It turns out that New York Catholic archbishop Timothy Dolan will deliver the closing prayer at the Democratic National Convention as well as the Republican one, a move that is drawing mixed reviews from LGBT and other progressive activists.
Dolan worked hard against his state’s marriage equality bill and has aligned himself with conservatives on other political issues, leading some commentators, such as Andrew Sullivan, to decry his appearance this week at the Republican convention as a partisan act. Usually a clergy member from the region where the convention is held leads the closing prayer, but Republican Party, meeting in Tampa, Fla., apparently wanted a higher-profile cleric. Dolan, who is head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops as well as the huge New York archdiocese, is sometimes called “America’s pope.”
Last week it was reported that Dolan had offered to appear at the Democratic convention as well but had not received an answer. Today, however, it was announced that Dolan would deliver the benediction to close the event, to be held September 4-6 in Charlotte, N.C. Another Catholic voice at the convention will be Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of the national Catholic social justice lobby Network and the leader of the recent the Nuns on the Bus tour. Her group has been criticized by the church hierarchy for focusing too much on economic issues and too little on opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage. She will speak September 5.
Some commentators characterized the presence of both conservative and liberal Catholic spokespeople at the Democratic convention as a coup for President Obama’s campaign. “That is kind of a Catholic ‘two-fer’ that threatens to upstage GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s Catholic outreach and highlights the importance of this swing vote in a deadlocked race,” wrote David Gibson of Religion News Service. Los Angeles Times contributor Michael McGough said the Democrats “called Dolan’s bluff by inviting him to invoke God’s blessing on what many Republicans consider a godless party.” The pro-LGBT group Catholics for Equality posted on Facebook that there will now be “a balanced Catholic presence at both national conventions” and praised the Democrats’ inclusion of Campbell.
However, Wayne Besen, executive director of the LGBT organization Truth Wins Out, said that by having Dolan deliver the closing prayer, “The Democrats have once again squandered an opportunity to raise the stature of a progressive religious voice, and have instead pandered to conservatives who will never support their party. Rick Warren’s invocation at Obama’s inauguration did not win the president any friends, and rewarding Timothy Dolan with this prestigious platform is unlikely to win Obama many votes.” Human Rights Campaign blogger Dan Rafter added, “There are many faith leaders who would be an ideal fit to close out the Democratic National Convention — but Cardinal Timothy Dolan is not that leader.”