In a move that some will certainly deem shocking, Cardinal Timothy Dolan says he'll now be giving the closing prayer at both the Democratic and Republican conventions. The New York Roman Catholic leader made the fascinating announcement Tuesday through his spokesman.
After GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney announced last week that Dolan would offer the benediction at this week's Republican Convention (RNC) in Tampa, Florida, some Catholic liberals criticized Dolan's appearance. In voicing their outrage, they said it gave the impression he was endorsing Romney.
But, according to The New York Post, Dolan had already reached out to Democratic officials weeks ago to let them know about his RNC appearance. This, according to his spokesman, Joseph Zwilling, was done in an effort to show President Barack Obama and the left that his move wasn't politically-motivated.
"He wanted to make sure that they knew that this was not a partisan act on his part and that he would be just as happy and grateful to accept an invitation from the Democrats as he would to have received one from the Republicans,” Zwilling told The Post.
"He has not been contacted by them [since]," the spokesperson added late last week.
The Democratic snub was previously confirmed by Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, last week as well. Donohue, who told The Post that he spoke with Dolan about the lack of an invite, had plenty to say about what he perceived as foolishness for not originally including the Catholic faith leader.
"The Republicans are smart enough to get the ‘pope of America,’ and the Democrats are stupid enough not to invite him," Donohue said on Thursday. "The Catholic vote is the most critical vote. They’re the wild card. So, why wouldn’t you ingratiate yourself to the pope of America and send a wink and a nod to Catholics? That’s just good politics."
Despite this angst, something apparently changed between last week and today, with Dolan now announcing his participation in the DNC. Now, this choice to attend and offer a prayer is a fascinating development for a variety of reasons.
First and foremost, Dolan is the president of the U.S. bishops' conference, so he is in a position of great influence. But secondly -- and more importantly -- he's also an outspoken critic of President Barack Obama's mandate that employers provide health insurance that covers birth control.
While Dolan had apparently not wanted to appear partisan, his stance against select Obama administration regulations has been clear. Of particular note is the controversial contraceptive mandate. Dolan has made it clear -- both rhetorically and through a lawsuit he's leading against the federal government -- that the regulation forces the Catholic Church to violate its conscience on the birth control front.
In addition to calling administration officials out for allegedly lecturing the bishops earlier this year, he dubbed the mandate "morally toxic" and lambasted the president's attempt to "define ministry."
However, it seems Dolan is intent on bridging as much of a divide as he possibly can, even in spite of the legal challenge he and other Catholics have waged against Obama (he also recently invited Obama to a charity dinner -- another surprising olive branch of sorts).
Prior to Dolan's DNC announcement, Democratic strategist James Carville quipped that the Democrats should invite Sister Simone Campbell ("Nuns on the Bus") to the DNC to counter Dolan's RNC appearance. While there's no evidence that this was under actual consideration, Dolan's willingness to work with the Democrats could be an attempt to temper some of the storm surrounding the ideological and theological divide between the bishops and sisters.
Regardless, the new-found news of his participation in the DNC will certainly temper more progressive Catholics who have waged criticism his way.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.