I have no reason or standing to question Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s motives or intentions — he seems like a good man following the dictates of his conscience, and I humbly defer to the authority attendant to him and his office. Nevertheless — and I think the cardinal would agree with this — his recent words and deeds in the wake of the newly signed abortion law in New York are fair game for even an impious layman like me to critically examine.
Cardinal Dolan made the now infamous decision not to pursue the excommunication of Andrew Cuomo, the contumacious governor of New York, whose abortion bill permits the slaughter of unborn children up until the moment of their birth. The law was deemed “ghoulish” by the cardinal himself, which is hardly an overstatement; it allows mothers to kill their nearly born children for ethereal concerns about the mothers’ own mental or emotional “health.” The “emotional health” of the unborn child, whose fully formed body is injected with Digoxin to induce cardiac arrest and thereafter crushed by the forceps of an alleged practitioner of medicine — is never mentioned. A reasonable Catholic might wonder who, if not a governor who codifies and celebrates such a practice, is a worthy candidate for excommunication.
The cardinal went to the radio to clarify. Speaking with Paulist Fr. Dave Dwyer on Sirius XM’s “Conversations with Cardinal Dolan,” Cardinal Dolan explained what he perceived to be his unwinnable dilemma: in his eyes, he “can’t win” with either the “left” or the “far right,” both of whom will inevitably take issue with his decision for, as we’ll see in a moment, very different reasons. The “left” would criticize Cardinal Dolan for stating plainly the schism individuals wreak for themselves by supporting infanticide. Where the cardinal places decidedly more scorn is at the feet of those unsavory characters on the “far right.”
The “far right,” according to Cardinal Dolan, believe he is “being too conciliatory” to a governor who defamed the Church and codified infanticide, and the cardinal rejects the suggestion that he should “excommunicate” Cuomo for such behavior. The “far right” presumably includes such derelicts as Pope Pius IX, who included support for abortion among his list of excommunicable offenses, and Bishop Scharfenberger of Albany, the state capital, who recently acknowledged the propriety of excommunication in this instance. The cardinal audibly scoffed at these troublemakers, calling excommunication “completely counterproductive,” as Governor Cuomo might use such action as evidence that he is a “martyr to the cause.” What’s more, Cardinal Dolan had this to say to Catholics who felt excommunication the proper recourse: “What are you all looking at Daddy here [for]? [imitating opponents] ‘You’ve got to do something.’ You do something!”
As an unelected (and poorly qualified) spokesman, let me say, the so-called “far right” of the United States is “doing” plenty. The people who qualify for that epithet are setting up crisis pregnancy centers, facilitating adoptions, and praying daily rosaries for an end to the mortal sin of abortion. They are frequently berated by liberalizing Catholics and their clerical adherents for refusing to offer a commensurate level of passion to, say, the cessation of fossil fuel production. I can assure the cardinal that if those on the “far right” were in his position, they would move for the excommunication of Governor Cuomo for scandalizing the faithful. But they don’t have that power. He does.
The confounding statements didn’t end there. Cardinal Dolan proceeded to further clarify his thoughts in an op-ed in Catholic New York, entitled “To Be a Genuine Progressive, Protect the Baby in the Womb.”
This piece was essentially an admonition to pro-abortion politicians on the American left, but not for their utter disregard of God and His will. No, the cardinal instead criticized their lack of fealty to their own pseudo-religious ideology. “Is it not legitimate,” Dolan begins, “to ask why the protection of the civil rights of the preborn baby is not part of the dominant progressive agenda?”
It is “legitimate” to ask such a question, but asking it also misses the point entirely: progressives celebrate third-trimester abortions not because they are falling short of their ideological inheritance, but precisely because that inheritance is rationalist; hedonistic; and, ultimately, godless. It is a philosophy that exalts mankind, or, alternatively, “peoplekind,” in search of a secular utopia and perfectible \man, at the expense of the primacy of the divine and the reality of the Fall. Instead of wondering aloud how the secular faith of Progress fails to appreciate the dignity of an unborn child, Cardinal Dolan would be better off asking progressives (and their politically conservative counterparts!) why they search for Truth in ideology rather than Christ.
Cardinal Dolan makes clear his deep (and confusing) admiration for progressivism and the Democratic Party of the twentieth century in this and other opinion pieces. Insofar as “progressivism” is (improperly) used as a synonym for “concern for the poor,” some oblique admiration may be appropriate. But Cardinal Dolan takes that admiration a step farther: in a Wall Street Journal piece that ran early last year, Cardinal Dolan fondly recalled his grandmother’s counsel that “we Catholics don’t trust those Republicans” and calls the waning Catholics loyalty to the Democratic party (and vice versa) “a cause of sadness to many Catholics, me included.” The cardinal expressed his deep longing for the days when the Seamless Garment had its own political party — at last, Catholics would no longer have to choose between opposing Medicaid block grants and the lives of unborn children.
What confuses me most is why the cardinal grants such a resounding endorsement to the ideological home of eugenics, assisted suicide, socialism, secular governance, and modernism. Perhaps it might be best resolved as such: progressivism, taken to its logical conclusion, has wrought utter destruction on religious institutions because of, not in spite of, itself. Catholics can admire the actions of some self-described progressives without granting similar admiration to progressivism.
In moments where the world permits an unspeakable evil like the mass slaughter of innocents, the Catholic faithful demand and deserve a resolute, plain-spoken condemnation of those who so scandalize the Church. Vague aphorisms about “genuine progress” or any of the other euphemisms levied by the Church of Encounter are utterly insufficient in the face of that evil. Those who, like Cardinal Dolan, have the authority to do so ought to affirm this reality by excommunicating the public conspirators of such evil, even if it means sating those on the “far right” for whom he holds such apparent disdain.
John Hirschauer is a freelance journalist who writes about religion, culture, and politics. His work has appeared in National Review Online, The New York Times, The Federalist, and others. He was the 2018 national undergraduate winner of the William F. Buckley, Jr. Ideas essay contest and is deeply passionate about Catholicism and tradition. A frequent volunteer at a state institution for disabled adults, John is a public advocate for those who reside in institutions and their families. He can be found on Twitter at @JohnHirschauer.