When a head of state is responsible for the deaths of 100,000 of his people and has used chemical weapons against innocent civilians — the world needs to respond. In one massive attack, the evidence appears to show that 1,429 people, including 400 children, suffered horrible deaths from chemical weapons banned by the international community. That is a profound moral crisis that requires an equivalent moral response. Doing nothing is not an option. But how should we respond, and what are moral principles for that response?
For Christians, I would suggest there are two principles that should guide our thinking. Other people of faith and moral sensibility might agree with this two-fold moral compass.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the most famous funny man in the American hierarchy, went on The Colbert Report Tuesday night to trade quips with another funny guy — and another well-known Catholic — host Stephen Colbert.
Indeed, as Colbert — inhabiting his onscreen persona as a blowhard rightwing pundit — said in welcoming Dolan: “You’re the second most famous Catholic in America – after myself.”
But it was actually Dolan who got the first gag, and giggles, as he walked onto the set and ostentatiously bowed and kissed Colbert’s hand as if he were greeting the pope.
“I’ve got to get a nice big ring if you’re going to be kissing my hand!” replied Colbert, who seemed — uncharacteristically — unsure of how to play the exchange.
In fact, while Colbert was in full faux bloviating mode, he seemed to let Dolan set the pace of their chat; Colbert didn’t poke too hard on topics that could have prompted controversy.
Part of the relative deference may stem from the fact that Colbert is a serious Catholic who has taught Sunday school at his New Jersey parish. Or perhaps it was because Colbert knows Dolan personally, having appeared — out of character — at a forum on faith and humor last year at Fordham University. Or maybe Colbert was a bit out of practice: This was his first show after a two-week summer break, part of which he spent in Rome.
NEW YORK — When Cardinal Timothy Dolan used the morning talk shows on Easter Sunday to say the Catholic Church could do a better job of welcoming gays and lesbians, his remarks were hailed by one activist as an “Easter miracle” and by another as an encouraging “first step.”
But two months later, it’s still not clear what the second step in this fraught process might be, or even if there is a second step. And there are signs that things may only get more complicated.
Since Easter, three more states have passed same-sex marriage laws, and next month the U.S. Supreme Court will hand down a gay marriage ruling that will again spotlight the bishops’ full-throated opposition to a whole host of civil protections for gays and lesbians, particularly marriage.
Moreover, as Americans — and American Catholics — grow increasingly accepting of homosexuality, and as foes of gay rights grow increasingly determined, conflict at the parish level seems inevitable. The uneasy “Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell” policy that once allowed gay and lesbian Catholics to take church positions is clashing with their increasing visibility in the form of marriage licenses or wedding announcements.
A former adviser to Sarah Palin and an attorney with a long record of advocating conservative causes, will become the first spokeswoman for the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the USCCB announced Monday.
The addition of Kim Daniels, who is a leader of the conservative media lobby, Catholic Voices USA, seems aimed at revamping the hierarchy’s communications strategy, which many bishops say has been hampered by a lack of coordination and an authoritative spokesperson.
Under the new structure, Daniels will speak for the president of the bishops’ conference — currently New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan — while the USCCB’s media office will continue to speak for the bishops as a whole.
Daniels’ hiring also looks like an effort to satisfy Dolan’s goal of finding an “attractive, articulate, intelligent” laywoman to help recast the hierarchy’s image, which many feared was starting to be seen as unfriendly to women because of legal battles like the fight against the Obama administration’s contraception mandate.
Daniels has experience in that field, having worked for years with the Thomas More Law Center, a conservative legal group, where she fought, for example, for the rights of pharmacists to claim a conscience exemption from dispensing morning-after pills. Such religious liberty battles have become a public policy priority for the bishops, and having Daniels on board gives another veteran voice to the bishops’ campaign.
Yet the hiring — Daniels has been working on a “contract basis,” according to the USCCB — also raises many questions that the USCCB’s brief press release did not answer.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the top U.S. Catholic prelate, says the Roman Catholic Church has to make sure that its defense of traditional marriage is not reduced to an attack on gays and lesbians.
Dolan is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and last month was reputed to have gathered some votes in the Vatican conclave where Pope Francis was eventually elected.
He made his remarks on two morning talk shows on Easter Sunday, just days after the Supreme Court heard arguments in two same-sex marriage cases.
The nation’s Catholic bishops on Thursday rejected the Obama administration’s latest proposals to broaden accommodations for religious groups in regulations that require insurance companies or employers to provide free birth control coverage.
