09/12/2012 01:21 pm ET Updated Nov 12, 2012

Timothy Dolan and Simone Campbell: The DNC's Dueling Religious

I'd sure hate to be the anti-LGBT, anti-woman tantrum-prone cardinal following the sage, rabbinic and serenely exuberant Sister Simone Campbell at the Democratic National Convention. But Timothy Dolan -- who is, by the way, not "America's pope" (as the papist fringe likes to call him) -- did just that.

It was difficult to see how the audience responded. As was the case in Tampa, the camera tended to focus on the reverential faces in the crowd as the cardinal prayed. The texts of the two prayers themselves are similar. In both the RNC and DNC prayers, Timothy Dolan mentioned Romney and Ryan by name. In each he referred to Obama and Biden as "the President and Vice President." Dolan waxed slightly more prosaic on the protections of the yet to be born in the DNC prayer, but did devoted extra syllables to the rights of immigrants in the RNC speech. But so far as the contest between dueling Catholic religious in the DNC arena is concerned, Sister Simone Campbell was the winner who took all.

I confess that I have a problem with prayer at political conventions. I have no problem with prayer in general. I happen to pray quite often, and when I pray, I generally begin and end with the sign of the cross. When I pray with those who do not share my Christian faith, however, I do not make the sign of the cross. Although some hysterical fundamentalist fringe Roman Catholics would say this is one of the several aspects of my religiosity or lack of it that proves that I am not "really Catholic," I do believe the more Christ-centered approach to praying with Muslims and Jews is to do so without the sign of the cross. To toss in the names of Abraham and Moses is to offer too little too late -- is to throw the Muslims and Jews a pro-forma bone. It does not much ameliorate the prayerful big-footing at hand.

The cross as a symbol means many things to many people. I understand why people wear crosses and crucifixes. I wear a cross. It has a powerful, positive meaning for me. For Jews, Muslims and those who do not believe, the cross does not convey a loving message. I found interesting that Campbell left her cross at home on Wednesday night -- perhaps out of a desire not to offend those who do not believe as she does. Maybe she thought a cross superfluous, given all that authentic Christ radiating out through her pores. Maybe she imagined a little color (in the form of a tiny bit of lipstick, and a bold blue jacket) might be more consistent with the bold and joyful commitment to "God's grandeur" -- to borrow the great poet Gerard Manley Hopkins' term -- she aimed to communicate, and that a little pearl necklace might better convey the simple, quiet irridescence of her faith than would some clobberingly garish hip-hop-worthy religious "bling."

It appears from the video footage that both Dolan and the DNC crowd behaved themselves. Those who had every moral right to boo the cardinal seem to have abstained. I credit the cardinal too, with good behavior, for he kept his anti-abortion/anti-contraception/anti-homosexuality pitch brief. But Dolan is not in a good position, now, to speak truth to power. he's moving on to a Plan B. Plan A called for the installation of Great White Hope, Dolan, who would be elevated to cardinal and use his power and charisma to mobilize Catholics to overturn Roe v. Wade. Dolan was supposed entice Catholics to stay (and tithe) in a hemorrhaging and retrograde church while making Catholic law the (secular) law of the land. The USCCB (United States Conference of Bishops) passed on more social justice-oriented candidates for USCCB president in order to elect Dolan because Dolan was seen as being both orthodox and cuddly.

Unlike his predecessor, Edward Egan, and his boss, Joseph Ratzinger, Dolan had a touch of charm. Dolan made a deal with the ... pope.

Under the terms of this deal, Dolan had little choice but to embrace the pope's "let them eat cake" attitude toward people who had been victimized as children by priests. Alienating LGBT Catholics was not part of the plan, but Dolan had to be willing to risk that. Dolan sued the first black president. He threatened to cut programs for the poor. He championed, or at least failed to strenuously protest, the Vatican's effort to spy on nuns. He signed off on protecting predators, and refused to be held accountable for credible accusations related to such abetting. In a sense, Timothy Dolan sold his soul to become what some of the fringe super-Catholics call "America's pope." But Roe v. Wade will not be overturned. The same-sex marriage genie is too voluminously out of the bottle (as out of the closet!) to be stopped. Furthermore, Dolan and his fellow conservative bishops, in campaigning for Mitt, sacrificed the balance of their Catholic social justice concerns for the shot they never really had at making abortion and same-sex marriage illegal -- not just for Catholics, but for Americans.

Read "Timothy Dolan and Simone Campbell: The DNC's Dueling Religious" in its entirety on Indie Theology.