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“Incomplete Resume”: Should A Sarah Palin Adviser Speak For America’s Catholic Bishops?

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) announced on Monday that it has hired Kim Daniels as spokeswoman for the USCCB president, currently Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York. Daniels, the USCCB announcement explains, is “an attorney whose practice has focused on religious liberty matters,” and she “brings to the USCCB her experience as director of Catholic Voices USA, an organization of lay Catholics that works to bring the positive message of the Church across a broad range of issues to the public square.”

The bishops left a few things off her résumé, says Grant Gallicho at Commonweal. Notably, the announcement “does not mention two of Daniels’s previous employers: Sarah Palin and the Thomas More Law Center,” a conservative legal organization at which Daniels fought for the right of pharmacists to refuse to dispense the morning-after pill. She spent nine years, from 2000 to 2009, at the Thomas More Law Center, established in 1998 by its president, Richard Thompson. Thompson and his center increasingly tend to “make news by making provocative comments about Islam.”

The more eyebrow-raising job is Daniels’ work as a paid adviser to Palin and her political group, SarahPAC. Daniels signed up to work with Palin after doing some legal work for John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, at a time when “the former Alaska governor tried to remodel herself” after McCain’s loss, says David Gibson at Religion News Service. Daniels was described as “Palin’s personal domestic policy czar,” and that association leaves an open question for the bishops about “whether Daniels will deflect controversies or become a lightning rod herself,” says Gibson.

Palin has continued to alienate herself from all but her most loyal fans on the movement’s right flank, and it is not clear where Daniels’ relationship with Palin stands today. [RNS]

Yes, Daniels worked for Palin, says Kathryn Jean Lopez at Patheos, but “I wouldn’t read too much into the political significance of this as a bishops’ conference matter.” As Daniels has explained it, she “felt a call to work with this most prominent pro-life mother who was giving voice to issues close to her heart in the public square.”

Her heart belongs to her family and the church, and her work with Palin was an outgrowth of that…. One of the key questions the church is confronted with today is: How do we teach and share the Gospel effectively?…. How Catholics in the pews hear and what they hear plays a major role in that. But the media in all its mainstream and social forms is where most people’s views of the church is formed. How do we engage there clearly, as Christians, lovingly and responsively? Kim has been devoting her time to just that question as a director of the Catholic Voices USA project. So I really can’t think of a better person to be joining Cardinal Dolan and the bishops’ conference in that effort to address that question. [Patheos]

What role Daniels will fill remains an open question, however. Her position is a new one, separate from the USCCB’s official press office. “Kim Daniels is not in the Communications Department,” Sister Mary Ann Walsh, the USCCB’s longtime spokeswoman, tells Religion News Service. “As head of the USCCB Office for Media Relations I speak to the media in that capacity.” That makes this “new territory for everyone,” says RNS‘s Gibson.

Daniels’ hiring also looks like an effort to satisfy Dolan’s goal of finding an “attractive, articulate, intelligent” laywoman to help recast the hierarchy’s image… because, as he put it, “In the public square, I hate to tell you, the days of fat, balding Irish bishops are over.” Yet Daniels, a mother of six, will also have to be credible, which means she would need to have a clear mandate. [RNS]

Whether Daniels has that mandate isn’t clear, since not all the bishops are comfortable with one spokeswoman speaking for all of them. Will she be the public face of Dolan’s policies, or a rival to Walsh’s media shop, or a behind-the-scenes policy shaper? We’ll find out. But there’s also “a final wrinkle,” Gibson says: “Dolan’s three-year term as USCCB president ends in November, and a new president may want to use Daniels in a different capacity, or not at all.”

 

By: Peter Weber, The Week, April 30, 2013

May 2, 2013 Posted by | Catholic Bishops, Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Catholic Spring”: The Battle Among Catholic Bishops

There is a healthy struggle brewing among the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops. A previously silent group, upset over conservative colleagues defining the church’s public posture and eagerly picking fights with President Obama, has had enough.

The headlines this week were about lawsuits brought by 43 Catholic organizations, including 13 dioceses, to overturn regulations issued by the Obama administration that require insurance plans to cover contraception under the new health-care law. But the other side of this news was also significant: The vast majority of the nation’s 195 dioceses did not go to court.

It turns out that many bishops, notably the church leadership in California, saw the litigation as premature. They are upset that the lawsuits were brought without a broader discussion among the entire membership of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and wanted to delay action until the conference’s June meeting.

Until now, bishops who believed that their leadership was aligning the institutional church too closely with the political right had voiced their doubts internally. While the more moderate and liberal bishops kept their qualms out of public view, conservative bishops have been outspoken in condemning the Obama administration and pushing a “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign aimed at highlighting “threats to religious freedom, both at home and abroad.”

But in recent months, a series of events — among them the Vatican’s rebuke of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, encouraged by right-wing U.S. bishops — have angered more progressive Catholics and led to talk among the disgruntled faithful of the need for a “Catholic spring” to challenge the hierarchy’s shift to the right.

Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., broke the silence on his side Tuesday in an interview with Kevin Clarke of the Jesuit magazine America. Blaire expressed concern that some groups “very far to the right” are turning the controversy over the contraception rules into “an anti-Obama campaign.”

“I think there are different groups that are trying to co-opt this and make it into [a] political issue, and that’s why we need to have a deeper discussion as bishops,” he said. “I think our rhetoric has to be that of bishops of the church who are seeking to be faithful to the Gospel, that our one concern is that we make sure the church is free to carry out her mission as given to her by Christ, and that remains our focus.”

Clarke also paraphrased Blaire as believing that “the bishops lose their support when the conflict is seen as too political.”

Blaire’s words were diplomatic. But in a letter to the national bishops conference that has not been released publicly, lawyers for California’s bishops said the lawsuits would be “imprudent” and “ill-advised.” The letter was not answered by the national bishops group before the suits were announced.

Already, there are reports that some bishops will play down or largely ignore the Fortnight for Freedom campaign, scheduled for June 21 to July 4, in their own dioceses. These bishops fear that it has become enmeshed in Republican election-year politics and see many of its chief promoters, notably Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, as too strident.

The irony in the current acrimony is that Catholics were broadly united in January across political lines in opposing the Department of Health and Human Services’ initial rules on contraception because they exempted only a narrow category of religious institutions from the mandate.

Facing this challenge, the president fashioned a compromise under which employees of Catholic organizations such as hospitals and social service agencies would still have access to contraceptive services but the religious entities would not have to pay for them. This compromise was accepted by most progressive Catholics, though many of them still favor rewriting the underlying regulations to acknowledge the religious character of the church’s welfare and educational work.

But where the progressives favor pursuing further negotiations with the administration, the conservative bishops have acted as if it never made any concessions at all. Significantly, Blaire identified with the conciliatory approach. As Clarke wrote, “Bishop Blaire believes discussions with the Obama administration toward a resolution of the dispute could be fruitful even as alternative remedies are explored.”

For too long, the Catholic Church’s stance on public issues has been defined by the outspokenness of its most conservative bishops and the reticence of moderate and progressive prelates. Signs that this might finally be changing are encouraging for the church, and for American politics.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, May 23, 2012

May 24, 2012 Posted by | Catholic Bishops, Religion | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Refusing To Comply With Laws”: The Strange New Meaning Of “Religious Freedom”

Whatever ultimately happens in various ongoing collisions between conservative clergy and laws to which they object, it is clear the former have already won a significant victory in convincing millions of Americans that “religious freedom” means the right to have one’s particular religious views explicitly reflected in public policy. That is definitely the position of the nation’s Catholic bishops, who contend they should be able to operate a wide range of quasi-public services and also enjoy the use of public subsidies, while refusing to comply with laws and regulations that contradict their religious or moral teachings.

I’ve argued in the past that what the bishops are actually seeking is not “freedom” but a sort of unwritten concordat—a broad zone of immunity from laws they choose to regard as offensive. Now there is nothing terribly unusual or inherently outrageous about this desire; Vatican diplomacy for centuries has focused on the establishment of such arrangements—though typically written rather than plenary—with a wide array of governments. It’s the idea that this sort of arrangement involves “freedom” rather than frankly acknowledged special privileges that’s novel. And it leads to some rather strange conclusions, viz. this conservative post celebrating an anti-Obama protest in San Francisco and identifying special concessions to religious groups as an example of “American exceptionalism:”

Friday, one thousand Bay Area Catholics gathered outside the Federal Building in San Francisco to celebrate America’s exceptional guarantee of freedom of religion, and defend against an unprecedented assault by the Obama Administration.

The rally was among the largest of over 100 protests by Catholics around the nation on the second (ahem) birthday of Obamacare.

From the podium, Northern California Catholic religious and secular leaders openly urged citizens to register to vote and cast ballots against President Obama in the general election, in what they called an end to “quiet conformity” by religious Americans….

The City Square, a Bay Area blog, described this religious backlash as nothing less than the opening of a second front in the “war for freedom”, alongside the Tea Party movement’s economic freedom agenda.

That is indeed an apt comparison, since the Tea Party, too, has a very special definition of “freedom.”

Still, it’s odd to hear people describe the kind of concessions to broad rights of religious self-regulation that are exceedingly common in countries without a constitutional history of church-state separation as peculiarly American.

And it’s not a view that’s been smiled upon very often by the official arbitors of the Constitution, the federal courts, as Sarah Posner recently explained at Religion Dispatches:

Conservative claims of infringement of religious freedom…are on shaky constitutional footing. Although Catholic Charities lost challenges to similar policies in state courts in California and New York, several Catholic and evangelical universities have sued HHS in federal courts around the country, charging that the contraception coverage requirement violates their religious freedom. While a federal court has yet to rule on the mandate, a ruling issued late Friday night demonstrates how the claim of infringement of religious freedom undermines the First Amendment’s prohibition on government establishment of religion.

In that case, the American Civil Liberties Union had challenged an HHS policy allowing the USCCB, which received funding under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, to refuse to refer victims of rape and sexual assault for contraceptive and abortion services. Although the Bishops and their Republican allies argue that requiring them to refer women and girls for reproductive health services amounted to a government interference with their religious freedom, Judge Richard Stearns held that allowing them to refuse to make these referrals amounted to an impermissible government endorsement of religion.

