The de facto endorsement of the Romney-Ryan ticket by the Catholic hierarchy became close to authoritative yesterday, as the Cardinal Archbishop of New York accepted – in unprecedented fashion – an invitation to offer a benediction on the last day of the RNC, having gone out of his way to praise Paul Ryan as a "great public servant" whom he is "anxious to see in action." The usual practice is the local bishop for a benediction in his diocese. But the Romney-Ryan ticket persisted for obvious political reasons, argued for a big name Catholic, and Dolan, astonishingly, said yes.
The reason this is a big problem is that Dolan is in many ways the national leader of the Benedict XVI hierarchy. His stature turns a benediction into political act. It may just be a prayer – but it is one offered by one of the most recognizable Catholic leaders in the country, at a party political convention. It just can't get more partisan than that – to up-end protocol to inject himself into the political scene.
The other problem is that he has already all but endorsed Paul Ryan:
"I came to know and admire him immensely," Cardinal Dolan added. "And I would consider him a friend. He and his wife Janna and their three kids have been guests in my house; I’ve been a guest at their house. They’re remarkably upright, refreshing people. And he’s a great public servant." Stating he was "speaking personally and not from a partisan point of view" and "not trying to be an apologist" for Ryan, Cardinal Dolan praised Ryan’s "call for financial accountability and restraint and a balanced budget” as well as his "obvious solicitude for the poor."
Noting that there may be differences in "prudential judgment" over how to assist the poor, Cardinal Dolan added that “I admire him. He’s honest. He’s refreshing. Do I agree with everything? No, but . . . I’m anxious to see him in action."
Ryan, an enthusiast of Ayn Rand, wants to drastically gut Medicaid and Medicare, deny 30 million people impending access to health insurance and Dolan interprets this as his "obvious solicitude for the poor." He praises a man who voted for an unfunded Medicare D entitlement, two disastrously expensive wars, and now pledges to balance the budget only over three decades is a model of accountability and restraint and a balanced budget! Dolan argues that slashing funds for the poor while slashing taxes for the rich is simply a "prudential judgment" with respect to how to help the poor. I don't think that preventing the old from getting home care is about helping them. More to the point: "I'm anxious to see him in action" is not a neutral statement. It's an endorsement.
And make no mistake: Dolan is an old-school Catholic pol – a figure who approved payments to molesting priests to expedite their firing, brazenly lied about it, then ran away abroad when the press demanded an explanation. His most important issues are criminalizing abortion, stripping gay couples of any civil legal protection, and making sure that non-Catholic employees of Catholic hospitals and schools be denied access to insured contraception. That he is saying the benediction for a ticket that explicitly endorses a priority for the super-rich over the working poor and views illegal immigrants as beneath contempt also tells you a lot about Dolan's priorities.
The Cardinal's spokesman insists it's just a prayer – but as Michael O'Loughlin of the Jesuit magazine America has noted, the leading Catholic Archbishop in the country traveling all the way to Florida to big-foot the local bishop and finish up the GOP Convention is such a staggeringly partisan act, especially given the politics around contraception and religious freedom, it's deeply reckless:
The cozy relationship between a sizable portion of U.S. bishops and the Republican Party should be cause for concern, and not just among progressive Catholics. For the church to be able to live out its role as prophet, it cannot be tied to one political party. Cardinal Dolan’s appearance in Tampa will damage the church’s ability to be a moral and legitimate voice for voiceless, as those who view the Catholic Church as being a shill for the GOP have just a bit more evidence to prove their case.
The Ryan pick was designed in part to appeal to the Catholic hierarchy, to get their implicit and quiet endorsement.
And, even though he is that oxymoronic creature, the Ayn Rand Catholic, it worked.
(Photo: US cardinal Timothy Michael Dolan gestures prior to the mass led by Pope Benedict XVI with new Cardinals in St. Peter's basilica at the Vatican on February 19, 2012. By Alberto Pizzoli/AFP/Getty Images)