Convention Speeches by Catholics Spark Controversy

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.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan

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

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

7 replies
  1. Richard Baldwin Cook
    Richard Baldwin Cook says:

    It is astonishing for prelates to campaign with parishioner funds against the civil rights of many of these self-same parishioners.

    Cardinal Dolan and the American church hierarchy, generally, are loud in their calls to deprive some of their own communicants the right to a marriage license, which is a civil right. It is as if the bishops do not think gay Catholics or gay Catholic couples exist, or ought to exist.

    The bishops’ campaign against gay civil rights encourages hostility and rejection of gays and lesbians by priests and parishioners across the nation. The unfairness of this – the entirely negative pastoral implications of this rejection – seem to be lost on the bishops, who, shamefully, are leading the anti-gay charge, and are embracing as allies some of the most bigoted and narrow-minded organizations in the U.S.

    The cynicism of urging that secular prosecutors be empowered to enforce a church ban against gay marriage is akin to the bishops’ cynicism in advocating that secular corporations be barred from offering contraception to all employees, despite the conscience rights of the individual employee. The bishops do not insist, first, that Catholic women avoid contraception. Why not. The cynical bishops do not go after Catholic mothers and daughters because this gambit would empty the pews. Are the cynical bishops attacking the civil rights of gays Catholics because they think most Catholics will simply look away, continue on the the Communion rail by passing on the other side?

  2. Ned Flaherty
    Ned Flaherty says:

    True natural law and the “natural law” implied by Cardinal Dolan are complete opposites.

    True natural law, of course, includings all LGBT people everywhere. But the “natural law” claimed by Dolan refers only to “natural marriage,” a term created by anti-equality opponents to imply that opposite-gender marriage is natural and that same-gender marriage is unnatural.

    No one should be fooled into thinking that Dolan’s “natural law” includes any acceptance or even tolerance of LGBT people at all. If it did, he would say so. All he is doing is putting on the table for debate the notion that LGBTs are unnatural to begin with, a claim that supports the Pope’s insistence that all LGBT human beings are permanently “intrinsically disordered.”

  3. Rachel Fitzgerald
    Rachel Fitzgerald says:

    For me Dolan’s remarks evoked the hierarchical democracy: one asks the Supreme Being for help (trickle down) and Campbell’s remarks evoked the sermon on the mount and the message that the life force to go to is present paradoxically in the poor, disenfranchised, sick, dying….more circulating sort of spirit/force.

  4. Joseph Jablonski (
    Joseph Jablonski ( says:

    The conservatives, as many have noticed, especially with a recent meme picture going around Facebook, believed that Dolan’s words are a veiled prayer for traditional marriage, and thus are celebrating that Dolan “stood up to liberal Catholics”. However, I think his scaling back and not using a very moralist rhetoric with the Democrats shows at least something – a respect for a disagreement, which is always the first step towards a conversation on matters like these. I think he was still praying for traditional marriage, but he didn’t refer to it just as “traditional marriage” and ignorantly pass over it like that, but instead points out the purpose of marriage in his prayer – not seeking to remake “those institutions that You have given us for nurturing life and community.” I think we also have to agree that Dolan isn’t seeking to alienate or call “disordered” members of the LGBT community, because he asks that WE “seek not to replace [laws of nature] with idols of our own making.” By the nature-over-nurture argument concerning homosexuality (which I believe it is by nature, and I’m sure you all do) thus he does not condemn nature but condemns us actually ignoring it – something the conservative Catholics must remember and recall when decrying against homosexuals. All of this should promote some sort of dialogue, I think!

    • Ned Flaherty
      Ned Flaherty says:

      Dolan’s language which you see as “scaling back” and “non-moralistic” is the very same language that right-wing evangelicals see as requiring oppression of LGBT people of all faiths everywhere.

      But no sane person can concurrently occupy two positions of such polar opposition. Anyone who writes as vaguely as Dolan just did, allowing both sides to see exactly what they wish to see, is someone who is up to no good, whatever it may be.

      With his prevarication and equivocation, he tricked you into assuming that he’s on some path toward meaningful “dialogue” without ever committing to any such thing at all.

      You wrote that “we also have to agree that Dolan isn’t seeking to alienate or call ‘disordered’ members of the LGBT community.” No one has to agree to that, because it’s untrue. Until Dolan writes in unambiguous language that he is retracting his — and all his popes’ — prior declarations about LGBTs being disordered, their long history of such accusations remains in full effect. And so long as he writes missives that allow both sides to claim victory from the very same obtuse phrases, nothing he says can be trusted.

      Writing as vaguely as Dolan does requires far more skill than writing clearly, so his intent — if nothing else — is clear: to be duplicitous, planning to admit nothing, and to deny everything.

  5. Annette Magjuka
    Annette Magjuka says:

    I grew up in the social justice Catholic church, when it was acknowledged that Vatican II actually happened. Just because the bishops and this Pope are trying to roll back Vatican II does not mean that the Holy Spirit is falling into line. The Holy Spirit has been invited into the hearts of many of us and has lit the flame for truth and justice. The Holy Spirit cannot be silenced by the proclamations of some power-seeking bishops. The heart knows the truth. Our gay brothers and sisters are part of the Mystical Body of Christ and deserve full participation in all sacraments. They deserve full civil rights. And like it or not, the flame has been lit by the Holy Spirit, and the bishops and Pope should get on the bus! They should get on the right side of history. Soon those who follow the narrow-minded haters will be ashamed of themselves. Those who know the truth must keep speaking out. I am so proud of the brave bishops and nuns who speak up for equality, even when they may be sanctioned by the wrong-headed hierarchical church.


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