Tag Archives: GOP


Republicans reopening old wounds as they debate abortion in House

WASHINGTON (RNS) As the House debates a bill to limit abortion, Republicans are reopening a subject that cost them dearly in 2012 and continues to present perils for the party’s attempt to appeal to women voters.

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Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona speaks during a joint hearing of the Subcommittee on Economic Growth, Job Creation, and Regulatory Affairs and the Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Constitution and Civil Justice. (May 2013) Photo courtesy Oversight and Reform via Flickr

Even before the full House took up the bill Tuesday (June 18) to ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, Republicans had a sharp reminder of how sensitive the issue can be when Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., appeared to say that rape rarely results in pregnancy.

“The incidence of rape resulting in pregnancy (is) very low,” Franks said at a June 12 committee hearing on the bill. Franks later said he meant that third-trimester abortions of pregnancies caused by rape are rare.

But for a party that has been blunt about its negative image with women, the controversy is like seeing a bad movie over again.

“This comes too close for comfort. It’s different, but it’s too close for comfort,” said Ari Fleischer, former Bush administration spokesman who co-wrote the GOP’s post-election report on its need for better communication with minorities and women.

“Republicans should have learned a lesson as to how to talk and act more respectfully. Even this comes too close after the two previous problems. Stop anything on this topic that even comes close to being foolish and out of touch.”

The incident summoned up two previous embarrassments for the GOP: During his 2012 attempt to unseat Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, Missouri Republican Todd Akin said that women cannot get pregnant from “legitimate rape.” And in a February 2012 hearing over contraception coverage in employee health plans, Republicans called only men to testify.

The debate on the bill allows Democrats to continue the theme of a GOP “war on women” — House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called the legislation “disrespectful to the rights, health and safety of the American women.” And it will provide more microphone time during which Republicans may get into rhetorical hot water.

“Communications means taking your stand on the issues you believe in, but doing so in a way that brings people in instead of in a way that drives people out,” Fleischer said.

The bill may well pass the Republican-controlled House but would be unlikely to go far in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

In an interview with Roll Call, Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., said it is a mistake for Republicans to bring the abortion bill up for a vote instead of focusing on economic issues. “The stupidity is simply staggering,” he said.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the legislation was prompted as a response to the crimes committed at the Philadelphia abortion clinic run by Dr. Kermit Gosnell. “I think the legislation is appropriate,” Boehner said.

Republicans suffer because while Democrats have developed the “war on women” theme for their position on abortion, Republicans have no similar narrative for their efforts on the other side of the issue, says Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony List, which contributes to anti-abortion women candidates.

“They’re shooting themselves in the foot because they haven’t created an overall narrative within which mistakes can be made.”

Republicans should be presenting their legislation in the context of protecting maternal and fetal health, she said, emphasizing “fairness toward the vulnerable – the vulnerable women in these clinics and the vulnerable late-term children who are being aborted.”

Akin’s “legitimate rape” comments, and a similar remark by Indiana Republican Richard Mourdock, were viewed by Republicans as costing them two reliable Senate seats in 2012. The 2014 elections, when Republicans again hope to take control of the Senate and make more gains in the House, are nearly a year and a half away.

Democratic groups will be sure to remind voters about the GOP efforts on abortion come election time.

“This isn’t about the Trent Franks of the world, this is about all the Republicans who are going to have to take this vote” on the House bill, says Marcy Stech of Emily’s List, which supports women candidates who favor abortion rights.

(Martha T. Moore writes for USA Today.)

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N.C. minorities remain worried after religion bill is pulled

WILMINGTON, N.C. (RNS) A resolution to allow North Carolina to defy the Constitution and establish a state-sanctioned religion may be dead in the state capitol, but minority faiths say there’s more than enough reason to remain nervous.

Some worry about the implications the bill has for North Carolina, a majority Protestant state with growing Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist populations.

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North Carolina State Capitol photo courtesy Jim Bowen via Flickr (http://flic.kr/p/29r1Gu)

Manzoor Cheema, a Raleigh resident and board member of the Triangle Interfaith Alliance, said he believes the resolution should be a wake-up call.

