Archbishop Timothy Dolan, the president of the USCCB, is leading a campaign against the Obama Administration rooted in the charge that the Administration is somehow infringing on the "religious liberty" of Catholics. In an opinion piece published in the Wall Street Journal, Archbishop Dolan cites Alexander Hamilton and the other authors of the US Constitution in an attempt to conflate expanded healthcare in America today with the concerns about established state religion in 18th Century England.
It is telling that the USCCB put out 17 press releases in January, eight of them dealing with "religious liberty." None of them dealt with poverty, despite January having been declared "Poverty Awareness Month" by the USCCB itself. At a time of continued economic duress for many Americans, the leaders of the bishops' conference seem to have lost interest in the one most unifying concern of Catholics: the plight of the poor. The USCCB webpage has numerous references to an attack on "religious liberty," and it urges Catholics to write to Congress to overturn HHS regulations insuring that workers for Catholic-affiliated institutions will have access to birth control like all other American workers. But with regard to poverty, the website merely urges that Catholics "Please visit and "like" our special Poverty Awareness Month Facebook page."
The bishops' "religious liberty" campaign derived its origins in part from a 2009 conservative political document called "The Manhattan Declaration," written by Princeton Professor Robert George and endorsed by a broad range of Republican activists. George was a leading architect of what can only be labeled a campaign of hate speech toward candidate Obama in 2008, repeatedly labelling him as "the most pro-abortion candidate of either major political party in history." Archbishop Dolan and several other bishops with strong anti-Obama views signed that document, which claimed that there was a growing assault on religious liberty in America because Democrats refused to adopt Republican views on reversing Roe-vs-Wade and other conservative postures. Some bishops have now signed-on wholesale to the Republican view that President Obama is somehow out to get Catholics, despite his having a cabinet with an unprecedented number of Catholics, and despite record spending through the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships for Catholic charitable efforts.
At a moment when middle class Americans continue to suffer economically, with all the ramifications for family life, the president of the USCCB is speaking to the wealthy readership of the Wall Street Journal with words tarring President Obama as somehow unsympathetic to Catholic sensibilities. This politicization of the Church may please Republicans in the pews, but it may well accelerate the departure of other thinking Catholics who expect more from their Church leaders.