Essays on Religion, Faith and Sprituality by Michele Madigan Somerville

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Tax-Exempt NY Archdiocese Church Publicly Endorses Mitt Romney--In Writing.

We are Democrats, Independents, and Republicans, but on this question we are united in faith and in action. We urge our fellow Catholics, and indeed all people of good will, to join with us in this full-hearted effort to elect Governor Mitt Romney as the next President of the United States.
Such sentiments are not all that unusual to hear lately. The "Catholic vote" has been in the news and there has been much waxing prosaic on the partisanship of Cardinal Timothy Dolan.

But these are not the words of some Catholic individual on the stump. These exhortations were published (and widely circulated) in the weekly (September 2nd) bulletin distributed after each mass at St. Catherine of Sienna Church in Manhattan. Hit the link and see for yourself (Click 9/02 bulletin.) before Timothy Dolan's legal muscle forces the parish to take the online version down.

I, who have, of late, had much to say about Dolan's more subtle campaigning for Romney, am at a loss for words.

Except to say that this parish has clearly broken the law.

For those of you who do not attend Catholic mass weekly as I do, the church bulletin is a reliable constant in Catholic worship life. Even in the days of electronic connectedness, the paper bulletin remains the prime means of communicating with Catholics in the pews. Each parish has one. They have a uniform design --and Catholics read them. St. Catherine's is also available online.

So far Timothy Dolan's electioneering for Romney has been very thinly veiled. There's been a push for the appearance of partisanship of late, a push which I believe is a response to his fear that he is concerned about losing his diocese's tax-exempt status. I think also his show of non-partisanship has to do with a desire to hedge his bets and hold onto progressive Catholics.

There is nothing thinly veiled about this campaign speech which was disseminated, most probably, after each mass celebrated at St. Catherine of Sienna Church last weekend, and authored by one John Farren O.P., a priest affiliated with St. Catherine's Church, who cites a letter written by six former Ambassadors to the Holy See:
The Former Ambassadors write: "Fellow Catholics, "We are all called to advance the moral teachings of Christianity in the life of our country. Where the stakes are highest - in the defense of life, liberty, and human dignity - we have a duty to act that is greater and more urgent than allegiance to any political party. "In the election of 2012, this conviction has united all of us - each a former ambassador of the United States to the Holy See - in support of Governor Mitt Romney's candidacy for president. Whatever issues might dominate the presidential campaign from now until November, our concerns lie with fundamental rights, beginning with religious liberty.

"While the current administration has brought our first freedom under direct assault by imposing government mandates that completely disregard religious conscience, Governor Romney believes that freedom to live one's faith is essential to liberty and human fulfillment. And he has pledged himself to removing those federal mandates immediately.

"While the current administration has now put its weight on the side of those who propose to redefine the meaning of marriage itself, Governor Romney has stood firm in defending this sacred institution. In the White House, just as he did in the Massachusetts State House, he will defend the institution of marriage before the Congress, the courts, and the country.

"Where the current administration has shown its sympathy for the pro-abortion lobby, Mitt Romney will be a faithful defender of life in all its seasons. And he understands the special duty of people of faith to serve in this cause. As Governor Romney recently said, "From the beginning, this nation trusted in God, not man. Religious liberty is the first freedom in our Constitution. And whether the cause is justice for the persecuted, compassion for the needy and the sick, or mercy for the child waiting to be born, there is no greater force for good in the nation than Christian conscience in action."

"These are the words of a man we believe can be a great force for good in this nation. We are Democrats, Independents, and Republicans, but on this question we are united in faith and in action. We urge our fellow Catholics, and indeed all people of good will, to join with us in this full-hearted effort to elect Governor Mitt Romney as the next President of the United States."
Is this an endorsement for a political candidate or is it just my imagination?
Tax-exempt organizations are prohibited from endorsing candidates.
The Internal Revenue Service should investigate the Archdiocese of New York for this violation.
And the funny part is, all this risky Catholic behavior is for the benefit of a presidential candidate who won't lift a finger to revere Roe v. Wade.