“I think this is a very disturbing development; very bad for our state. In my opinion, as a Muslim, a minority community member and immigrant from Pakistan, I believe that separation of church and state is fundamental and grants us many freedoms,” he said.

“But it’s a blessing in disguise to mobilize the interfaith community in North Carolina.”

On Thursday (April 4), Republican House Speaker Thom Tillis pulled House Joint Resolution 494: The Rowan County Defense of Religion Act 2013, just three days after it was introduced.

The bill declared that the state “does not recognize federal court rulings which prohibit and otherwise regulate the State of North Carolina, its public schools, or any political subdivisions of the State from making laws respecting an establishment of religion.”

GOP lawmakers said they wanted to protect the right of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners to offer sectarian prayers before public meetings, which were facing a legal challenge for running afoul of the separation of church and state.

“I gather what these legislators are saying is they want very much to turn back the clock, but the issue of whether or not states should follow constitutional law is settled,” said Michael J. Gerhardt, a law professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and director of the UNC Center on Law and Government.

When word of the bill first surfaced, calls flooded the North Carolina’s ACLU office from several state Jewish federations and synagogues.

“People were horrified by this proposal because it sent a message of exclusion to them, that they don’t matter,” said Chris Brook, legal director of state chapter of the ACLU. “It’s a very unfortunate and confusing message to be sending in 2013.”

One of those callers last week was Eugene Barlaz, the Jewish community relations chair with the Jewish Federation of Raleigh/Cary. The moment he heard about the resolution he started calling Tillis to ask for 30 minutes of his time. And then he called Jewish federations and synagogues across the state.

“A lot of people said to me, ‘Don’t waste your time. This will never go through.’ And my response was people read (Hitler’s) ‘Mein Kampf’ in the 1920s and said nothing would ever happen and look what happened,” Barlaz said.

In an interview with The Salisbury Post, Republican state Rep. Carl Ford, one of the resolution’s sponsors, apologized for any embarrassment the bill had caused, calling its initial draft “poorly written” and misinterpreted.

“We’re not starting a church. We’re not starting a religion,” he told the newspaper. “We’re supporting the county commissioners in their freedom of speech.”

It’s not the first time sectarian prayers have sparked controversy in the state. In 2011, a federal judge ruled against invocations at Forsyth County Board of Commissioners meetings in Winston-Salem. Last February, the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation sent a letter to Tillis asking him to stop explicitly Christian invocations in the state House of Representatives.

The Rowan County lawmakers, however, are getting support. Cornerstone Church recently paid for a billboard along U.S. 29 declaring: “Keep praying commissioners in Jesus name, amen.”

(Amanda Greene is the editor of Wilmington Faith & Values)

The post N.C. minorities remain worried after religion bill is pulled appeared first on Religion News Service.

 N.C. minorities remain worried after religion bill is pulled

Pop Culture Moments By Mo: Where’s the transparency?

Close 5 C 1413 MORES WILLIAMS REALLY TRANSPARENCY2 Pop Culture Moments By Mo: Wheres the transparency?

U.S. President Barack Obama is calling on Congress to quickly approve an increase in the country’s borrowing limit and says he supports “sensible” new gun controls to try to prevent more mass shootings in the country.

Less than a week before he starts his second term, Obama said at a White House news conference Monday that it would be “irresponsible” for his political opponents in Congress to even consider not raising the country’s $16.4 trillion borrowing limit in the coming weeks.

“So to even entertain the idea of this happening, of the United States of America not paying its bills, is irresponsible. It’s absurd,” he said.

The U.S. has already reached the debt ceiling, but has enough money to continue paying its bills for several weeks.  The president said the borrowing limit needs to be increased, not so that government spending can be boosted, but so the U.S. can meet financial obligations it has already incurred.

“Raising the debt ceiling does not authorize us to spend more.  All it does is say that America will pay its bills, and we are not a deadbeat nation,” he said.

Gun control

On gun control, the president said he expects to receive a list of “sensible and common sense steps” from his special task force on preventing gun violence. He said he would meet later in the day with Vice President Joe Biden, who chaired the task force, to discuss the proposals.

