity. Will he speak truth to power and speak out directly at the convention against the President's dispicable plan to violate the First Amendment and force the Catholic Church and its institutions to violate their most fundamental beliefs, and their covenant with God?
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written by Glenn Koons, September 01, 2012
As a Prot. pastor, I welcomed the Dolan prayer. The RNC was polite and ...actually prayed. Dolan will not find the same response at the DNC. Oh, they will bow but the fact is , the DNC invited him because the Dems have gone overboard on blasting Christian freedom of religious speech and thought on abortion, in hospitals, nursing homes, schools et al. And not just for Catholics. Obama and the DNC knew they had to get Dolan or lose many more Catholic votes. It is a ploy my friends and Catholic voters and the Church should realize it.
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written by Maggie Louise, September 01, 2012
Dear Fr. Bramwell,

You have captured exactly the core and the substance of the matter. I have often been uneasy about our bishops when they speak, feeling that there was something out of tune, something missing, something not quite sound, that I could not put my finger on. You have revealed what is missing: they are speaking in the wrong century. Who knew that the explanation would be so simple. Thank you.
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written by Fr. Bramwell, September 02, 2012
Transition points are tough to identify and to bear. The close identification between the Church and a political party is coming to an end ultimately because the Church is about so much more than politics. The Conference staff's critique of the Ryan budget demonstrates the problem. The Conference staff has not made the transition yet.
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written by Fr. Bramwell, September 02, 2012
Hi Maggie just to pick up your other point about the bishops 'speaking in the wrong century'. This sounds rather like Card. Martini who forgot that Christ's truth is timeless.
The issue really is being in conversation with the public square using this timeless truth. He chose celebrity which means voicing the zeitgeist over speaking the truth no matter what isolation that brings.
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written by KB, September 02, 2012
If the Church leaders spent as much time on their personal spiritual lives as they do on "schmoozing," the Church might be in better shape.
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written by Patrick Samson, September 03, 2012
What troubles me as a pro-lifer is the no one has said anything about the fact that while Mitt Romney managed the Bain Company, according to documents from the Securities and Exchange Commission, Romney was involved with Bain's investment in Stericycle, a medical waste firm involved in the disposing of aborted fetuses for abortion clinics and other medical facilities. This was not back in the 1980s before he converted from being pro-choice, but in the late 1990's and after the year 2000, again according to the Secuirty and Exchange Commission document, when he as supposed to be pro-life.
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written by Sue, September 03, 2012
"...after the year 2000, again according to the Secuirty and Exchange Commission document, when he as supposed to be pro-life...."

One might ask whose media-churning told you he was "supposed to be prolife". As Romney himself said recently,

"My position has been clear throughout this campaign," Romney said. "I'm in favor of abortion being legal in the case of rape and incest, and the health and life of the mother."

Health of the mother?

Indeed.

And furthermore Mitt says abortion is out of his hands:

"Recognize this is the decision that will be made by the Supreme Court," he said. "The Democrats try and make this a political issue every four years, but this is a matter in the courts. It's been settled for some time in the courts."

Classic Bain-and-switch maneuvering of the incrementalists. Romney never was prolife, and what has suffered is the notion of inalienable right to life.

It should *always* have been abolish abortion, now.
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written by Frankly, September 03, 2012
Again, it is down to "the lesser of two evils".
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written by John Rapach, September 19, 2012
Religious clergy at a political convention is like an oxymoron:
religion and free government are direct opposites. Religion has its rules that do not necessarily apply to our modern and diversified public. People in politics have their rules and they should be guided by their good conscience and by the will of their constituents, not by a religion or a Corporation.

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