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Friday, September 7, 2012

Simone Campbell and Timothy Dolan: The DNC's Dueling Religious


I'd sure hate to be the anti-LGBT anti-woman tantrum-prone cardinal following the sage, rabbinic and serenely exuberant Sister Simone Campbell at the Democratic National Convention, but Timothy Dolan, who is, by the way, not the "America's pope" (as papist fringe likes to call him) did just that last night. It was difficult to see how the audience responded. As was the case in Tampa, the camera tended to focus on the reverential faces in the crowd as the cardinal prayed. The texts of the two prayers themselves are similar. In both the RNC and DNC prayers, Timothy Dolan mentioned Romney and Ryan by name. In each he referred to Obama and Biden as "the President and Vice President." Dolan waxed slightly more prosaic on the protections of the yet to be born in the DNC prayer, but did devoted extra syllables to the rights of immigrants in the RNC speech. But so far as the contest between dueling Catholic religious in the DNC arena is concerned, Sister Simone Campbell was the winner who took all.
I confess that I have a problem with prayer at political conventions. I have no problem with prayer in general. I happen to pray quite often, and when I pray, I generally begin and end with the sign of the cross. When I pray with those who do not share my Christian faith, however, I do not make the sign of the cross. Although some hysterical fundamentalist fringe Roman Catholics would say this is one of the several aspects of my religiosity or lack of it that proves that I am not "really Catholic, "I do believe the more Christ-centered approach to praying with Muslims and Jews is to do so without the sign of the cross. To toss in the names of Abraham and Moses is to offer too little too late--is to throw the Muslims and Jews a pro-forma bone. It does not much ameliorate the prayerful big-footing at hand.
The cross as a symbol means many things to many people. I understand why people wear crosses and crucifixes. I wear a cross. It has a powerful positive meaning for me. For Jews, Muslims and those who do not believe, the cross does not convey a loving message. I found interesting that Campbell left her cross at home on Wednesday night--perhaps out of a desire not to offend those who do not believe as she does. Maybe she thought a cross superfluous, given all that authentic Christ radiating out through her pores. Maybe she imagined a little color (in the form of a tiny bit of lipstick, and a bold blue jacket) might be more consistent with the bold and joyful commitment to "God's grandeur"--to borrow the great poet Gerard Manley Hopkins' term--she aimed to communicate, and that a little pearl necklace might better convey the simple, quiet irridescence of her faith than would some clobberingly garish hip-hop-worthy religious "bling."
It appears from the video footage that both Dolan and the DNC crowd behaved themselves. Those who had every moral right to boo the cardinal seem to have abstained. I credit the cardinal too, with good behavior, for he kept his anti-abortion/anti-contraception/anti-homosexuality pitch brief. But Dolan is not in a good position, now, to speak truth to power. he's moving on to a Plan B. Plan A called for the installation of Great White Hope, Dolan, who would be elevated to cardinal and use his power and charisma to mobilize Catholics to overturn Roe v. Wade. Dolan was supposed entice Catholics to stay (and tithe) in a hemorrhaging and retrograde church while making Catholic law the (secular) law of the land. The USCCB (United States Conference of Bishops) passed on more social justice-oriented candidates for USCCB president in order to elect Dolan because Dolan was seen as being both orthodox and cuddly.
Unlike his predecessor, Edward Egan, and his boss, Joseph Ratzinger, Dolan had a touch of charm. Dolan made a deal with the... pope.
Under the terms of this deal, Dolan had little choice but to embrace the pope's "let them eat cake" attitude toward people who had been victimized as children by priests. Alienating LGBT Catholics was not part of the plan, but Dolan had to be willing to risk that. Dolan sued the first black president. He threatened to cut programs for the poor. He championed, or at least failed to strenuously protest, the Vatican's effort to spy on nuns. He signed off on protecting predators, and refused to be held accountable for credible accusations related to such abetting. In a sense, Timothy Dolan sold his soul to become what some of the fringe super-Catholics call "America's pope." But Roe v. Wade will not be overturned. The same-sex marriage genie is too voluminously out of the bottle (as out of the closet!) to be stopped. Furthermore, Dolan and his fellow conservative bishops, in campaigning for Mitt, sacrificed the balance of their Catholic social justice concerns for the shot they never really had at making abortion and same-sex marriage illegal--not just for Catholics, but for Americans.