The administration last week released a long-awaited compromise for faith-based employers that have religious objections to offering health insurance that could be used by employees to access contraceptives and sterilization.
Yielding to demands by the bishops and other critics, the new accommodation contained a more expansive definition of what constitutes a religious group.
It also detailed how faith-based institutions that may not be exempt – especially religiously affiliated hospitals and universities – would be shielded from any involvement in providing contraceptive coverage; under the new rules, the insurance companies themselves would arrange that with the individual employee.
But New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the proposals fail to address or ease all of the hierarchy’s concerns, and said the bishops would continue to press ahead with efforts to overturn the mandate in court.
BALTIMORE — A divided Catholic hierarchy on Tuesday failed to agree on a statement about the economy after a debate that revealed sharp differences over the kind of social justice issues that were once a hallmark of the bishops’ public profile.
The defeat of the document, titled “The Hope of the Gospel in Difficult Economic Times,” followed an hour of unusually intense debate among the 230 bishops gathered here for their annual meeting. It left many of them openly frustrated that the prelates have not made a joint statement about the nation’s economic woes four years after the recession hit.
“This document is dead,” New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said with obvious disappointment as he brought the gavel down on the debate after it failed to secure the two-thirds majority needed for passage.
BALTIMORE — After sweeping setbacks to the hierarchy’s agenda on Election Day, New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan on Monday told U.S. Catholic bishops that they must now examine their own failings, confess their sins and reform themselves if they hope to impact the wider culture.
“That’s the way we become channels of a truly effective transformation of the world, through our own witness of a repentant heart,” Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told the 250 bishops gathered here for their annual meeting.
“The premier answer to the question ‘What’s wrong with the world?’ is not politics, the economy, secularism, sectarianism, globalization, or global warming … none of these, as significant as they are,” Dolan said, citing many of the issues that have become favorite targets of the hierarchy.
As the bishops gather in Baltimore this week for their annual meeting, they like everyone else in the country will be talking about last week’s election. The U.S. Catholic bishops took a beating at the polls. Not only was President Obama reelected, despite their attacks on him, the bishops also lost on state referendums on same-sex marriage.
Like all Americans, the bishops have a constitutional right to participate in the political process. They can debate the issues, criticize candidates and publicly express their views. They can even endorse candidates as long as they don’t do it on church property and don’t use church funds in supporting a candidate or party. In fact, they can even run for president as did Rev. Pat Robertson and Rev. Jesse Jackson. The U.S. Constitution does not forbid this; Roman Catholic canon law forbids it.
But what is constitutional is not always effective or prudent. Clearly the political strategy of the bishops is not working. A majority of Catholics voted for Obama and gay activists won every referendum. The Missouri and Indiana Republican senatorial candidates, who took the toughest positions on abortion, were also defeated when the Republicans were expected to win these races.
So where do the bishops go from here?
The news that New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the nation’s most prominent Catholic prelate, will deliver the closing blessing to the Republican National Convention in Florida next week was seen as a huge coup for Mitt Romney, the party's presumptive nominee. But the move has also prompted a sharp debate within the church over the increasingly close ties between leading bishops and the GOP.
“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,” Michael O’Loughlin wrote in a post on the website of America magazine, a leading Catholic weekly published by the Jesuits.
“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,” O'Loughlin concluded.
New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan defended his invitation of President Obama to the annual Al Smith Dinner in October, saying he is trying to encourage civility and dialogue amid a bitter battle with the White House over abortion rights and access to contraception.
Dolan has received “stacks of mail protesting the invitation to President Obama,” he wrote in an Aug. 14 blog post. At issue are Obama’s new health care regulations, which require employers to provide insurance plans that cover contraceptive services for women.
Conservatives and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops – of which Dolan is president – have criticized the regulations, which they say abridge the religious freedom and conscience rights of faith-based employers.
But the nonpartisan charity dinner is a time for civility, engagement, and dialogue, Dolan wrote.
“Those who started the dinner 67 years ago believed that you can accomplish a lot more by inviting folks of different political loyalties to an uplifting evening, rather than in closing the door to them,” Dolan wrote.
News that Comedy Central star Stephen Colbert and New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan would appear together on a panel on faith and humor next month was greeted with widespread anticipation: Both men are devout Catholics and pretty darned funny.
But now this tale has a surprising punch line that will surely make a lot of people unhappy: Organizers of the Catholic comedy slam, set for Sept. 14 at Jesuit-run Fordham University in New York, have announced a total media blackout of the event.