While he declined to provide specifics, Obama repeated his stance that he believes that stronger background checks, tighter control of high-capacity ammunition clips and an assault weapons ban are all proposals that make sense.

He said members of Congress will have to “examine their consciences” when it comes to voting on new gun control measures. The gun control debate is contentious in the U.S., where gun ownership is enshrined in the Constitution.

Obama’s news conference came a month after a man shocked the nation by going on a shooting rampage at a schoolhouse in the northeastern state of Connecticut, leaving 20 children and six adults dead.


The U.S., with the world’s largest economy, has seemingly skidded from one financial crisis to another. Obama, a Democrat, has regularly sparred with his Republican opponents in Congress over spending and the national debt. The Republicans say they are intent on using the debt ceiling debate as a way to force Obama to sharply cut government spending to eventually rein in the country’s debt.

Earlier this month, after weeks of negotiations, Congress and the White House reached a last-minute deal to maintain current tax rates for most Americans while allowing them to increase for couples earning more than $450,000 a year. The tax increase affects less than one percent of U.S. workers.

But the early 2013 agreement pushed off key decisions on planned spending cuts in defense and domestic programs until early March, as well as whether to increase the debt ceiling.

The U.S. last raised its debt ceiling in mid-2011, but not before an extensive debate over spending that brought the nation to the brink of defaulting on its financial obligations. With the economic turmoil, one financial services company trimmed the country’s top credit rating.

New Cabinet

Obama has been announcing key second-term appointments, so far all of them white men. But he said Americans should “wait and see” all of his appointments to his administration before they “rush to judgment” on whether his new staff of advisers and Cabinet will lack diversity.

The Obama administration has been criticized recently for not having enough diversity with its Cabinet appointees after a photo of the president meeting with senior advisers in the Oval Office showed that the vast majority of them were white men.

Article source: VOA news

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Change, continuity among white voters without college degrees

The history of white voters with no college degree between 1980 and 2008 provides an interesting story of how demographics and educational attainment have changed American politics and the party coalitions over the past three decades.

This history challenges the notion that these voters have been abandoning the Democratic Party in droves and moving toward the Republican Party.

In fact, white voters with no college degree have remained remarkably stable in their candidate preferences over the past three decades.

What has not remained as constant is the number of white voters with no college degree as a fraction of the overall voting population. These voters have remained an important part of the GOP’s coalition, even as their share of the American voting population shrinks.

In August 2012, when PRRI’s Race, Class, and Culture Survey was conducted, Governor Mitt Romney (50 percent) was ahead among white registered voters with no college degrees over President Barack Obama (33 percent), while 16 percent remained undecided.

This means that among those who had already chosen a candidate, Romney led Obama by 20 points (60 percent vs. 40 percent).

This solid preference for the Republican candidate among white voters with no college degree does not indicate a shift away from the norm: in fact, this margin of support is in line with these voters’ preferences since 1980.

1316Fig1 WNC vote Change, continuity among white voters without college degreesIn 1980, white voters with no college degrees supported the Republican challenger, Ronald Reagan, over incumbent Democratic President Jimmy Carter by a 22-point margin (61 percent  vs. 39 percent).

Nearly thirty years later, in 2008, the same group of voters favored Republican nominee John McCain over Democratic nominee Barack Obama by a similar margin (59 percent vs. 41 percent).

As Figure 1 shows, the GOP share of the vote of whites with no college degree has been fairly stable since at least 1980.

Only twice, in the 1990s (the two Clinton victories), did white voters with no college degree deviate from its 60/40 split between Republican and Democrat.

However, in 1980, white voters with no college degrees accounted for 7-in-10 (70 percent) of the GOP vote, and nearly two-thirds (66 percent) of voters overall. In 2008, they represented half (50 percent) of the GOP vote, and only around 4-in-10 (39 percent) voters overall.

What accounts for this striking decline? The number of white voters with no college degree, once one of the most influential voting blocs in America, has been shrinking as a share of the electorate as the result of two important demographic shifts. The first is increasing education rates among whites. In 1980, just over one-quarter (28 percent) of white voters had a 4-year college degree. By 2008, nearly half (47 percent) had a 4-year college degree. The second demographic force is the racial diversification of the electorate. In 1980, just 1-in-10 (11 percent) voters were non-whites. By 2008, racial and ethnic minorities accounted for over one-quarter (26 percent) of all voters.

