A bishop's flexibility

As chairman of the bishops' committee that drafted the statement "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship," Brooklyn's Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio has had an important role in interpreting what it actually means. In the heat of the 2008 presidential campaign, he wrote in a letter to The New York Times that the newspaper had erred in a story on Joseph Biden and the Catholic vote in reporting the statement would explicitly allow Catholics to vote for a candidate who supports abortion rights if they do so for other reasons.Later, Bishop DiMarzio joined those bishops who condemned the University of Notre Dame for hosting President Barack Obama, calling it a "serious error" on the part of the school's president, Father John Jenkins.Nonetheless, Bishop DiMarzio has aided two politicians in the 2009 election campaign who have a long history of being pro-choice on abortion. A Brooklyn newspaper reported that an organization called the Catholic Citizens Committee used an automated message from the bishop in which he thanked Assemblyman Vito Lopez, the Brooklyn Democratic leader, for supporting the Catholic Church's policy agenda. (Lopez is not running this year, but is waging a tough battle to elect a supporter who lost the Democratic primary for the City Council seat in Williamsburg, where the calls were reportedly made.)I checked on this with a diocesan spokesman, who said the call specifically referred to Lopez's successful opposition to a bill that would have temporarily suspended the statute of limitations on lawsuits over sexual abuse of minors, a measure that would have been very costly to the Catholic Church in New York State.Monsignor Kieran Harrington, the diocesan spokesman, told me that the bishop did not tape the message to support a candidate but simply to thank Lopez, whose office was targeted by protesters as a result of his stance on the sex-abuse bill.Bishop DiMarzio also appears in a full-page, color ad for the re-election of the resolutely pro-choice Mayor Michael Bloomberg. It ran in the diocesan newspaper, which in the past had as a matter of policy rejected all political advertisements so as to avoid taking ads from pro-choice politicians. The bishop and mayor are pictured in Yankee Stadium, the bishop in a Yankees hat and the mayor in a Yankees warm-up jacket. It says: "MIKE BLOOMBERG: PROTECTING NYC'S CATHOLIC SCHOOLS. FIGHTING FOR US."Monsignor Harrington said that the no-advertising policy was ended last March, and not for this particular advertisement. He said Mayor Bloomberg has not been invited to speak at churches, and that "I would expect the bishop to have a relationship with the mayor of the City of New York." The billionaire mayor co-chaired a fundraiser for diocesan schools.It sure looks to me as if the bishop is showing greater flexibility than he did during the 2008 presidential campaign. Monsignor Harrington pointed out to me that the situation differs, since abortion is not an issue in the New York mayoral race but was in the presidential campaign. But the bishop is certainly taking a more flexible position now than he did when opposing even Notre Dame's invitation to President Obama to speak.

Paul Moses, a contributing writer at Commonweal, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @PaulBMoses. 

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