Magazine kills two pieces that criticized Dolan for flattering Trump

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We live in a time when major institutions are failing us left and right. And as you know, with my communitarian leanings, that concerns me greatly.

But at the moment, I’m concerned about the Roman Catholic Church in America. I don’t write about that all that much for a couple of reasons. First, I don’t want to be misunderstood, and so much that I might comment on is apparently very difficult for nonCatholics to fully understand, for a lot of reasons. (And no, I’m not saying nonCatholics are dumb. I’m saying the way these things get framed by nonCatholic media make conversations difficult and often counterproductive.) So my concerns could be seen as meaning something they do not.

Secondly, I just don’t feel educated enough myself to comment coherently and intelligently. I just don’t know enough about the clash of ideas in and around the Church. I lack the expertise — or at least, the confidence — of, say, a Ross Douthat. I think I disagree with Douthat about a lot of things, but I don’t feel equal to contesting him. (His columns about Church matters start in a place where people who have read a lot of books I haven’t read dwell, and take off into real esoterica from that point.)

I think I agree far more often with my friend Steven Millies. I know Steven from having served with him for years on the committee that has run the Cardinal Joseph Bernardin lectureship at USC. We got to be friends, serving on some panels together, and usually sat together during the dinners the committee had on lecture nights, so we could catch up. Steven is an academic, and is now the director of the Bernardin Center at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.

Anyway, awhile back Steven started writing regularly for U.S. Catholic. I signed up for the magazine’s regular email alerts, which caused me to read some of their content, although I was mostly looking for stuff by Steven. I never really formed a full impression of the journal itself, and I only learned in the last couple of days that it was published by the Claretians — something that means little to me, but might mean a good deal to Douthat and Steven.

This past week, Steven wrote a piece that National Catholic Reporter has since characterized as “critical of New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s flattering comments about President Donald Trump.” I didn’t know about Dolan’s comments, so when I saw the link to the piece in an email from U.S. Catholic, and then saw it was by Steven, I read the column with particular interest.

I noticed that the magazine was also promoting a piece by another writer addressing the same comments by Dolan (and others), headlined, “President Trump cannot have the Catholic endorsement,” followed by the blurb, “Politics is the duty of the laity—not the clergy.” I didn’t read that, I now regret — just Steven’s piece, headlined “Cardinal Dolan’s public flattery of Trump forgets a few things.” An excerpt:

I wonder whether the U.S. Catholic bishops have crossed a sort of Rubicon recently.

When their Roman predecessor, the general Julius Caesar, brought his army illegally over the Rubicon River, he set in motion the events that ended the Republic and saw him presented with a crown. “The die is cast,” he is reputed to have said as he marched his army toward Rome: there was no going back. What he had done could not be undone and it would change the shape of history.

I do not think that New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan is in any danger of being crowned emperor (or, anything else). But I do believe that his public flattery of President Donald Trump from the pulpit of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and on Fox News may prove to be a moment from which American Catholicism cannot turn back….

When I finished, I wrote to Steven to compliment the piece, but also (I confess as an unreconstructed editor) to quibble about something he said in passing about Caesar — something irrelevant to his point. But mostly, I wrote to praise him. As I told him at the time:

I had not heard about what Dolan did until I read this. It is highly disturbing. It really should not be this easy to buy the political influence of our church. Of course, Democrats have done all they can to help this happen. It’s a failure of all sorts of institutions. But of them all, I care about the failure in the Church most…

Steven acknowledged the minor Caesar problem. I looked later (in part checking to see how he had changed it), and… the piece was gone. I clicked on my original link, and all I got was what you see in the image below.

I checked with Steven, and that’s when I learned that his piece had been, as National Catholic Reporter would later say, “unpublished.” So had the other piece by political scientist Stephen Schneck.

At first, Steven asked me to hold off on writing about it, hoping that U.S. Catholic would simply change its mind. That didn’t happen, and when the story broke in National Catholic Reporter, he told me “the lid is off.” An excerpt from NCR:

U.S. Catholic magazine, a storied national outlet published by the Claretian Missionaries, has quietly unpublished from its website two recent articles that were critical of New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s flattering comments about President Donald Trump.

Users who click the separate links to the articles, originally published around April 29 and April 30, are now greeted with a note that reads “You are not authorized to access this page.”…

Now, I should say this before someone else does: I’ve looked at what Dolan said publicly, and on its own, I don’t find it that shocking. What he said during Mass, with the president watching, was mostly relatively neutral. If you want to give the cardinal a break, you might say it was the usual thing you might offer an elected leader: Hey, we are encouraged to pray for our leaders, and we do, and that includes you, and we thank you for being with us.