Fig2 WNC GOP Change, continuity among white voters without college degreesNon-white voters overwhelmingly favor Democratic candidates, while over the past 15 years, white college-educated voters have shifted away from the GOP.

These two changes have forced the GOP to increasingly rely on white voters with no college degrees.

Figure 2 shows that while white voters with no college degrees have always been overrepresented as a share of GOP voters, a pattern that has only increased since 1996.

In 1996, when white voters with no college degrees comprised nearly half (46 percent) of the population, nearly half (49 percent) of votes for the GOP also came from white voters with no college degrees.

By 2008, however, when white voters with no college degrees represented a substantially smaller slice of the electorate (39 percent), the GOP continued to receive half (50 percent) of its votes from this dwindling population.

White voters with no college degrees may have not become more Republican in recent years. But their importance to the GOP’s electoral goals has increased, even as these voters shrink as a percentage of the electorate.

 Change, continuity among white voters without college degrees

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Is the Catholic hierarchy moving toward the GOP?

(RNS) A series of recent developments are renewing questions about the Catholic bishops’ alignment with the Republican Party, with much of the attention focusing on comments by Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, who said he “certainly can’t vote for somebody who’s either pro-choice or pro-abortion.”

In a wide-ranging interview published last week (Sept. 14), Chaput also echoed the views of a number of prominent bishops when he praised Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan for trying to address the “immoral” practice of deficit spending through his libertarian-inflected budget proposals.

“Jesus tells us very clearly that if we don’t help the poor, we’re going to go to hell. Period. There’s just no doubt about it,” Chaput told National Catholic Reporter.

“But Jesus didn’t say the government has to take care of them, or that we have to pay taxes to take care of them. Those are prudential judgments. Anybody who would condemn someone because of their position on taxes is making a leap that I can’t make as a Catholic.”

Chaput stressed that he is a registered independent “because I don’t think the church should be identified with one party or another.” But he said that the Democratic Party’s positions on abortion rights, gay rights, and religious freedom “cause me a great deal of uneasiness.”

He added that economic issues are “prudential judgments” open to a variety of legitimate approaches. Abortion, on the other hand, is “intrinsically evil” and must always be opposed.

That is a talking point voiced by many Catholic conservatives, including Ryan himself. Last Friday, Ryan told the Christian Broadcasting Network that opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage, and support for religious freedom, are all “non-negotiables” for a Catholic politician while “on other issues, of economics and such like that, that’s a matter of prudential judgment.”

The debate over Catholic social teaching has become an unanticipated focus of the presidential contest, and has exposed growing divisions within the church.

Bishops like New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, have voiced support and sympathy for Ryan – a disciple of the late philosopher and atheist Ayn Rand, the patron saint of modern libertarianism.

Many church experts say Ryan’s views stand in contrast to traditional Catholic teaching on social justice, and Ryan’s policies have been the target of sharply critical statements from politically active nuns and the hierarchy’s own committee that deals with poverty and domestic issues.

But the dynamic within the USCCB appeared to shift even further to the right on Monday with the announcement that bishops had hired the head of Catholic Charities in Denver, Jonathan Reyes, as the new head of the bishops’ Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development – in effect their chief lobbyist on domestic and international social justice issues.

The appointment was being closely watched because it is a critical post in trying to influence Congress on anti-poverty legislation.

The previous head of that office was John Carr, a widely respected social justice advocate who left the job last month after almost 25 years. Carr had come under increasingly sharp attack by the Catholic right for pushing church positions that did not always line up with conservative policies.

Liberals noted that not only was Reyes a longtime collaborator with Chaput before the archbishop was transferred from Denver to Philadelphia last year, but he has deep ties to conservative church activists and to institutions like Christendom College in Virginia. In addition, Reyes appears to lack the Washington experience that would be important in an era expected to focus on budget battles over entitlement programs.

“It is unclear from Mr. Reyes’ resume that he knows which Metro stop to get off at Capitol Hill, let alone which doors to knock on,” Michael Sean Winters wrote at National Catholic Reporter.

