CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- When Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York offered the closing benediction Thursday at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, he made allusions to issues that have put the U.S. church and the White House at odds with each other.
"Renew in all our people a profound respect for religious liberty: the first, most cherished freedom bequeathed upon us at our founding," Dolan prayed, an apparent reference to an ongoing dispute between the U.S. bishops and the White House over a mandate from the federal Department of Health and Human Services that would require most religious employers to offer contraceptive coverage in violation of church teaching.
The other options would be to drop all health coverage for its workers or risk paying steep fines if contraceptive coverage is not included in their insurance package. Dozens of Catholic institutions have filed suit over the mandate, and the bishops' early-summer "Fortnight for Freedom" was an effort to raise awareness of the issue.
"We ask your benediction on those waiting to be born, that they may be welcomed and protected," prayed Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. While the cardinal uttered a similar phrase in his closing benediction the week before at the Republican National Convention, the GOP's platform on abortion is generally viewed as closer to the Catholic church's teaching than the Democrats', which supports legal abortion.
Dolan also made an allusion to same-sex marriage, which President Barack Obama voiced his support for earlier this year. "Show us anew that happiness is found only in respecting the laws of nature and of nature's God," the cardinal prayed. "Empower us with your grace so that we might resist the temptation to replace the moral law with idols of our own making, or to remake those institutions you have given us for the nurturing of life and community."
PBS reported that some Democratic officials were worried that some delegates would rebuke Dolan during his prayer by either turning their backs on him or by making catcalls, but the convention stayed silent and the prayer proceeded without incident.
In his closing benediction at the Republican National Convention the week before, Dolan made reference to all three issues as well.
On the second day of the Democrats' Sept. 4-6 convention in Charlotte, one of the Nuns on the Bus became a nun on the podium, as Sr.Simone Campbell, a Sister of Social Service who is executive director of NETWORK, a Catholic social justice lobby, issued a denunciation of the budget plan formulated by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.
"Paul Ryan claims his budget reflects the principles of our shared Catholic faith. But the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops stated that the Ryan budget failed a basic moral test, because it would harm families living in poverty," Campbell said.
The bishops who chair two USCCB committees criticized Ryan's budget plan in April, the month after the Republican-majority House voted to adopt it.
"We agree with our bishops and that's why we went on the road: to stand with struggling families and to lift up our Catholic sisters who serve them. Their work to alleviate suffering would be seriously harmed by the Romney-Ryan budget, and that is wrong," she said.
Campbell called the budget plan, titled "the Path to Prosperity," an "immoral budget that hurts already struggling families (that) does not reflect our nation's values. We are better than that."
She said she agrees with Romney and Ryan who say that "each individual" should be responsible.
"But their budget goes astray in not acknowledging that we are responsible not only for ourselves and our immediate families," she said. "Rather, our faith strongly affirms that we are all responsible for one another."
She cited examples of Catholic sisters helping the poor -- including Toledo, Ohio, and Milwaukee, two stops on the "Nuns on the Bus" tour.
At another stop in Hershey, Pa., "a woman in her late 30s approached us. She asked for the names of some people she could talk to, because she felt alone and isolated. Her neighbors have been polarized by politics masquerading as values," Sister Simone said.
"She wishes they, and the rest of the nation, would listen to one another with kindness and compassion. Listen to one another rather than yell at each other. I told her then, and I tell her now, that she is not alone."