Prominent Catholics took to the podiums at both the Republican National Convention (RNC) and the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this year, leaving other Catholics tasked with interpreting the speeches. Sr. Simone Campbell, Executive Director of NETWORK, a Catholic social justice lobby, addressed the DNC last Wednesday, while Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York gave benedictions for each party.
Dolan’s prayers are stirring up already-present Catholic controversies because of the differences in remarks aimed at Republicans and at Democrats, the latter receiving 156 additional words.
The Huffington Post reports on some of those added words:
“And making what seemed to be a allusion to same-sex marriage, which President Barack Obama and the DNC have endorsed, Dolan said: “Show us anew that happiness is found only in respecting the laws of nature and of nature’s God. Empower us with your grace so that we might resist the temptation to replace the moral law with idols of our own making, or to remake those institutions you have given us for the nurturing of life and community.
“Dolan mentioned morality at the RNC, but not remaking ‘institutions [God] has given us.’ At the RNC, he said, ‘May we know the truth of your creation, respecting the laws of nature and nature’s God, and not seek to replace it with idols of our own making.’”
The Advocate notes changes Dolan made for the Democratic convention, including the above potential reference to marriage equality:
“Dolan used no such language about ‘remaking institutions’ in his prayer to the RNC last week. Republicans approved a platform calling for a federal constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and the affirmation of DOMA, positions more in line with Catholic Church teaching.”
Mainstream commenters quickly identified this discrepancy in language as condemning the Democratic Party’s adoption of marriage equality and LGBT rights as part of its platform.
In the Catholic community, however, there is debate about how much can be read into Dolan’s remarks. Chuck Colbert reports in the Windy City Times on differing opinions:
“One view is that Dolan offered a subtle theological take on gays as freaks of nature, even idolaters in advocating-same-sex marriage.
“’The reality is that gay people, too, are part of God’s nature, and therefore we are a part of the laws of nature. We need to remind Cardinal Dolan and the Church that God created gay people to be fully who we are; we are not a “mistake,”’explained [Charles] Martel [of Catholics for Marriage Equality] over the telephone and in e-mail correspondence….
“…Francis DeBernardo, executive director of the Maryland-based New Ways Ministry, a pro-gay group for LGBT Catholics, their friends, families, and the Church, viewed the prayer favorable light.
“’Cardinal Dolan does not mention anything about LGBT issues, which I think is a good thing,’ explained DeBernardo. ‘Some people may think that his mention of natural law refers to lesbian and gay people or our society’s move towards marriage equality, but I do not agree. Lesbian and gay people are well within the bounds of nature’s law and the desire to live as a committed couple is a perfectly natural thing to do.’”
However, as Colbert reports, some view Dolan’s remarks as moderate and hopeful:
“’From a LGBT Catholic perspective I see this as indication that in the cultural wars Dolan is recognizing public opinion is overwhelmingly opposed to his far right position on the cultural hot button issues, and this might be an indication that he is trying to move his position to a more moderate one. What can I say I believe in the Holy Spirit,’ [Joe] Murray [of the Rainbow Sash Movement] added.”
As for Dolan’s comments at the DNC, New Ways Ministry’s DeBernardo had this to say:
“Cardinal Dolan seems to be alluding to the institution of marriage in his reference to remaking ‘those institutions you have given us for the nurturing of life and community.’ What he fails to grasp is that marriage equality laws do not re-make the institution of marriage, but simply expand the institution to include all couples who want to commit in love to one another and carefully protect all families within our society.”
Sr. Simone Campbell addressed the Democrats in a heavily pastoral manner drawing from her time with ‘Nuns on the Bus’ earlier this year:
“In June, I joined other Catholic sisters on a 2,700-mile bus journey through nine states to tell Americans about the budget Congressman Paul Ryan wrote and Governor Romney endorsed….
“[A woman in Pennsylvania] wishes they, and the rest of the nation, would listen to one another with kindness and compassion. Listen to one another rather than yell at each other. I told her then, and I tell her now, that she is not alone.
“This is what we nuns on the bus are all about: We care for the 100 percent, and that will secure the blessings of liberty for our nation. So join us as we nuns and all of us drive for faith, family and fairness.”
Given both Dolan’s history and the benediction texts from each convention, how are his remarks to be interpreted? Are the bishops seeking a more pastoral tone like that of the sisters? What do you think of Sr. Campbell’s comments? Please post your comments below.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry