Pastor, Not Pol
Cardinal Dolan makes our democracy better.

New York’s Timothy Cardinal Dolan


Kathryn Jean Lopez

Dolan attributes the current battle over the HHS mandate and the very definition of religious liberty to a “utilitarian and consumerist culture of death . . . deeply rooted social, philosophical, and ethical tendencies that, unfortunately, often find their expression in our laws and in our attitudes toward others.” In the “utilitarian view that dominates our age,” Dolan continues, “the principle that human life is an end in itself, not a means to an end, is always subject to a calculation that would justify harm to another, if we deem it to produce enough of a benefit to ourselves. Every human life is thus vulnerable to being on the losing side of the utilitarian’s cost-benefit analysis.”

Dolan goes on to address specifically the threat to civility and civilization itself that is that culture of death, in particular for a country that refuses to protect the vulnerable unborn child. As the Democratic Convention in Charlotte is shaping up to become an ode to abortion rights — whereas abortion is an “intrinsic evil” in Catholic teaching — the presence of Dolan on the political scene, not as an endorser but as a teacher, is significant. Dolan reminds Catholics that they belong not to a party but to the eternal kingdom they seek.

Dolan — who was archbishop of Milwaukee in the early 2000s and who calls Paul Ryan a friend — has taken Ryan’s articulation of Catholic social teaching in defense of his budget as an opportunity to walk through the steps of discernment in economic policy and politics more generally. There should be robust debates about moral stewardship lead by people of faith on all political issues, not just the ones dubbed “social issues.” Reteaching basic moral principles, Dolan helps us make this possible. He reminds people of faith who we are, reminds Catholics in particular what we believe and what that means, and reminds the political class what they represent: a tradition that understands that freedom and democracy need religion. And that religion is more than a “safe harbor,” as it was described on Meet the Press during this political cycle, but a call that requires our whole lives — even our political ones.

During the media coverage of that educational trip to the Holy Land a year ago that involved freshmen congressmen diving into the Sea of Galilee after drinks, some media hosts were beside themselves. This is where Christ walked on water! But the sea isn’t a font of holy water, and Catholics and other people of faith believe it is our lives themselves that are meant to be holy, as we witness to what we believe, with love. That’s the political issue people of faith face: How can my vote help protect the freedom to live as I am called to? Dolan is a leader in the deprivatization of religion. That’s his endorsement: that we are all free to be who we say we are, individually, and as a nation. That we are free to know that it is the responsibility of people of faith to be true to this, and that it is in the best interest of all of us to protect that right to true freedom.

— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online. This column is available exclusively through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.