They still pay lip service to protecting the poor the obligation of Catholics to welcome immigrants, but the bishops are now seen as caring far more about the rights of the "pre-born" than about the rights of sick and hungry post-born babies. They have forfeited the appearance of being passionately committed to bringing a just Health Care plan to the poor, disabled and infirm.
They have lost the war on LGBT marriage and same-sex marriage too. When it comes to marriage equality, the bishops, who head up a still predominantly gay Roman Catholic priesthood, have no moral authority outside the traditionalist fringe. Most Roman Catholics know Jesus said not a word about homosexuality and understand that even the accounts of Paul do not support an argument against same-sex marriage. For most of the history of the Church, marriage was not even a sacrament. Most know that in Western Civilization, the idea of marrying for love is, itself, a relatively new development, and that for most of the Common Era "traditional" (aka heterosexual) marriage was in great measure a business arrangement. LGBT Catholics are following the example of heterosexual Catholic couples who, despite being divorced and remarried or married outside the Church, worship and receive sacraments, with little regard for the Vatican's opinions on marriage, in the Church that belongs as well to them as to Timothy Dolan and Simone Campbell. Most Catholics in the developing world support same sex unions. Most Roman Catholics would prefer to see a gay couple make a home for a child who would otherwise grow up in foster care. When it comes to same-sex unions, most Roman Catholics come down on the side of love.
Dolan and the orthodox bishops were charged with preventing the United States--Catholic and otherwise--from sliding into a future in which women were no longer subordinate to men, sex was not intrinsically sinful, and in which gay people were not deemed perverts. But the bishops couldn't even get their own Catholics in the pews to comply. This constitutes an enormous failure.
It is for this reason we shall see Dolan and his orthodox ilk attempt to create the illusion non-partisanship. This is their Plan B. Expect talk of congeniality, civility and collaboration. The bishops now know that it has been a mistake to align themselves with the Romney/Ryan "screw-the-needy" ticket, an alliance that cost the bishops a great deal of much-needed social justice cred. Procuring an invitation to pray at the DNC and inviting President Obama to the Al Smith dinner are facets of Plan B.
As a political operative of the Holy See, Dolan has failed. The Dolan action plan has been a wash. I think we can expect the "Pope of America" to stop playing the role of "bad cop" for a while as he and his fellow bishops scramble to save the part that can be salvaged. The bishops won't ditch their so-called "right-to-life" arguments, but I think they will learn from the nuns and perhaps broaden their definition of the term, "pro-life."
I am surprised to see such Catholic fervor for Romney among the extreme "right-to-lifers." For much of Romney's political career, he was a strong supporter of Roe v. Wade. Even now, his view that some abortions are permissible flies in the face of what the Vatican teaches about abortion, and some of Romney's own supporters insist that his fickle political heart is not really in the anti-abortion fight. Paul Ryan has a slightly more honest view of things. He embraces the ultra-orthodox Roman Catholic view that a zygote is a person, but the fact that Ryan is willing to run on a ticket with a man who believes it is permissible to kill some unborn "persons" and not others suggests that the former Ayn Rand fan may too may not be all that committed to reversing Roe v. Wade. He may still have one survivalist foot in Atlas Shruggedway of seeing things.
What all this means is that Dolan et al threw down with a ticket that may not all that "pro-life" after all. Knowing this, they may aim to self-correct. Dolan's fellow Romney supporters might say he is siding with the candidate of lesser evil. Even if that's true, it doesn't change that Dolan and his bishops put all their eggs in three baskets: the "anti-abortion" basket, the "anti 'ObamaCare' "basket and the "DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act)" basket. With only two months of campaigning left and the possibility of an Obama win looming, Dolan and his fellow conservative bishops may be noticing that they failed to drop eggs into the "Christ without borders" basket, the "peace basket," the "non-violence" basket, the "stewardship of the earth" basket, the "anti-greed" basket and "Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers you do unto me." basket. This, as they notice that Catholics all over North America and Europe are seriously questioning whether they should continue to drop greenbacks into the Vatican's weekly mass basket.
