Whatever your political beliefs, it must have come as a surprise to hear that Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, the head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops/USCCB, would offer a benediction at the Democratic National Convention as well as at the Republican one.
The Cardinal's office did say that at both conventions he "was coming solely as a pastor, only to pray, not to endorse any party, platform, or candidate." But it is also true that Dolan has led the charge against the Obama administration regarding certain of its health care rules, calling them nothing less than a war on religion. And the USCCB is famously, adamantly opposed to the Democrats on abortion and other gender/cultural issues. So what gives?
Perhaps Cardinal Dolan found it easy to say "yes" to the Democrats because, ironically, any impassioned outbursts against him from the convention floor will unwittingly convey the same impression of the U.S. bishops that he himself is giving: namely, that the USCCB and the Democrats are somehow polar opposites, when in fact that is not the case.
On most issues, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops has long sided with the Democrats, including with regard to the main issues that are in play this year, from jobs to housing to our two wars - to, yes, health care, with the bishops characterizing it as a universal human right.
As for the Ryan Budget that catapulted Paul Ryan onto the Republican ticket, the USCCB sent numerous messages to Congress making clear their opposition to his proposed cuts. In one of the letters that they sent to every member of the House of Representatives (in this case, May 8, 2012), the bishops declared that "deficit reduction and fiscal responsibility efforts must protect and not undermine the needs of poor and vulnerable people," and they concluded that "the proposed cuts to programs in the budget reconciliation fail this basic moral test."
The bishop chosen by his peers to draft these official statements, Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, California, stood his ground when told that the Democrats might use the letters to their advantage. "I know they have interpreted our response as critical of the Ryan budget and perhaps it is. But, really," he said, "I want to protect the poor and vulnerable in our country. We will keep speaking out no matter what party is in power."
Or maybe none of this matters. After all, the bishops lost much if not most of their credibility with their cover-ups of pedophile priests. And Catholics famously vote their conscience even when their views contradict Church teachings, notably on hot button gender-related issues. It is on those issues, of course, that the bishops and the Democrats remain bitterly opposed.
Abortion and gay marriage matter tremendously, on many levels, but they are not the main issues that concern the voters this year. The three main issues are: the economy, the economy, and the economy, and here the U.S. Catholic bishops stand opposed to the GOP.
Not that Cardinal Dolan seems interested in pointing this out. But don't be confused regarding the official position of the Catholic Church when it comes to the Ryan Budget. Yes, Paul Ryan is a Catholic, but as a New York Times editorial noted when Mitt Romney announced his choice of Ryan, "These cuts are so severe that the nation's Catholic bishops raised their voices in protest at the shredding of the nation's moral obligations. Mr. Ryan's budget 'will hurt hungry children, poor families, vulnerable seniors and workers who cannot find employment,' the bishops wrote in an April letter to the House. 'These cuts are unjustified and wrong.'"
When it comes to the main issues of 2012, the U.S. Catholic bishops side with the Democrats.
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