You know, the kind of thing a smart religious leader might say when he’d like to see some stimulus money go to Catholic schools.

But it’s more cringe-inducing to see him schmoozing with “Fox and Friends” about his awesome interactions with the president, and to hear him tell them, “I’m in admiration of his leadership.”

It’s bad enough that Trump got as many Catholic votes as he did in 2016. The last thing we need is to see a cardinal even imply that Trump being elected was a good thing. We should expect more from our faith leaders than craftiness with regard to school funding. We have a right to expect something higher than Trumpian transactionalism.

Perhaps it’s too much to hope that our leaders will point to the obvious: That nominating certain judges does not make you pro-life — at least, not according to any definition that native Columbian Cardinal Bernardin would have recognized.

As Steven noted:

Dolan forgot other things, too. He forgot children separated from their parents at our border, being kept in cages and sleeping on cold, concrete floors. He forgot the physical and sexual abuse that many of those children have suffered because of the Administration’s disinterest in policing the foster care system they made necessary. He forgot the racist and xenophobic language that Trump deploys routinely to do the other thing that Dolan forgot: Trump’s main preoccupation is not to build up the political community toward the common good, but to divide us so he can conquer.

What’s regrettable is that those of us who attended the same Catholic schools that Dolan may have been trying to save do remember those things. And, we see why it is problematic for a Catholic bishop to forget them. Being formed in our faith, we see the ugly transaction at work here….

Yes, we do. And we have every reason to be disturbed when someone in a lofty position in our church admires that sort of leadership.

And it’s further disturbing to see anyone who points that out silenced — especially in a way that gives us no reasoning. If I had done something like that as editorial page editor, you’d have seen a public airing of all the issues involved. It would have been the subject of, at least, a column in the paper, and plenty of public discussion on my blog.

To see those pieces “disappeared” without explanation is very unsettling.

The good news is that NCR has not only reported on this, but published the two pieces. So everyone can read them and decide what they think about them. Here’s Steven’s, and here is the piece by Schneck.

That much I’m glad to see.

U.S. Catholic

14 thoughts on “Magazine kills two pieces that criticized Dolan for flattering Trump

  1. James Edward Cross

    From Wikipedia:

    “The Claretians, formally the Congregation of Missionaries, Sons of the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Latin: Congregatio Missionariorum Filiorum Immaculati Cordis Beatae Mariae Virginis; abbreviation C.M.F. for Cordis Mariae Filii), are a community of Roman Catholic priests and brothers, founded in 1849 by Anthony Mary Claret. They are active as missionaries worldwide, in more than 65 countries on five continents.” …

    The Congregation has an academic publishing company, Editiones Institutum Iuridicum Claretianum (Ediurcla), based in Rome. Their journal Commentarium pro Religiosis has been appearing since 1920, from 1935 as Commentarium pro Religiosis et Missionariis (abbreviated CRM, ISSN 1124-0172).
    A number of “Claretian publishing houses” are united in the Claret Publishing Group, including Misioneros Claretianos (Sevilla), Editorial Claretiana (Buenos Aires), Misioneros Claretianos (Madrid), Claretian Communications Foundation Inc. (Quezon City, formerly Claretian Publications, established 1981) Claretian Publications (Bangalore) and Congregation Des Missionaires Claretians (Yaoundé). Another publisher called Claretian Publications is based in Chicago, Illinois and Skokie, Illinois. It issues the magazine U.S. Catholic.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author


      Yeah, I saw all that. I didn’t get much from it, in terms of answering the question, What do I think of the Claretians? That’s what I mean when I say, “something that means little to me, but might mean a good deal to Douthat and Steven.” They may have strong opinions about them. I don’t…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        In the last couple of days someone whose opinions I respect greatly shared the opinion that U.S. Catholic is kind of a right-wing mag, unlike NCR or the Jesuit’s America.

        But I have no idea. I’ve been clicking around through those emails for months (looking for stuff by Steven) without getting that impression. Of course, I wasn’t TRYING to figure that out, I’ll say in my defense…

  2. Barry

    I don’t keep up with Catholic anything but I did happen to a catch a clip of Dolan’s Fox News love in.

