A controversy has ensued in the wake of the Republican National Convention’s invitation to Cardinal Timothy Dolan to give the benediction to close the convention on Thursday, which he agreed to do. Dolan is the Archbishop of New York, and arguably the de facto leader of the Catholic Church in North America. The standard narrative about Dolan’s upcoming appearance is that this represents an effort by the GOP to woo Catholic voters who are disillusioned with the Obama administration’s pro-choice position, as well as the provision in the Affordable Care Act mandating that employers provide health insurance plans that cover birth control, even if they have a religious objection.
Regardless of the GOP’s motives for inviting Dolan to give the benediction, his appearance is not likely to have much impact. There is an erroneous tendency among some—particularly those in the media—to ascribe an importance and influence to the Catholic Church where simply little exists. As evidence of this, one need only consult the social liberalness of the Catholic laity itself. On virtually every hot-button social issue across the board, the majority of Catholic laypersons are directly at odds with the explicit teachings of their church. Not only that, but Catholics tend to be more socially liberal than non-Catholics.
The following table is from a 2009 poll conducted by Gallup:
With the exception of abortion, clear majorities of Catholics disagree with the fundamental teachings of the Church on these issues. And even on this issue, just about the same percentage of Catholics and non-Catholics find abortion morally acceptable. The numbers are most certainly even more dramatic among younger Catholics, who, like their non-Catholic counterparts, are more liberal than older generations.
It would appear that the bulk of Catholics are of the “cafeteria” variety, especially in light of the significant decline in Mass attendance the church has experienced in recent decades. The combination of American society becoming less religious, along with the Church’s abysmal handling of its infamous sexual abuse scandals, have helped significantly weaken its influence over the political and social views of its own members.
While Cardinal Dolan may give a fine benediction this coming Thursday, it would be wrong to expect that his appearance will have any effect on the election. Though Dolan’s presence is being touted as a coup for the GOP vis-à-vis social issues, this election is likely to hinge on economic matters instead. And when it comes to economics and social justice, the Catholic Church and the Republican Party are very much at odds with one another.
Dolan will not be endorsing Romney, but even if he did, Catholics are independent-minded enough to make their own decisions in the voting booth, regardless of the pontifications emanating from the mouths of Church leaders.