Winters added that given the current divisions within the hierarchy on public policy issues, “it seems to me imperative to have selected someone who was not so obviously aligned with one wing of the current ideological divisions within the Church.”


 Is the Catholic hierarchy moving toward the GOP?

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Tony Perkins says enthusiasm growing for Romney, predicts record turnout

WASHINGTON (RNS) Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said Wednesday (Sept. 12) that conservative Christians are growing more enthusiastic about GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, and predicted they would show up at the polls in record numbers in November.

“When it comes to the values of family, values of faith, values of freedom, Mitt Romney is a clear choice, I think, for value voters across this country,” Perkins said at a National Press Club luncheon two days before his organization kicks off its annual Values Voter Summit in Washington.

Perkins, a Southern Baptist, said evangelical Christians have “significant theological differences” with Romney, a Mormon, but he said the GOP nominee, if elected, would not be asked to head a national church.

“We don’t want a national church. We want religious freedom,” he said. “I think someone who has been a part of a persecuted religion is going to be even more sensitive to the issue of religious freedom.”

Perkins was critical of President Obama’s first term, including a shift to support same-sex marriage, the rule requiring most employers to cover contraception in their health plans and the repeal of the ban on openly gay members of the military.

“I hope America sees that the first four (years) was a bad mistake and that we don’t need a second four,” Perkins said.

He predicted enthusiasm for Romney was likely to increase after Democrats removed references to God and Jerusalem from their platform, only to add them back in after three rounds of voting. “I can recall some time in history when someone else denied God three times,” he said, referring to biblical accounts of the Apostle Peter thrice denying he knew Jesus.

Perkins also discussed the August incident in which a gunman stormed the FRC’s Washington headquarters and shot a security guard.

“Many may have been hoping that the threats and the harassment and now this attack would cause us to just leave, but let me be very clear,” he said. “We are not going anywhere.”


 Tony Perkins says enthusiasm growing for Romney, predicts record turnout

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Conservative Christian leaders focus on Romney’s policies, not faith

(RNS) More than two dozen Christian conservatives are trying to put theological debates about presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s Mormonism to rest by focusing on the policies outlined in the GOP’s new national platform.

In a letter delivered Friday (Sept. 7) to Romney the leaders acknowledged that some conservatives have “tempered their enthusiasm for sound governing principles by their concern over differences in a candidate’s theological doctrine.”

But, the leaders said, “it is time to remind ourselves that civil government is not about a particular theology but rather about public policy.”

Signatories of the letter include the two sons of the late Jerry Falwell, leading Catholic anti-abortion activist Rev. Frank Pavone, and GOP strategist Ralph Reed. Polls repeatedly show that, while most social conservatives favor Romney, nearly a quarter still express discomfort with his Mormon faith.

The 28 signers of the letter to Romney said the principles of the GOP’s platform – with planks opposing abortion and defining marriage as between one man and one woman – are “squarely within the Judeo-Christian tradition.”

On NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Romney spoke of “the Judeo-Christian ethics that I was brought up with’’ and credited them with helping him decide to run for president.

Other signatories of the letter include Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, Samaritan’s Purse President Franklin Graham, former Vatican Ambassador Raymond Flynn, Focus on the Family President Jim Daly, and National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference President Samuel Rodriguez.


 Conservative Christian leaders focus on Romney’s policies, not faith

Cardinal Dolan – and Sister Simone Campbell – to bless the Democratic convention

NEW YORK (RNS) In a move that could recast the reigning political narrative about the Catholic bishops, Cardinal Timothy Dolan has accepted an invitation to deliver the closing benediction at the Democratic National Convention, a week after he gives a similar blessing to the Republicans in Tampa, Fla.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has said talks with the White House over a proposed contraception mandate are “going nowhere.”
RNS photo by Gregory A. Shemitz

From the start, Dolan, who is also president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, made it clear that he would be willing to pray at the Democratic convention. There were doubts, however, that the Democrats would invite Dolan.

The Obama campaign also revealed Tuesday (Aug. 28) that Sister Simone Campbell, the popular face of the recent “Nuns on the Bus” tour for social justice, will be addressing the Democrats in Charlotte, N.C., the night before Dolan’s appearance.

