Cardinal Dolan and an “out-marketed” Catholic Church


“Out-marketed by Hollywood” is Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s diagnosis for why the U.S. bishops have failed to sway hearts and minds on the issue of same-sex marriage, as Hawaii and Illinois become the next states to legalize same-gender nuptials. Who knew “Hollywood” could out-muscle a 70-million member church with equally deep pockets?

“Blame Hollywood” is a tried-and-true tactic for losses on the culture war front, but I think the truth on this one is the personal experience of many Americans, Catholics included, of the same-gender relationships in their own family and social circles. And while Dolan may decry the “anti-gay” label that has been applied by many to the Catholic Church, he may want to check in with his brother bishop in Illinois, who responded to same-gender marriage in Illinois with a firebreathing exorcism, blessedly “performed” mostly in Latin. I think most observers would see that as “anti-gay.”

Granted, “marriage equality” has a more pleasant ring to it than “objective disorder”; if Dolan and other bishops want a new conversation with the LGBT community both inside the church and outside it, they might lean in with more of the church’s teaching on human dignity, the gift of sexuality, and the like. Unfortunately, with this crop of bishops in the U.S., most debates are pretty much an all-or-nothing proposition.

Take Dolan’s other issue in this morning’s Meet the Press interview: the Affordable Care Act. Dolan continues to complain about the “contraceptive mandate” and the ways it is alleged to violate the church-as-employer’s religious freedom, despite the bending-over-backward fix the administration inserted to make insurers responsible for the coverage. Rarely heard–though, to his credit, Dolan raised it today–is the grossly immoral exclusion of immigrants who lack the proper residency papers not only from the subsidy to purchase health insurance on the exchanges but from the exchanges themselves. If health care is a human right–as Catholic social teaching robustly insists–then the bishops could have been building a grassroots movement to amend the Affordable Care Act’s biggest lacuna–the care of people whose labor our economy depends upon but who remain in the shadows because of the manner of their arrival.

Effectively engaging issues of social justice and religious freedom, however, requires something Dolan and his brother bishops seem unwilling to do: accept and expand the good, especially when the perfect is politically out of reach. In both the health care reform and marriage equality debates, the bishops could have grasped the “goods”: a massive prolife victory in the extension of health care in the first, and, in the second, an affirmation of an institution that publicly commits those who enter it to fidelity and stability (albeit an expansion at odds with church teaching). In neither case are the bishops likely to get everything they want, but there are goods to celebrated there nonetheless, and in the case of health care, to be expanded upon.

About the author

Bryan Cones

Bryan Cones is a writer living in Chicago.