When it came to the decision to invite himself to pray at the Democratic National Convention, Timothy Dolan was truly between a rock and a hard place. Not only did he have to follow the presidential candidate himself, a man he is, in effect, suing; a man who grew up sometimes poor and always black in the United States; a sexually healthy Christian man of basic integrity who is unencumbered by the blemish of sexual impropriety; a candidate who has given more support to Catholic agencies for the indigent than his two Republican predecessors did--but Dolan had the additional disadvantage of being attended in damaging contrast to the spiritual powerhouse, Simone Campbell. This juxtaposition of Catholics did Dolan no favors.
Comparing a speech to a prayer is--oranges and apples, yes. Dolan spoke a prayer and Campbell gave a speech. On the other hand, a prayer can be a poem and a speech can be a prayer. What happens when a prayer sounds like a speech and the speech doubles as a poetic prayer?
Dolan's prayer was benign enough, but it was loaded with abstractions, generalizations, jargons and cant we have all heard before. Dolan's prayer was speech-like "prayer" out of a can, while a Sister Simone's speech, besides doing everything speeches can do, was a lyrical prayer.
Campbell's plain truth was rich with characters and her reverence for the divinity within those characters in their journeys of strife and yearning was abundant. She roused, charmed and persuaded. She chose showing over telling.
While Dolan got his digs in, Campbell won bees with honey and not vinegar.
Sister Simone offered a hearty defense of the Health and Human Services Health Care Mandate while deftly crediting the USCCB for being the muse behind this support. All this while throwing Paul Ryan, in the gentlest way possible, under (the nun-driven?) bus.
"Paul Ryan says this budget is in keeping with the morals of our shared faith but I disagree..."
The "pro life" message Sister Campbell conveyed was otherwise brimming with hope, faith, charity and joy. Those listening were reminded that those who do not speak, eat, learn and laugh with the indigent, see little of the depth of their need. One of Jesus's chief directives to those who would follow Him was to make this imaginative leap. Campbell's talk reminded us all of is that those who care for those in need are the true "right-to-lifers."
Paul Ryan gives 1.5 % of his earnings to charity. As a youth, he somehow managed to find Ayn Rand's ethos a compatible with Christian thinking and feeling. (As young people we all do stupid things, but why aren't more religious conservatives disturbed by this allegiance given that Rand, a devout atheist who condemned altruism, supported sex without commitment and abortion on demand?) Sister Simone reminded her audience that her Roman Catholic faith leaves no wiggle room for those who would sacrifice the elderly, infirm, disabled or poor to the great totem of usury that masquerades as prosperity. Campbell knows that most of the nation's hungry, homeless and uninsured are children. Whether doing so is "the American way" might be a subject for debate; but it is not the Roman Catholic way.
I admit, especially in the wake of so much Roman Catholic policing, I found it refreshing to see the Paul Ryan/Timothy Dolan" us first" brand of Roman Catholicism challenged, even if for just one shining moment. I was encouraged by seeing the Roman Catholicism I practice represented at the DNC podium.
Critics of Sister Simone Campbell will note that she damned Paul Ryan outright and blatantly stumped for Obama during her speech, pointing out how partisan she was. She was not pretending to be otherwise. This goes to honesty. Dolan pretended to be partisan last (Thursday) night but he is not non-partisan. The nation knows he is partisan. He as been campaigning for Mitt Romney for the past year. Dolan must act non-partisan because money (the status of his tax-exempt diocese) depends on it. Nuns, unlike cardinals, are not driven by the pontifical bottom line. They are driven by the glory, in other words, not the power.
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Follow Michele Somerville on Twitter: www.twitter.com/NYpoet