That is kind of a Catholic “two-fer” that threatens to upstage GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s Catholic outreach and highlights the importance of this swing vote in a deadlocked race.

“It was made clear to the Democratic Convention organizers, as it was to the Republicans, that the Cardinal was coming solely as a pastor, only to pray, not to endorse any party, platform, or candidate,” Dolan’s spokesman, Joseph Zwilling, said in a statement released Tuesday by the Archdiocese of New York.

Zwilling added that Dolan had consulted Bishop Peter Jugis of the Diocese of Charlotte, who consented to Dolan’s role in the convention. By tradition, if a Catholic churchman takes part in a political convention, it is usually the local bishop. Dolan had to upend church protocol to appear, which is part of the reason the Romney campaign’s success in securing Dolan’s participation was notable, and why it drew so much criticism from the left.

Democratic officials stressed Tuesday that there was no deliberate balancing act in featuring both the cardinal and the nun.

“One was not done because of the other,” said a campaign aide. “We are delighted to have both of them at the convention.”

When Romney announced last week that Dolan would be delivering the closing prayer to the GOP convention it was seen as a major coup for the Republicans. Catholics make up nearly one-quarter of the electorate and they are concentrated in battleground states that are key to the candidates’ fortunes in November. Polls show they are evenly divided between Obama and Romney.

But Romney has found many allies in the hierarchy, especially as the bishops have grown increasingly critical of Obama. That sympathy with the GOP was especially evident after Romney picked Rep. Paul Ryan, a Catholic conservative who is friends with Dolan, as his running mate.

Dolan has also sharply criticized Obama over his policies on gay marriage and abortion rights, and he is one of dozens of Catholic leaders and groups suing the administration over the controversial mandate requiring Catholic hospitals and schools to provide birth control coverage to employees.

Conservative Catholics had spent the days since Romney’s announcement trumpeting Dolan’s appearance in Tampa and slamming Obama for allegedly “snubbing” America’s most prominent Catholic churchman.

“The Republicans are smart enough to get the ‘pope of America,’ and the Democrats are stupid enough not to invite him,” William Donohue, president of the Catholic League, told the New York Post last week.

“The Catholic vote is the most critical vote. They’re the wild card,” Donohue told the Post. “So, why wouldn’t you ingratiate yourself to the pope of America and send a wink and a nod to Catholics? That’s just good politics.”

But it turns out that the Democrats knew that, too, and may have outmaneuvered the GOP. Romney seemed to be betting that he’d secured Dolan exclusively, figuring that relations between Obama and the cardinal had soured to the point that the Democrats would never invite him as well.

Yet a prominent Catholic who spoke with the Obama campaign about inviting Dolan said that top officials concluded “from the get-go” that having the cardinal’s blessing “was a no-brainer.”

The Republicans “can no longer claim to be the party that got the ‘pope of America’ to do the benediction,” said the campaign adviser, who was not authorized to speak on the record. “It neutralizes at least that part of Romney’s outreach.”

Dolan’s appearance in Charlotte also has implications for the church’s internal politics.

For one thing, the dual benedictions continue to raise Dolan’s profile as a major player in national politics, and that raises his standing inside the church.

But it also makes him a bigger target for critics from the right who had already blistered him for inviting Obama to the Al Smith Dinner, a pre-election charity fundraiser in October hosted by the archbishop of New York that by custom features the two presidential contenders.

Now, in addition to that event, Dolan will be blessing the Democratic convention the night Obama accepts his party’s nomination.

Also notable is that Dolan’s Sept. 6 prayer will follow an address to the convention a day earlier by Campbell, head of Network, Catholic social justice lobby that espouses many liberal causes.

The hierarchy and the nuns have been at loggerheads in the months since the Vatican announced a takeover of the chief leadership organization of the American sisters, claiming it was too progressive.

“We are really happy that Cardinal Dolan is coming to the Democratic convention as well,” Stephanie Niedringhaus, spokeswoman for Network, told RNS. Niedringhaus said the Obama campaign contacted Campbell late last week about the appearance, and she did not know what Campbell planned to tell the delegates.

