Bigshot Catholic Cardinal May Be Signaling Catholics' Drift from Democrats

Last Thursday Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York penned an essay in the Wall Street Journal.  The title of the essay, and its subtitle, tells you pretty much all you need to know if you don't subscribe: "The Democrats Abandon Catholics: If you value religious education or life's sanctity, you're not welcome in the party."

This is a far more political statement, in an overtly partisan way, than we're used to seeing from the U.S. Catholic bishops, so what's going on here?

For starters, it's helpful to ask: who would have been pleased by this essay, and who would have been...well, let's say displeased?

Let's see...displeased?  The Democratic Party – that's a no-brainer.  They just lost a presidential election because they lost the heavily Catholic Reagan Democrats in the Midwest.  This won't help – not in 2018, not in 2020.

How about the Bergoglio Vatican?  Displeased?  You'd better believe it.  It's a given that Bergoglio personally has no use for the USA, and all you have to do to remind yourself just how virulent that dislike is is reprise the article by Antonio Spadaro, the Jesuit editor of La Civiltà Cattolica, a journal reported to be personally vetted by Bergoglio himself.  The article is titled "Evangelical Fundamentalism and Catholic Integralism: A Surprising Ecumenism</a>, and you can find an analysis of it by Sam Gregg.  The long and the short of it is that Spadaro – and presumably Bergoglio – are disturbed by the ecumenical cooperation between Catholics and Evangelicals. Why?  Because they fear the rise of a "theocracy."

Here's how Gregg puts it:

Father Spadaro and Rev. Figueroa correctly observe that many Catholics and Evangelicals have found common cause in recent decades around issues such as "abortion, same-sex marriage, religious education in schools and other matters generally considered moral or tied to values."  They then add that "Both Evangelical and Catholic Integralists condemn traditional ecumenism and yet promote an ecumenism of conflict that unites them in the nostalgic dream of a theocratic type of state.

And that's more or less just for starters.  Take it from me: Spadaro doesn't like Trump.  The dislike begins with the nefarious Norman Vincent Peale officiating at Trump's first marriage and just goes on.

So, we can take it as given that the Vatican 1) wasn't informed in advance that Dolan was writing this essay and 2) is mightily displeased about it.  In a sense, Dolan's essay is a follow-on to an earlier snub that the U.S. bishops delivered to Bergoglio at their annual meeting. Back in November 2017, the US bishops rejected Cardinal Cupich – known as "the pope's bishop" – for the leadership of their important and politically sensitive pro-life committee.  If Cupich had been elected, that would have been a signal to the Democrats that they could expect a more accommodating line from the Catholic Church.  Instead, Cupich was soundly defeated – a poke in the eye for Bergoglio – and a steadfast pro-life bishop was elected instead.

Who is likely to be pleased by all this?  Naturally, the Republicans, in a general way.  They've tended to benefit strongly from the pro-life vote, but they've never received this pointed an assist from the Catholic bishops in the past.  To the contrary, the bishops have tended to maintain an arm's length relationship with the GOP.  I say this despite the fact that the GOP is mentioned only once in the essay, and that to point out that in the past Catholics have distrusted Republicans. Nevertheless, the US has a two party system, and if the Catholic Church pointedly states that one of those two parties has abandoned Catholics, well, the implications aren't hard to figure out.

What about Trump?  Yeah, he's gotta be pretty pleased by this.  With the help of Kellyanne Conway, Trump has courted Catholics from the start of his campaign, and he has followed through with policy accomplishments and appointments in ways that no other president has – no matter their rhetoric.  Even though Trump is not mentioned once in Dolan's essay, it's hard to see this as much less than an endorsement.  Nuanced it may be, but this initiative could only have been made with the knowledge that it would help Trump.  And perhaps with the hint that continued good behavior could lead to more overt support.

Now, I've been referring to Dolan and the Catholic Church as if Dolan were the head of the Church in America, but he's not.  Does that change any of the preceding calculations?  Does it render his essay a mere expression of personal opinion?  I think not.  While Dolan is no longer president of the USCCB, he has regularly assumed the position of a spokesman – a natural role for the Cardinal Archbishop of New York.  I think this momentous step – and it was, I believe, momentous – was taken only after thorough consultation with other like0minded bishops.

My take is that the calculations that went into this decision are something like this.  The Catholic bishops, having studied the politics of this new Trump era, have come to the conclusion that, as shepherds, they need to be with their flocks.  And they now know that thir flock is no longer a Democrat flock, and not likely to return to that fold in any definitive way.  As a further calculation, I believe that the bishops have recognized that if they lose the moral high ground – in the eyes of their flocks – on the all important social issues, the consequences could be dire.  They've already seen how Trump was able to speak over their heads to the faithful.  They can't afford to allow that to become a pattern.

The final calculation is that offending Bergoglio is the least of the worries that the American bishops need be concerned about.  From this standpoint, Dolan's essay may be a gauntlet thrown in the direction of the Vatican – a warning that the Church needs to take the populist wave sweeping the Western world seriously.

Mark Wauck blogs on religion, philosophy, and FISA at

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