Tension over convention closing prayer by Cardinal Dolan

By Robert George
Professor of jurisprudence, Princeton University.

If, as the Obama-Biden campaign alleges, there is a “war on women,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, is its field marshal. If opposition to same-sex marriage is “bigotry,” as many on the left insist, then Cardinal Dolan—as the most prominent defender of marriage as the union of husband and wife—is the country’s leading bigot.

Yet Timothy Dolan will be appearing at the Democratic National Convention Thursday night in Charlotte, N.C., to invoke divine blessing on the proceedings. So what’s going on?

It has been several decades since Catholics voted as a “bloc.” Still, the successful candidate for president time after time turns out to be the one with more Catholic votes. Republicans and Democrats alike know that to prevail on Nov. 6, they need a majority of Catholics.

Many Obama administration policies have alienated faithful Catholics and their bishops. The decision to require that employer health plans cover contraceptives and drugs to induce abortions, for example, has taken Catholics—even some liberal Catholics—aback. The move has also drawn the formal condemnation and strong resistance of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Encouraged by the church hierarchy, Catholic educational and other institutions around the country have sued the Department of Health and Human Services in an effort to prevent the imposition of this mandate.

The Romney-Ryan campaign and the Republican Party have been outspoken and uniform in supporting the church on this. In response, the Obama administration and other Democrats (from party chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz to “reproductive rights” activist Sandra Fluke) have sought to spin opposition to the mandate as a “war on women.” That’s red meat to the party’s socially liberal base. But it comes at the cost of further alienating Catholics who don’t appreciate being accused of hating their mothers, sisters, wives, daughters, friends and (in the case of millions of faithful Catholic women) themselves.

And so the Obama-Biden campaign found itself in a dilemma when Cardinal Dolan, after accepting an invitation to provide a benediction at the Republican convention, offered to do the same at the Democratic convention. Initially, the campaign declined. A few days later, it reversed course.

That is probably good politics. With Ohio, Wisconsin and even Michigan and Pennsylvania now in play, attracting Catholic votes could prove critical.

Still, giving the cardinal the microphone at the convention has its price. Key Democratic constituencies are deeply invested in a strategy of tarring as misogynists and bigots those who reject liberal beliefs and policies. These constituencies are not exactly enthusiastic about having their party undercut that strategy or blunt its force.

Since no minimally decent political party would let a bigot or misogynist take the podium at its convention—much less bless the proceedings—accepting the cardinal’s offer to appear amounts to an implicit but unmistakable concession that there’s no bigotry in opposing the redefinition of civil marriage, nor any misogyny in fighting for the unborn.

Some conservative Catholics are upset that Cardinal Dolan offered to appear at the Democratic convention. They fear his presence will inadvertently signal that it is acceptable from a Catholic perspective to oppose (as the Democratic Party does) virtually all meaningful protections for the child in the womb, or the historic view of marriage as a conjugal union.

Their concerns are understandable. But perhaps these critics are failing to consider how the Democrats are, whether they like it or not, sending an implicit signal of their own. The cardinal’s presence confounds efforts by the abortion-rights and gay-marriage movements to stigmatize and marginalize those who refuse to fall into line.

Some on the left fear that Cardinal Dolan will use the platform that the Democrats are providing to preach about the right to life of unborn children and the importance of preserving traditional marriage. He doesn’t have to do that. He will make his point and achieve his goal just by showing up.

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