But, she said, “It’s great to move beyond the ‘Nuns vs. Bishops’ narrative for a moment. … We really need to talk about what the mission is, what Catholic social teaching is, and not have this so-called power struggle going on.”



 Cardinal Dolan   and Sister Simone Campbell   to bless the Democratic convention

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Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s GOP convention blessing prompts debate

(RNS) The news that New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the nation’s most prominent Catholic prelate, will deliver the closing blessing to the Republican National Convention in Florida next week was seen as a huge coup for Mitt Romney, the party’s presumptive nominee. But the move has also prompted a sharp debate within the church over the increasingly close ties between leading bishops and the GOP.

“The cozy relationship between a sizable portion of U.S. bishops and the Republican Party should be cause for concern, and not just among progressive Catholics,” Michael O’Loughlin wrote in a post on the website of America magazine, a leading Catholic weekly published by the Jesuits.

“Cardinal Dolan’s appearance in Tampa will damage the church’s ability to be a moral and legitimate voice for voiceless, as those who view the Catholic Church as being a shill for the GOP have just a bit more evidence to prove their case,” O’Loughlin concluded.

Similarly, David Cruz-Uribe, a member of the Secular Franciscan Order and a professor of mathematics at Trinity College, wrote on the Vox Nova blog that Dolan’s decision “will only drag the Church further into a partisan divide and fuel the perception (true or not) that the Catholic Church wants to replace the Episcopalians as the Republican party on its knees.”

Conservative Catholics have, not surprisingly, welcomed Dolan’s appearance and hope it augurs well for Romney.

“I now predict that if Mitt Romney wins the White House in 2012 there will be a very healthy relationship between a Romney administration and the U.S. Bishops, led by a close working relationship between Cardinal Dolan and President Romney,” said Thomas Peters, who writes for CatholicVote.org, which has endorsed Romney and his Catholic running mate, Paul Ryan.

Romney disclosed the news of Dolan’s planned blessing on Wednesday (Aug. 22) during an interview on the conservative Catholic cable channel EWTN. He did so in the context of a discussion about his shared opposition with the bishops to the Obama administration’s controversial birth control mandate.

By tradition, the local bishop often delivers a prayer at the party convention meeting in his city, but it is highly unusual for another bishop – and the leader of the hierarchy – to fly in to deliver a benediction, as Dolan will do on Aug. 30, right after Romney is formally nominated.

Philadelphia’s Cardinal John Krol did so in 1972 when he was president of the bishops’ conference and went to Miami for the Republican convention that nominated Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew. But that seems to be the only modern precedent.

Whether Dolan’s appearance will have any actual effect in swinging Catholic voters to Romney is unclear. Obama is holding a slim lead among Catholics at this point, and Catholics often ignore the hierarchy’s advice on political matters.

Dolan’s spokesman has sought to portray the cardinal’s appearance as purely nonpartisan: “It’s as a priest going to pray,” said Joseph Zwilling, director of communications for the Archdiocese of New York.

Zwilling reiterated that point in a statement released on Thursday, and added that Dolan “would be willing to accept a similar offer from the Democratic Party as well.”

But the Democrats seem unlikely to extend an invitation to Dolan, who is among dozens of Catholic leaders suing the administration over the contraception mandate. It’s also very possible that Dolan would not receive a warm welcome when the Democrats hold their convention in Charlotte, N.C., a week after the GOP nominates Romney in Tampa, Fla.

Dolan and the bishops have become increasingly critical of Obama as policy differences over gay marriage and abortion rights have provided ammunition for fierce rhetorical blasts from many bishops and their allies, who have compared Obama to a totalitarian dictator, or worse.

Earlier this month, Baltimore Archbishop William P. Lori, an up-and-coming voice in the hierarchy who has led the campaign against the administration’s contraception policy, gave an interview that was widely viewed as indicating that a good Catholic could not vote for a candidate who supports abortion rights, as Obama does.

At the same time, Romney’s selection of Ryan as his running mate has brought an outpouring of praise from several bishops. Some of them like Ryan’s proposals on cutting entitlements and taxes, despite the conflict that other bishops see between those policies and Catholic teaching.