While that case would not require courts outside of Massachusetts to reach the same conclusion, or to reach the same conclusion in the lawsuits against the insurance coverage requirement, it does provide a roadmap for how a court would weigh a Free Exercise claim against an Establishment Clause claim.

Now some conservative Catholics, and many of their conservative evangelical allies (who have fully internalized David Barton’s revisionist “Christian Nation” theory that the Founders had no intention of fostering church-state separation) would view Judge Stearns’ decision as an exercise in “judicial activism” on the behalf of an aggressively “secularist” agenda. But like the Right’s redefinition of religious freedom itself, this point of view is decidedly recent in origin, and better described as “radical” than as “conservative” in spirit.

But that’s true as well of much of the American Right’s current ideological tendencies. Somehow or other, public programs as well as constitutional doctrines that the country has lived with peacefully since at least the New Deal are being denounced as involving aggressive, sinister, and even Satanic attacks on traditional liberties. That’s the connection between the protesters in San Francisco bearing “Obama the Judas of America” signs and their comrades carrying images of Andrew Breitbart outside the Supreme Court.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, March 27, 2012

March 29, 2012 Posted by | Catholic Bishops, Religion | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“No Communist Plot”: Catholicism Is Not The Tea Party At Prayer

The nation’s Roman Catholic bishops will make an important decision this week: Do they want to defend the church’s legitimate interest in religious autonomy, or do they want to wage an election-year war against President Obama?

And do the most conservative bishops want to junk the Roman Catholic Church as we have known it, with its deep commitment to both life and social justice, and turn it into the Tea Party at prayer?

These are the issues confronting the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ administrative committee when it begins a two-day meeting on Tuesday. The bishops should ponder how they transformed a moment of exceptional Catholic unity into an occasion for recrimination and anger.

When the Department of Health and Human Services initially issued rules requiring contraceptive services to be covered under the new health-care law, it effectively exempted churches and other houses of worship but declined to do so for religiously affiliated entities such as hospitals, universities and social welfare organizations.

Catholics across the political spectrum — including liberals like me — demanded a broader exemption, on the theory that government should honor the religious character of the educational and social service institutions closely connected to faith traditions.

Under pressure, Obama announced a compromise on Feb. 10. It still mandated contraception coverage, but religiously affiliated groups would neither have to pay for it nor refer its employees to alternatives. These burdens would be on insurance companies.

The compromise was quickly endorsed by the Catholic Health Association. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the president of the bishops’ conference, reserved judgment but called Obama’s move “a first step in the right direction.”

Then, right-wing bishops and allied staff at the bishops’ conference took control. For weeks, Catholics at Sunday Mass were confronted with attacks that, at the most extreme, cast administration officials as communist-style apparatchiks intent on destroying Roman Catholicism.

You think I exaggerate? In his diocesan newspaper, Cardinal Francis George, archbishop of Chicago, wrote: “The provision of health care should not demand ‘giving up’ religious liberty. Liberty of religion is more than freedom of worship. Freedom of worship was guaranteed in the Constitution of the former Soviet Union. You could go to church, if you could find one. The church, however, could do nothing except conduct religious rites in places of worship — no schools, religious publications, health care institutions, organized charity, ministry for justice and the works of mercy that flow naturally from a living faith. All of these were co-opted by the government. We fought a long Cold War to defeat that vision of society.”

My goodness, does Obama want to bring the Commies back?

Cardinal Dolan is more moderate than Cardinal George, but he offered an unfortunate metaphor in a March 3 speech on Long Island. “I suppose we could say there might be some doctor who would say to a man who is suffering some sort of sexual dysfunction, ‘You ought to start visiting a prostitute to help you, and I will write you a prescription, and I hope the government will pay for it.’ ”

Did Cardinal Dolan really want to suggest to faithfully married Catholic women and men who decide to limit the size of their families that there is any moral equivalence between wanting contraception coverage and visiting a prostitute? Presumably not. But then why even reach for such an outlandish comparison?

Opposition in the church to extreme rhetoric is growing. Moderate and progressive bishops are alarmed that Catholicism’s deep commitment to social justice is being shunted aside in this single-minded and exceptionally narrow focus on the health-care exemption. A wise priest of my acquaintance offered the bishops some excellent questions about the church.

“Is it abandoning its historical style of being a leaven in society to become a strident critic of government?” he asked. “Have the bishops given up on their conviction that there can be disagreement among Catholics on the application of principle to policy? Do they now believe that there must be unanimity even on political strategy?”

The bishops have legitimate concerns about the Obama compromise, including how to deal with self-insured entities and whether the wording of the HHS rule still fails to recognize the religious character of the church’s charitable work. But before the bishops accuse Obama of being an enemy of the faith, they might look for a settlement that’s within reach — one that would give the church the accommodations it needs while offering women the health coverage they need. I don’t see any communist plots in this.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, March 11, 2012

March 12, 2012 Posted by | Catholic Bishops, Religion | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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