|Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York. receiving|
the Cardinal's biretta from H.H. Pope Benedict XVI
last February 18th in Rome
They say that when one becomes a bishop “you’ve had your last bad meal and you will never hear the truth again.” Somebody has got to get through to Dolan and wake him up to some basic facts. His Eminence spoke last week at Holy Trinity Diocesan High School in Hicksville, Long Island regarding the Health Care mandate requiring all employers, including Catholic institutions, to cover contraception, sterilization, and abortifacients. His Eminence is right to protest this and to educate the faithful about both the moral and political facets of this issue. I have no problem with that—to the contrary I would be disappointed if the Cardinal and the other American hierarchs didn’t do their duty and alert the faithful to the import of this issue. But according to newspaper accounts the Cardinal threatened to put the political muscle of 78 million Roman Catholics against the administration. This is where I am wondering on what planet the good Cardinal lives.
In the first place, while there may be 78 million Americans who on the census list Roman Catholic as their religious affiliation, let’s say that there may be 50 million who attend Church with some regularity. Of those 50 million there may be about 10 million who know who the Cardinal Archbishop of New York is (and less that care). Perhaps there are 40 million who know who their own bishop is (and again, how many care is another issue).
In the end, few Catholics will be swayed in their choice at the polls by the Cardinal’s—or any other bishop’s—urgings. I am not saying that there won’t be many who vote against a second term for President Obama—there will be millions who vote against the President. What I am saying is that those who will use their vote against the Obama administration will be overwhelmingly those who would not have voted the President a second term in any event. There are some among them who will call for their fellow Catholics to heed the bishops’ advice and they may claim that they are making their political choice “to preserve the freedom of the Church” or to “protect religious freedom” in general, but you will find very few of these types who did not vote against Barack Obama in 2008 and had no intention of voting for him this time. And there may be one or two million who will vote for the President simply because they are angry with the bishops for presuming to direct us in our political choice—or who are just angry at the bishops and see this as a way to strike back. Those who do switch votes in 2012 will be doing it for reasons more personal to their own welfare than for the “good” of their Church. Given that Obama carried the Catholic vote in 2008, I will be surprised if he does not carry it—admittedly by a smaller majority—again in 2012. The Cardinal’s political muscle is limper than whatever shambles are left of his biceps in those flabby arms that go with the jovial face.
The Church needs a new strategy to rebuild its once-proud place in public life. The sex-abuse scandal, and in particular the abysmal job many bishops did of handling the scandal, took away any pretenses of moral leadership. The perceived bias against women in the Church has kicked down whatever teetering ruins of credibility are left. American Catholics—even the most devout—are not getting on the homophobic believers’ bus as almost all of us have a gay child, aunt, brother-in-law, friend, co-worker, neighbor from whom we have learned to rethink this issue for ourselves. In the estimation of most Americans, including Catholics, the president extricated himself neatly from the Health-Care obligatory coverage for contraceptives controversy. The poor Cardinal is, like the emperor, parading down the street head held high but naked to his enemies (and friends alike). Wake up, Timmy, and smell the coffee. You are one of the few mitered brows that conceals a brain bright enough to know that there is a lot of rebuilding necessary and equally necessary is a new strategy to recover true leadership.