Others, like Dolan, who was archbishop of Milwaukee before coming to New York in 2009, have close personal ties to Ryan, a Wisconsin congressman. Dolan has often taken a softer line on Ryan’s policies than other Catholic leaders, and his praise has grown as Ryan’s visibility has increased.

Dolan recently told a radio program that he is “happy” Ryan is on the GOP ticket and called him a “great public servant.”

“We go way back, Congressman Paul Ryan and I,” Dolan said. “I came to know and admire him immensely. And I would consider him a friend. He and his wife Janna and their three kids have been guests in my house; I’ve been a guest at their house. They’re remarkably upright, refreshing people.”

Ryan’s own bishop, Robert Morlino of the Diocese of Madison, has also emerged as a strong defender of Ryan’s Catholic bona fides.

Morlino wrote a column this month expressing pride in Ryan’s “accomplishments as a native son, and a brother in the faith.” And on Tuesday he told a radio program that Ryan is an “excellent Catholic layman of the very highest integrity” who “understands the principles of Catholic social teaching” and applies them “very responsibly.”

There was at least one bit of good news for Catholic Democrats this week, however. Organizers of next month’s Values Voter Summit in Washington, a major political rally for the religious right, announced that Cardinal Dolan had been invited to speak. But Zwilling said that wouldn’t happen.

“He has not received an invitation as far as we can tell,” Zwilling said. “In any event, he is not going.”

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Is skinny-dipping in the Sea of Galilee sacrilegious?

(RNS) A pack of lawmakers and Capitol Hill aides, including a nude congressman, took a booze-fueled, late-night swim in Israel’s Sea of Galilee last summer, Politico reported on Sunday (Aug. 19). Which leaves at least one question: Is skinny-dipping at the biblical site sacrilegious?

Not really, Christian leaders and Holy Land experts said.

“Conservative Christians, obviously, aren’t for getting naked in public or drunk anywhere,” said Russell D. Moore, dean of the School of Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

“The location of the Sea of Galilee, however, doesn’t make the story any more offensive to Christians than it is to the general public.”

Rep. Kevin Yoder of Kansas, the skinny-dipper, apologized for his “spontaneous and very brief dive,” which occurred during a congressional junket. The freshman GOP lawmaker is a Methodist, according to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Pundits pounced, saying that the incident could cost the GOP in this fall’s elections. Joe Scarborough of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” said the story of Republicans “messing all over this holy site” will reverberate “from pew to pew, family to family, preacher to preacher,” especially within the GOP’s conservative Christian base.

Even Mitt Romney, the likely GOP presidential nominee, denounced the denuded dip in Galilee. “I think it’s reprehensible,” Romney told New Hampshire’s WMUR-TV.

Still, most Christians likely see Yoder’s actions as immature — and a waste of taxpayer dollars — “but not as some intentional act of religious desecration,” Moore said.

When Christians travel to Israel, they often insist on visiting two places, said Todd Bolen, a co-author of the blog Bible Places and a veteran Holy Land tour guide: Jerusalem and the Sea of Galilee.

The pilgrims want to see and touch the water where Jesus performed some of his most memorable miracles. Christ recruited four of his apostles, walked on water, calmed a raging storm, and fed a multitude with five loaves and two fish on or near the Sea of Galilee, according to the New Testament.

A sign at a Catholic church at Tabgha, the purported site of the miracle of multiplication, declares that “this is holy ground,” said Bolen, who has taught biblical archaeology, history and geography in Israel.

But the Sea of Galilee, which is really a lake, holds no religious significance for Israelis, most of whom are Jewish. In fact, it’s a source of drinking water and the site of watersports like sailing and jet skiing for tourists staying at  the resorts that line the coast. Even Christian tour groups often swim and take boat rides on Galilee. “I’ve water-skied on it,” Bolen said.

So, while the Sea of Galilee remains a significant site for Christians, it doesn’t demand the same reverence as Calvary, where Christ was crucified, or the Via Dolorosa.

Now, if congressmen start skinny-dipping in the Jordan River where Jesus was baptized, they might have a blasphemy problem, Bolen said.

 Is skinny dipping in the Sea of Galilee sacrilegious?