Cardinal Dolan is shocked, shocked that the Freedom from Religion Foundation has mistaken the Roman Catholic Church for a political pressure group.
Oh, Cardinal Dolan hasn't said that they've mistaken the Church for a pressure group. For him, the FFRF ad is Exhibit Z in a long history of American anti-Catholic bigotry. But look closely.
(Disclaimer: I've been critical of the FFRF, myself, for another ad they placed in the Times. I lend them no support with these observations.)
Read and re-read Cardinal Dolan's column. Now read it again. What is the anti-Catholic claim that the FFRF has made? What text has he singled out as an attack on the Church?
You haven't found it? Me, neither.
The closest he gets is characterizing the ad as "a whole-page sneer at 'dogma'" (which hardly is an attack exclusively on Catholics) and where he observes that the FFRF characterizes the Court's majority as "all male Roman Catholic," which is factually true. He then attacks the Know-Nothings and the KKK, with whom he paints the FFRF guilty by association.
Now look further. Here is the FFRF ad. Read it closely.
In fact (contrary to the Cardinal's claims), I do find something like an argument here: "RFRA radically redefines 'religious freedom,' according believers extreme religious liberty, exempting them from laws they claim create substantial burdens on their free exercise of religion." The ad even encourages us to read FFRF's amicus brief in the Hobby Lobby case--certainly, there we find an argument.
The ad has a strong point-of-view. We should expect that from an organization devoted to promoting atheism. But is this an ad hominem attack? Only, it seems to me, if you cannot intellectually disentangle being Catholic from partisan, political activism.
And that, I suspect, is the Cardinal's problem. I've been documenting this problem for over two years. Find my treatments of it here, here, here, here, and here.
The Church must engage the world. That means that the Church must engage in social and political activism. But that activism is dangerous and the danger should be recognized. It is easy to become ensnared in the worldliness of the rough-and-tumble, to lose sight of the actual objectives and stop acting like the Kingdom of God on its earthly pilgrimage. More than anything else, Cardinal Dolan gives testimony here to how that is what has happened.
Notice that neither Cardinal Dolan nor the FFRF has mentioned that one of the dissenting justices in the Hobby Lobby case--Justice Sotomayor--is Catholic. They haven't mentioned it because it doesn't fit how they see that label, "Catholic." The FFRF is using "Catholic" as a synonym for "conservative Republican," and Cardinal Dolan feels stung by an expression of political disagreement that he only can take as an attack on the Church.
What Cardinal Dolan and the FFRF have in common is an inability to disentangle the Church from its political activism. But the greater culpability belongs to the Cardinal. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops launched its political campaign while Cardinal Dolan was its president. FFRF simply has been getting the message that the USCCB has been transmitting. This is what happens when bishops make themselves indistinguishable from lobbyists.
Here is Cardinal Dolan's summary assessment of the FFRF ad:
as the professors of logic, rhetoric, and speech taught us in college, arguments attacking a person—instead of an idea, viewpoint, or opinion—are the weakest and most vicious of arguments…although, sadly, rather effective in firing up a mob.Judge for yourself. But it seems to this writer that the Cardinal doth protest too much. Why else omit any reference to Justice Sotomayor, surely the best evidence available to muster against the FFRF's charges? Why dwell for so long on the history of anti-Catholic bigotry if not to 'fire up a mob'??
And that’s the tactic at work here. An ad soberly criticizing the decision would have been part of the discourse that makes us such a durable democracy…and there have been such ads. But the FFRF, perhaps knowing that their legal arguments fall flat, instead attacks the people on the court, and implies that their Catholic faith makes it impossible for them to protect the cherished Constitution they have sworn on a Bible to uphold.
This back-and-forth between the bishops on the Right and the secularists on the Left now is as illuminating as the dueling press conferences at the White House and the Capitol that we get during a government shutdown. But the impoverishment of that debate has been the bishops' recent work. Only they can elevate it.
Cardinal Dolan is shocked, shocked that the Church looks like a pressure group to the outside world. But I'm not. No on else should be.