    The Cardinal sounded like a Trump campaign official. It’s nauseating to see any faith leader kiss a politician’s backside like they owe them their eternal soul.

  3. Realist

    Taking the risk of being called a racist, bigot, and all of the other dog whistle words, if you are going to take on the Catholic Church and the comments by Dolan, will any of you exercise the same outrage over the overt politically active sermons and messages from the pulpits of African American churches and the radicals in Protestant churches?

    Will you condemn with the same vigor the activist Catholic priest, Plfeger, who along with Reverend Wright, Obama’s pastor for 20 years, preached politics from the pulpit under the guise of social justice? Or is the hypocrisy so deeply embedded because of hatred of Trump justified by excusing those who are just as guilty or more so than Dolan?

    If you are going to be fair and insist on nothing but a religious message coming from a church, synagogue, mosque, or revival tent then include all and not just reserve your anger and angst toward anyone standing behind the pulpit espousing political support for any politician or political party whether it is Trump or Biden, Democrat or Republican.

    At least have the ba!!s to stand up and speak out against the practice no matter which religious sect or house of worship enjoying the tax free status afforded to them by the IRS.

    I have always without fail objected to any minister of any faith or creed allowing a politician in the pulpit for any reason whatsoever. I have always believed if this is allowed, the church in question should have their tax exempt status revoked immediately. When one of the board members of the church I once attended got up and started to make a political statement and asking for an endorsement of a political candidate, I stood up and loudly objected, daring the person to say another word. Needless to say, the congregation was very silent for a while and the person sat down. I refused to sit down until he had shut up and sat down so the service could continue for the purpose and reason we were there.

    My point is that if I had not taken a stand then, I have no right to take one now. Like what I am posting or now, up to you. Frankly, I don’t really care if you do object, what I am posting is right on the subject.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      That’s not really something I’m thinking about here — keeping the church out of politics. It’s not my point here, really.

      Frankly, I don’t see how to keep faith and politics apart. We should all vote in accord with our deepest values, and what is deeper — or what should be deeper — than our religious beliefs?

      Yeah, I know lots of people think the 1st Amendment bars ANY interaction between faith and government, but it doesn’t (it just bars Congress from creating an Established Church or interfering with the free exercise of religion). If it did, it would be very much at odds with what, to me, the amendment is about. The 1st Amendment is about freedom of conscience, expressed a number of different ways — and of course about assuring people in the late 1780s that this new Congress thing would not have the power to abridge such freedom.

      That’s something I have a lot of arguments with people about.

      Of course, I really don’t have any interest in keeping the black church out of politics because — aside from my overall views on the subject — I’m acutely aware of the critical, pivotal role that the church has played among black Americans for all of our history, especially since 1865. It was the one safe place for black folks to gather and organize, whatever the goal.

      If that works differently from the way it does in white churches, that’s because circumstances dictated it. And those circumstances were created, of course, by us white folks…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Just ran across this. It’s James Madison’s original proposal for the wording of the amendment. I don’t remember having looked at it before, but perhaps I did, long ago in college — when I was taking a lot of courses concentrating on this period. Anyway, it jumps out at me that he uses wording similar to what I use to describe the amendment (“full and equal rights of conscience”). Maybe that’s where I got it. Anyway, the convention ended up paring down his language:

        The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, or on any pretext, infringed. The people shall not be deprived or abridged of their right to speak, to write, or to publish their sentiments; and the freedom of the press, as one of the great bulwarks of liberty, shall be inviolable. The people shall not be restrained from peaceably assembling and consulting for their common good; nor from applying to the Legislature by petitions, or remonstrances, for redress of their grievances.

        Of course, I also like his extra effort to emphasize the importance of “the freedom of the press,” which he stresses that “as one of the great bulwarks of liberty, shall be inviolable.”

        1. Mark Stewart

          The overarching theme of the Constitution is checks and balances.

          I was just rereading about the Battle of Camden yesterday; the key to the battle were the militias of the tidewater states. We tend to forget how actually complicated the the Revolution, and to a lesser extent, the Civil War were, the “sides” were not so clear-cut. At Camden, it was the strength of resolve of the Loyalist NC militia that carried the day for the British – together with the cowardly and disorganized rebel VA (in particular) and NC militias who largely fled without even firing a shot.

          It’s a good lesson, life is complicated in the moment and often only clear in the hindsight of history. The Founders knew this, however. They wrote the Constitution and its Amendments understanding the difficulties humans have with balance and respect for differing views. Crucially, they understood the danger of the tyranny of the few as well as the tyranny of the mob.

