The Archdiocese of New York confirmed today that Cardinal Timothy Dolan has accepted an invitation to offer the closing prayer at the Democratic National Convention, thus confirming roles for the head of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops at both political conventions.
Some on the right have declared victory over those who expressed concerned at Dolan’s appearance at the RNC, claiming that his prayers in Charlotte next month neutralizes concerns over those he will offer in Tampa later this week. And on one hand, Dolan’s appearance can be seen as an honor for Catholics, with one of our more prominent leaders being so in demand that he secured spots at rival events.
But does the church run the risk of losing something by appearing and acting so hyper-political this year?
The Catholic Church is called to be a prophetic voice in society, speaking for the marginalized, the voiceless, and the oppressed. It must comment on great moral issues, and take on the powerful when appropriate. But it cannot align itself too closely either political party, partisan politics, or, perhaps, national political conventions.
Perhaps in previous election cycles, an archbishop speaking at both conventions wouldn’t be controversial; perhaps it might even be cause for celebration. But recently, many bishops have become so partisan, nodding and winking as they effectively endorse the GOP. Perhaps sitting out these conventions would have been wise. If Cardinal Dolan really believes he is just “a priest going to pray,” sending a priest who hasn’t been at the fore in attacking the White House may have sufficed.
Cardinal Dolan and some of his brother bishops are suing the Obama Administration; they have held weeks long protests against his policies; and they have spoken  glowingly  about Paul Ryan in the press. When he agreed to bless the GOP convention, Dolan was seemingly giving his imprimatur to the Romney campaign. A brief appearance at the DNC won’t nullify this perception. In fact, might some question the Cardinal’s motivations, or his sincerity? Will others see in these appearances a desire for the church to amass even more political capital? And most importantly, do these appearances and the ensuing controversy help or hinder the church’s mission?