Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York and the nation’s leading Catholic official, appeared to ask divine authority for help in resisting the progress of marriage equality and protecting the unborn in his closing speech to the Democratic National Convention, using allusive but stronger language than marked his benediction at the Republican National Convention.
Dolan offered the prayer after President Barack Obama delivered his nomination acceptance speech Thursday night in Charlotte. The President said in his speech that failure to re-elect him would result in a "void" to be filled by "Washington politicians who want to decide who you can marry or control health care choices that women should be making for themselves."
Compared to his closing prayer last week in Tampa, which ran 544 words, Dolan's DNC prayer was longer, at 700 words, the Catholic News Herald reports. In addition to the length difference, last night’s prayer included an apparent reference to marriage equality, which the Catholic Church opposes and which Democrats have approved in their platform for the first time this year.
“Show us anew that happiness is found only in respecting the laws of nature and of nature's God,” he said, according to text of the prayer at CatholicCulture.org. “Empower us with your grace, so that we might resist the temptation to replace the moral law with idols of our own making, or to remake those institutions you have given us for the nurturing of life and community.”
As president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the bishop' official policy arm, Dolan has criticized the Obama administration’s decision not to defend the Defense of Marriage Act from federal legal challenges as a threat to the “institution of marriage.” Catholicism teaches that marriage is only between a man and a woman. The cardinal wrote a harshly worded letter to President Obama last year that warned the new DOMA stance would “precipitate a national conflict between church and state of enormous proportions.”
Dolan used no such language about “remaking institutions” in his prayer to the RNC last week. Republicans approved a platform calling for a federal constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and the affirmation of DOMA, positions more in line with Catholic Church teaching.
According to the text from Tampa, Dolan said, “May we know the truth of your creation, respecting the laws of nature and nature's God, and not seek to replace it with idols of our own making. Give us the good sense not to cast aside the boundaries of righteous living you first inscribed in our hearts even before inscribing them on tablets of stone.”
In both prayers, Dolan called for “renewal” of the principle of religious liberty, an issue at the heart of the Catholic Church’s disagreements with the Obama administration, and also a flashpoint for marriage equality advocates and Catholic-affiliated opponents such as the National Organization for Marriage. Freedom of religion arguments drive coordinated lawsuits Dolan and other Catholic leaders have filed against the administration over the health care reform law’s contraception mandate.
Regarding abortion, Dolan used stronger language in his prayer to Democrats, who approved abortion rights in their platform. Whereas his RNC prayer only asked for “benediction upon those yet to be born,” the DNC prayer asked for “benediction on those who are waiting to be born, that they may be welcomed and protected.” The Republican Party platform opposes abortion.
Although the Catholic Church aligns with the Republican Party on marriage and abortion, Dolan and the bishops have challenged the severe budget cuts for social services proposed by Wisconsin congressman and vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan. The cardinal referred to this social justice stance in his prayer to the Democrats, when he said, “Help us to see that a society's greatness is found above all in the respect it shows for the weakest and the neediest among us.”
In one other key difference between the two prayers, the Huffington Post reports that Dolan prayed for Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Mitt Romney and Ryan by name at the DNC, while at the RNC, he prayed for Romney and Ryan by name and only mentioned "the president and vice-president."
Dolan offered to deliver the prayer at the DNC following concerns that only appearing at the RNC would make him appear partisan. Some Democrats objected to his appearance given his stances on marriage and abortion, but the convention also included a liberal Catholic leader, Sister Simone Campbell, who has been publicly rebuked by the Vatican for supporting the health care reform law and not focusing enough on social issues. She spoke Wednesday in a political capacity.
Dolan’s spokesman said that he was appearing at both conventions “solely as a pastor, only to pray, not to endorse any party, platform, or candidate.” Given the importance of the moderate Catholic vote in swings states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, however, many observers asked whether it would be possible to separate the cardinal’s religious role from the political nature of both occasions.