          It’s a lesson from the Enlightenment religions often have a difficult time internalizing. Religions are fascist constructs. They are by their nature authoritarian. This is a bug not a feature, by the way.

          We see this all over and across the entire religious spectrum. Most religious groups are somewhat balanced this way, while a few are accommodating and an unfortunately greater few are intolerant and irreconcilable.

          Checks and balances. Grace and goodwill. Acceptance and understanding. Ethics and civility. These should be our guiding political instincts. Sadly, it’s doubtful a majority of religious groupings can rise to the level of the Constitution as far as creating a world of respect and belonging.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            It’s interesting you mention the Constitution, and the efforts to balance different entities with different interests. Your mention of the Virginia and NC militias at the Battle of Camden reminds me of things I learned recently about the U.S. Marine Corps at its birth in 1775, and how the various states had their own “navies” (mainly privateers and such) and their own marines.

            The world is SO much more complex than we keep trying to make it. The media play a huge role in the effort to oversimplify things. I think it arises from the anxiety of trying to explain a complicated world in a hurry, day after day. It’s rather natural to try to force the whole world into two convenient teams, so all you have to do is figure out which of the two is winning at a given moment.

            When it’s all SO much more complex than that.

            One of the appealing things about the Roman Catholic Church, for me, is the theoretical simplicity of its structure of authority: Everything flowing out of Rome. That feels to me the way things SHOULD be. I was baptized in a Southern Baptist church, but the Baptist arrangement — every single congregation being a separate “church” with no firm relation to the others, so that a Baptist who attends a Baptist church other than his own is a visitor — has always seemed to me like taking democracy to extremes. I very much like being able to walk into a Catholic Church anywhere in the world, and knowing I’m at home. (One of my favorites was when we attended Mass at the Roman Catholic Church of St Thomas More in London a few years ago: talk about cocking a snook at King Henry, giving a Catholic church that name right in London!)

            But in reality, since the Church is the product of 2,000 years of history and human complexity, it’s nowhere near the monolith we tend to think of it as being. Even the Pope, the Holy Father and fount of all authority, is merely the Bishop of Rome in one sense. His authority arises from a couple of millennia of precedent and tradition. So now he’s a bishop who appoints all the OTHER bishops.

            Then you get all these orders and associations, such as the Claretians, who publish U.S. Catholic, about whom I know so little. Since no one is owning up this decision to kill these two pieces (which is one of the most offensive things to me, as an editor who always believed in airing our laundry), we are left to wonder how it happened. What influence does Dolan, or defenders of Dolan, have over this publication, and how does that work? What is the nature of the relationships?

            It’s very mysterious. And if you think about that ultimate bishop — the Pope himself is someone unlikely to want to defend a cardinal for going too far in praising Donald Trump of all people. Trump is not the Pope’s kind of guy, near as I can tell…

            1. Mark Stewart

              What I like about the US is the balance of powers doctrine enshrined in the Constitution.

              I don’t much care for either the Catholic Church (as a monolith) not for the Baptist Convention (as a mob). This isn’t liturgical or anything – just about their extreme leadership model structures.

              The thing I like about civil society is it is at its best when it accomodates dissenting voices while also promoting a communal standard. But agree, the descent into two-party shorthand for everything political does us all no justice.

              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                The appeal of the Church to me is sort of contradictory.

                It’s down-from-below with definite teachings that have been honed over 2,000 years. Everything has been studied and discussed over and over again.

                On the other hand, since it’s the product of 2,000 years of history and millions of people, it’s complicated as all get-out — just like history itself.

                I like both of those things…

                1. Bill

                  I used to date a priest and loved the clerical clothing.Not as much as the cop’s uniform,but,still…

  4. JesseS

    Not a Catholic, but watching populist leaders turned personalist leaders (or maybe these leaders were just plain old authoritarians all along **cough**Putin putting “Crimea is ours” in a Moscow church’s stained glass windows**cough**) and seeing how they influence religious institutions, I would call that troubling. Kinda like Vikor Orbán giving a football team a sweetheart deal because that team is owned by Hungarian Methodists (something that also seems really weird to me), as the leader himself pushes churches to endorse jailing the homeless, taking children from gypsies and keeping out immigrants. It’s an unhealthy relationship for both parties, so pointing out its potential is the right thing.

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