By now you’ve likely seen the New York Times story by Sharon Otterman about the push to canonize Dorothy Day: “In Hero of the Catholic Left, a Conservative Cardinal Sees a Saint.” We might discuss the pros and cons (mostly cons, I think) of telling this story this way, lining up the players on either side of a left/right divide. I will say that I think the article is most interesting when it steps outside that framework and visits Maryhouse to talk to Martha Hennessy, Day’s granddaughter, and then St. Joseph House for a discussion with volunteers. The Catholic Worker context of those last few paragraphs makes the struggle over Day’s place in Catholic culture wars seem as petty as it is.
What I really want to talk about, though, is this paragraph, speculating about what might be motivating Cardinal Timothy Dolan to support Day’s cause:
“It is an opportunity for him to demonstrate that conservative Catholics are not uncaring, without accepting liberal principles in how you service the poor,” said William A. Donohue, president of the Catholic League, a conservative antidefamation organization. “She was not, like many liberal Catholics today, a welfare state enthusiast.”
When the bishops won’t speak to the NYT, who will speak for the bishops? Our friend Bill Donohue stands ready as always to step into the breach. Take note, all those who get offended when anyone suggests that the U.S. bishops’ recent forays into public-policy discussions have been self-defeatingly partisan. It is true that most (though not all) of the more vocal U.S. bishops try to avoid sounding overtly partisan when they speak to political issues. Donohue has no such compunctions. Which is just one reason the bishops ought to be concerned about allowing him to position himself as their surrogate in the media.
We’ve been over this before, and whenever Donohue comes in for criticism, someone will surely say, “I think there’s a real need for what he does, but….” By “what he does” I believe such people mean the “antidefamation” work of the Catholic League — protesting insults to and attacks on the Catholic faith and people. I actually would not agree, but let’s set that aside. Is that, in fact, what Donohue does? Is it the principal work of the Catholic League? I don’t think so. Yes, Donohue occasionally finds a legitimate insult to get worked up about. But for the most part, he is a public figure who engages in conservative Catholic identity politics for fun and profit. Read the rest of this entry »