Mixed messages? Cardinal Dolan will now appear at the Democratic convention, too

In news that is probably not surprising to many, yesterday it was announced that Cardinal Timothy Dolan will also give a blessing at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte just a week after doing the same in Tampa for the Republican convention.

Joseph Zwilling, the spokesman for the New York archdiocese that Dolan heads, repeated the same sentiments from the announcement of Dolan’s appearance in Tampa: “It was made clear to the Democratic Convention organizers, as it was to the Republicans, that the cardinal was coming solely as a pastor, only to pray, not to endorse any party, platform, or candidate,” he said.

Last week, it certainly seemed like endorsement of the Republican party, as many people, including us, were quick to point out the implications of such a seemingly partisan move. Michael O’Laughlin wrote for America:

How can the photos that will emerge of the Cardinal at the GOP convention, perhaps even with Romney and Ryan themselves, imply something other than an endorsement from arguably the nation’s most prominent Catholic cleric? How does this foster unity and not alienate a large segment of Catholics from their church leaders, especially as polls show that most Catholics plan to vote for Obama over Romney? Offering a prayer at a government event is one thing, but attending a purely partisan political convention is quite another.

Has anything changed now that Dolan will be featured at both conventions?

Democrats are assuring everyone that they had been planning this invitation from the start. A prominent Catholic, speaking anonymously, said that the Obama campaign had decided “from the get-go” that having Dolan at the convention “was a no-brainer.” Dolan had said upon accepting the invitation from the Republicans that he would be willing to accept a similar invitation from the Democrats.

But does simply attending both political conventions do the job of conveying non-partisanship? It seems like both parties are eager to have Dolan appear at their conventions to show Catholic voters that they have the support of the bishops. At the same time, both groups likely want to show the bishops—who wield plenty of power in Washington—that they are willing to work together. I imagine Dolan realizes that both parties are basically naming him as a big time player in politics, as he is someone who can easily command the attention both of politicians and his fellow bishops.

Catholics aren’t just Republicans or just Democrats (a point made by Stephen Schneck in our interview with him from July). Each of the two parties that Dolan will give his blessing over has in its platform certain positions that are in conflict with elements of Catholic teaching. So, is this a victory for coming together and encouraging dialogue rather than distance, or is this just more shrewd political maneuvering trying to win votes from an influential group of voters?

As O’Loughlin said, “Political power is fleeting, and the church’s message must be eternal.”

About the author

Elizabeth Lefebvre

Elizabeth Lefebvre is a writer living in Chicago.