Looks like Cardinal Dolan’s patience for balance has expired. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed yesterday, the New York prelate accused Democrats of abandoning Catholics. Dolan went beyond accusations of abandonment; he argued that Democratic leadership had slammed the door in Catholic faces with their embrace of abortion and hostility to choice in education and high taxation on working-class families:
The two causes so vigorously promoted by Hughes and Grier—the needs of poor and middle-class children in Catholic schools, and the right to life of the baby in the womb—largely have been rejected by the party of our youth. An esteemed pro-life Democrat in Illinois, Rep. Dan Lipinski, effectively was blacklisted by his own party. Last year, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez insisted that pro-life candidates have no place in the modern Democratic Party.
It is particularly chilly for us here in the state Hughes and Grier proudly called their earthly home. In recent years, some Democrats in the New York state Assembly repeatedly blocked education tax credit legislation, which would have helped middle-class and low-income families make the choice to select Catholic or other nonpublic schools for their children. Opposing the bill reduces the ability of fine Catholic schools across the state to continue their mission of serving the poor, many of them immigrants.
More sobering, what is already the most radical abortion license in the country may soon be even more morbidly expanded. For instance, under the proposed Reproductive Health Act, doctors would not be required to care for a baby who survives an abortion. The newborn simply would be allowed to die without any legal implications. And abortions would be legal up to the moment of birth.
It’s not an unfamiliar cri de coeur, but the source is certainly notable. Cardinal Dolan has helmed the Archdiocese of New York for nearly nine years and has worked hard to maintain engagement across the political spectrum. He has hosted the Al Smith Dinner, which routinely invites the most prominent national Republicans and Democrats, for an evening of non-partisan fellowship. He chaired the US Conference of Catholic Bishops for three years, a period in which the USCCB tried to balance political interests in social welfare and religious liberty.
It’s a hard shot across the partisan bow from a prelate that has tried most of his career to avoid them. Dolan might be one of the last bishops in the US from whom one would expect to hear a direct attack on one American party. Dolan himself concludes with an implicit argument that Democrats simply left him no choice in the matter:
I’m a pastor, not a politician, and I’ve certainly had spats and disappointments with politicians from both of America’s leading parties. But it saddens me, and weakens the democracy millions of Americans cherish, when the party that once embraced Catholics now slams the door on us.
That’s not hyperbole, either. As Dolan notes, DNC chair Tom Perez declared last year that pro-life candidates no longer have a place in the Democratic Party. Their VP nominee in 2016, Tim Kaine, ran as a Catholic who supported his running mate’s determination to get rid of the prohibition on the use of federal funds for abortions. From the HHS contraception mandate to demands to get rid of RFRA laws (the first of which was signed by Bill Clinton), Democrats have been on the march to drive all expressions of religious faith from the public square, mocking it as “bigotry” while demanding silence of Catholics and other people of faith. For the past decade or more, Democrats have tried to redefine freedom of religious expression to “freedom of worship,” confining it to the four walls of the church, chapel, synagogue, and temple.
Still, Dolan might find himself uncomfortable with the alternative. Republicans have supported people of faith in these issues, but the GOP’s rhetoric has turned coarse on immigration, and they generally oppose the USCCB’s concepts of social safety nets. On those issues, there is more room for prudential judgment, but there is a significant amount of suspicion about the motives of the US bishops and Pope Francis among Republicans — some of it rationally based, some of it clearly not.
Faithful Catholics in the pews will find themselves in the middle of a tug-of-war. Catholics have long been a politically diverse demographic, although until the social upheavals of the 1960s and the advent of the libertine contraception society, they were more Democratic by affiliation. Democrats have moved away from Catholics, but plenty of Catholics are still Democrats and engaged in their liberal causes. The door-shutting over abortion and anti-religious extremism betrays them most.
At this point, though, it seems that the Democratic Party has fully sold out to the extremists, and that means that Catholic Democrats will have to make a choice, and Democrats may not like the consequences when that happens. That’s precisely what Cardinal Dolan is warning them about, too.