A Tea Partier for the Catholic Bishops?
Frank Cocozzelli printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sun Nov 24, 2013 at 05:51:23 PM EST
It is no secret that Richard Doerflinger - and by extension, his former boss, until recently the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Cardinal Timothy Dolan -- have been building bridges to the farther reaches of movement conservatism. Doerflinger went so far as to exhort Tea Party Republicans to engage in their recent shutdown of the federal government.
Doerflinger, Associate Director of Pro-Life Activities for the USCCB, is one of the most powerful Catholics in the United States. In 2010 Mother Jones magazine fairly described him as "The Man Who Almost Killed Health Care Reform."

Under Dolan's direction Richard Doerflinger was a very busy man. Mother Jones reported:  

Doerflinger has worked for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops for over a quarter-century. Bearded and balding, with large glasses, he doesn't fit the stereotype of a powerful Washington lobbyist. But he's extremely influential. A 2009 award citation noted that he has been "involved in almost every major pro-life initiative in Congress since 1980." In the health care fight, the bishops were "primarily relying on Mr. Doerflinger," says health law expert Tim Jost. Other sources, on and off the Hill, confirm Doerflinger's importance. In turn, his bosses exert great sway over Democrats who oppose abortion rights.

It was his co-authorship of the Stupak-Pitts Amendment that almost derailed the Affordable Health Care for America Act in the House of Representatives (a proposed amendment to prohibit the use of federal funds "to pay for any abortion or to cover any part of the costs of any health plan that includes coverage of abortion" except in cases of rape, incest or danger to the life of the mother; the amendment was dropped after President Obama promised an executive order along these lines).

Now it has come to light that Doerflinger - obviously with Cardinal Dolan's approval - colluded with Tea Party darling, Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) to continue the recent  shut-down of the federal government. Doerflinger's goal was to hold up the continuing resolution (CR) legislation until the birth control benefit in the Affordable Health Care Act (ACA) was removed. As Adele Stan reported for RH Reality Check:

Earlier in the day [October 11, 2013], Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), presented a plan for a compromise deal (later rejected by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid) that would have funded the government through March, ending the current partial government shutdown, and delayed until January the showdown on the debt ceiling--which needs to be raised by October 17, according to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, in order to avert a financial crisis. Ryan, the Washington Post reported, was having none of it. One big reason: birth control. Specifically, the contraception benefit in the ACA to which the bishops object.

In a closed-door meeting with his fellow House Republicans, Ryan reportedly "riled" up his colleagues with a speech opposing the Collins compromise, finding no benefit in the extension of deadlines to alleviate the current crisis. As the Post's Paul Kane and Lori Montgomery wrote:

According to two Republicans familiar with the exchange, Ryan argued that the House would need those deadlines as "leverage" for delaying the health-care law's individual mandate and adding a "conscience clause"--allowing employers and insurers to opt out of birth-control coverage if they find it objectionable on moral or religious grounds--and mentioned tax and entitlement goals Ryan had focused on in a recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.

This is the kind of thing we have come to expect during Dolan's tenure as president. And its not just Doerflinger. Dolan's all out culture warring was on full display this past April, for example, when the cardinal hired Kim Daniels to be his personal spokeswoman on USCCB matters. As Commonweal Magazine's Grant Gallicho pointed out, "Daniels served as Sarah Palin's "personal domestic-policy czar" in 2009 (as part of SarahPAC)."

In recent months, I have focused primarily those in the Catholic Right who  advocate nullification and secession (Rachel Tabachnick and I delve deeper into this in a new article at Public Eye Magazine: Nullification, Neo-Confederates, and the Revenge of the Old Right). These are issues that feature prominently with many in the Tea Party movement.

But these Catholic neo-confederates are not far from the destabilizing views of Dolan, Doerflinger and their allies -- who are willing to disrupt our ability to govern ourselves in order to establish the orthodox Catholic position on issues such as birth control as the de facto law of the land. Such strategy will endanger both the country as well as the Church.

But, as Joshua J. McElwee recently reported in the National Catholic Reporter, Dolan's culture war activities during his recently completed three-year tenure as conference president, generated some disgruntlement among his fellow bishops.  

Sources in the bishops' conference tell NCR that a number of the prelates view Dolan's presidency as either a failure or a disappointment. They say a slim majority elected Dolan to uphold a more right-wing Catholic agenda, thinking [Bishop Gerald] Kicanas would be too conciliatory toward Catholics more in the mold of the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin.

Dolan kept the bishops on the culture wars bandwagon, the sources say, but did little to build bridges among the different parties in the conference.

Kindling the fires of the culture wars -- which Pope Francis has made abundantly clear has been overplayed at the expense of such fundamental concerns as poverty and the environment. Yet Cardinal Dolan seemed to ignore this advice from above. Furthermore, with the election of Louisville, Kentucky's Archbishop Joseph Kurtz as Cardinal Dolan's replacement, it is likely that behind-the-scenes cultural war will continue.

Indeed, with regard to most matters of authority and policy Pope Francis has decided to move from a top-down vertical chain of command to a more horizontal Church. This gives greater freedom to local dioceses and lay movements. For our purposes, it means that the conservative elements in control of the USCCB have the latitude to continue their rightward trend - at least in the short term. That course can be altered if the Pontiff replaces retiring American bishops and cardinals with clerics of his outlook. Beyond that, this horizontal chain of command also allows for more moderate and liberal Catholics to speak out with without fear of retribution from the Vatican.  

This is an historic opportunity to weaken the culture warrior elements among American Catholic leadership and to open the doors to a more inclusive and far less conservative Church. But for now, the American Church still seems to belong to the likes of Doerflinger and Dolan.




Display:
As a liberal Protestant, I often "show up and hit my marks" for issues where the Catholic Church and we converge. That is NEVER around "pelvic politics". But I hold my tongue on most issues or give solid reasons why we disagree. I'm MOST collegial and kind on these differences though I and my organization do NOT back down. Reciprocity? You have to be kidding. During the fight for ACA, despite the Catholic hospitals and various groups such as NETWORK that supported health reform, the Church not only would NOT it dissed us for doing so. I am tired to the bone of the one-way street. Respect us for our MORAL stand on contraception, for our view of 'pro life' incorporating WOMEN, and agree to disagree if you like, but Catholic conservatives - Pope Francis told you to knock it off. Get with the NEW program - we can disagree and have seriously important conversations about it all, but stop acting as if NO one but bishops have morality. We do, we are, we will continue to pursue what we think our faith tells us to do, and if you don't agree, tough. I'm not walking away from my good Catholic friends, but I am no longer tolerating the narcissism of the church's position that it and only it has morality. So do we. Respect it.

by Churchlady on Sun Nov 24, 2013 at 10:52:20 PM EST

Doerflinger doesn't care about those who are already here. The wingnuts won't give up without a fight. Churchlady, I am a cradle Catholic and I agree with you.

by khughes1963 on Sun Nov 24, 2013 at 11:44:21 PM EST


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