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Prelate and the Dirty Pol--Nicholas DiMarzio and Vito Lopez: Thick As Thieves


I recently posted a piece about the not quite kosher alliance between the disgraced Democratic party kingmaker Vito Lopez and Nicholas DiMarzio, the bishop in charge of the Brooklyn-Queens Roman Catholic Diocese, in the "New York" section of the Huffington Post. It's a local politics story, but, there is an alarming religious (Catholic) aspect to Vito Lopez's fall from grace--so to speak. For years Vito Lopez and Nicholas DiMarzio have been thick as thieves. In the Brooklyn and Queen Diocese, wherein I do most of my worshipping, Vito Lopez has enjoyed liberal use of at least a few of DiMarzio's priests.
No, Vito did not slide his hands up their thighs, as he did with young women in his offices, but he has been credibly accused of using Catholic priests to electioneer on his behalf in senior citizens operations he (Lopez) managed, and both DiMarzio and the monsignor who works as his "spokesman" have openly shilled for Lopez. Given the relationship that existed between Lopez and DiMarzio and the way things are generally done among priests (who are required to obey their bishops), it is unreasonable to assume that a priest instructing elderly folks living in Lopez's housing to vote for him would not do so without the bishop's blessing, so to speak. I write "existed" and not "exist" because it is now unlikely that the relationship between the prelate and the pol will survive Lopez's tribulations. DiMarzio will no longer be kissing that pol's ring.
In one case, a few years back, a pastor was informed just before the 12:00 mass that DiMarzio's spokesman/assistant Kieran Harrington, a monsignor, would be celebrating "the twelve" that day. As mass ended Harrington electioneered for one of Vito Lopez's pet candidates from the pulpit. As mass let out, parishioners were recruited to leaflet on church grounds on behalf of the candidate, whom Harrington had earlier described as being "good for our church." Obviously neither the leafleting, nor the campaigning from the pulpit were lawful. Although I did not speak with the priest about this virtual hijacking of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass those congregants in attendance with whom I did speak seemed to feel that the blind-sided priest scheduled to say the mass had been made an offer he couldn't refuse.
It is a bit ironic that this despicable incursion into a sacred space on the occasion of the Christian Sabbath was not even necessary. The candidate, Steve Levin, was a sure favorite in that race. The bishop had nothing to gain by sending his flak monsignor into the church on to commit this transgression, nothing, that is, beyond shame and distrust. DiMarzio's (unlawful) choice to publicly campaign for Lopez that same year tells us much (DiMarzio recorded "robocalls" for his strange bedfellow Vito Lopez.) about the kind of "shepherd" DiMarzio really is.
DiMarzio closed or shuttered four poor parishes in one area of Brooklyn a few years ago, due to lack of funding while simultaneously giving his imprimatur (allocating funds) to rebuild a gargantuan cathedral-sized church in a neighboring area. The restoration of this (St. Joseph's Church) is uncommonly extensive and and costly, and it has the added godawful feature of being conducted in a part of Brooklyn wherein many of the poor have been pushed out of their homes by mammoth real estate interests and gentrification. The pastor of this cathedral-esque church in the making is the aforementioned Harrington, DiMarzio's mouthpiece/assistant/accomplice, who very much hopes to be the next bishop of the diocese, and the hope is that the church will attract the new affluent young people whom the new, luxury housing in the area will attract.
Parishioners in parishes shuttered for their inability to cough up the diocesan vigorish, put money in the basket each week up until the time their parishes were closed. Some of that money found its way to the diocese where it is likely enough some of it paid for a few of the bricks and some of the mortar the bishop's new church, the church his flunky monsignor runs. All this anguish and expenditure despite the fact of the diocese's actual cathedral, St. James Basilica, which sits a mile away from where DiMarzio's colossus-in-progress is located. One priest with whom I spoke (not for attribution) explained the bishop's decision to approve this costly project while so many churches in its vicinity were closing: "He thinks the cathedral isn't big enough. Twice a year it isn't big enough. DiMarzio wants a bigger church for ordinations." It would seem the bishop of Brooklyn learned well from his long collaboration with Vito Lopez.
In one dispute between a community organizer priest and Vito Lopez, DiMarzio threw his support to Vito, and his priest under the bus. Lopez attempted to develop real estate in poor the community (not far, again, from the de facto-cathedral in the remaking) wherein the priest, Reverend James O'Shea ministered and worked as a community organizer. Father O'Shea challenged team Lopez-DiMarzio and wound up without a church; shortly thereafter the tag team Lopez-DiMarzio closed the church he had run.
With help from Vito Lopez, the passage of the Child Victims Act in the Assembly was blocked. Knowing what we know now, it is easy to conclude that Lopez was probably soft on abusers and not merely trading favors with the bishop. DiMarzio's decision to collaborate with Lopez in fighting legislation (for a price, on the basis that it would "bankrupt the diocese") that would protect the lives of people who were violated as children by priests is its own latter-day variation on Judas and his thirty pieces of silver, and tells us a good deal about who the man governing Roman Catholic churches in Brooklyn and Queens really is.
As a Catholic and a Christian who puts credence in the teaching of Jesus, I find it hard to square strong-arming tactics with Christian teaching. In most cases, cozying up to developers at the expense of the poor flies in the face of everything for which the Jesus of the Gospels stands.
My Temple will be called a house of prayer,' but you have turned it into a den of thieves!
(Matthew 21:13) 
For more information on Lopez and DiMarzio, read "Grabby Vito Lopez and the Bishop in His Pocket" and"Bishop DiMarzio Wants Your Lunch Money" on Huffington Post.


Follow Michele Somerville on Twitter: www.twitter.com/NYpoet