He didn’t ask my opinion, but I think Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, should have declined an invitation to deliver the closing prayer at next week’s Republican National Convention. I say that knowing that Dolan also was willing, if asked, to pray at the Democratic convention and that (to some considerable flak from conservative Roman Catholics) the cardinal has invited the president as well as Mitt Romney to address the famous Al Smith Dinner in October. That’s the charity event at which, in 1960, John F. Kennedy famously bested Richard M. Nixon
Here’s the problem: Dolan is not just any bishop; he’s the leader of the national conference, which has been feuding with the Obama administration over whether its mandate for contraceptive coverage is a war on religious liberty. The bishops’ campaign has led to understandable complaints that it is taking sides in the presidential election, not to mention placing the church’s opposition to contraception above its advocacy of compassion for the poor (a cause at least some bishops see as incompatible with Paul Ryan’s budget).
Dolan’s motives may be pure, but I’m not so sure about Mitt Romney’s. A featured role for America’s No. 1 Catholic prelate at the GOP convention is a not very subtle way for the party to appeal to Catholic voters, especially conservative Catholics. (Romney announced the Dolan gig in an interview on EWTN, the right-wing Catholic TV network.)
It would have been easy for Dolan to have said no thanks. As the cardinal’s own spokesman told CNN, convention protocol calls for the local bishop to deliver such a prayer. That would mean the prayer would be offered by Bishop Robert N. Lynch of the St. Petersburg diocese. But who’s ever heard of him? According to CNN, “the Republican convention’s organizers insisted on Dolan’s participation.”
It could have been worse: Romney could have invited Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, whose claim to fame is his argument that JFK was “sincere, compelling, articulate -- and wrong” when the future president said in 1960 that “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.” But inviting a Kennedy-bashing bishop to seek God’s blessing might have defeated the Republicans’ purpose.