When bishops really disagree with someone, they are not tepid. Their language glows hot and they follow it up with strong action.
I know this from personal experience.
But Archbishop Dolan’s letter to Representative Paul Ryan blessing the Republican’s budget proposal was an epic of fawning tepidity and outrage deficit. Suppose a Catholic thief in the act of robbing the homes of the poor were to proclaim his fervid commitment to “Catholic teaching” against theft… while busily robbing. Would Archbishop Dolan praise the robber for his knowing about and proclaiming Catholic teaching?
If Archbishop Dolan were serious, he would blast that thief.
In 2006, I also received a letter form Archbishop Dolan (then Archbishop of Milwaukee where my Marquette University is located). My oh my, how different was the letter Dolan sent me from his mellifluous effusion to Ryan, criticizing my support for pregnant women making their own decisions about problem pregnancies and my defense of marriage for those whom God has made gay. He was rabid! My teaching, he said, was “preposterous and disingenuous,” “totally at odds with clear Church teaching, Sacred Scripture, the Magisterium, and Natural Law,” and “contrary to the faith and morals of the Catholic Church.” He then followed up by banning me from ever speaking in any parish of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee on any topic whatsoever.
That’s Dolan when he’s serious.
But conservative Catholic Ryan is a different case. In the terms of the bishops’ pelvic-zone orthodoxy, Ryan is pure. He scorns same-sex marriage and wants the government, not pregnant women, to have control of pregnancies. That marks Ryan out for tepid handling and adulatory congratulations for even knowing about Catholic social teaching and Jesus’ mission to be “good news to the poor.” Dolan’s letter to the man who wants to kill Medicare and starve the poor while glutting the rich was dripping with praise, using words like “kind” and noble to describe Ryan’s work. The Archbishop “appreciates” (three times,) “commends,” is “grateful” (twice) and prays for Ryan’s continued good work.
No wonder Ryan and Boehner, who was, a week earlier, criticized roundly by Catholic scholars, welcomed Dolan’s sweet nothings.
Come now, Archbishop Dolan, where is that fire you can unleash when you are serious!
Could you not be as tough as Jesus was when he rebuked those in power who were mouthing pieties, while stripping the poor and favoring the pillaging rich? “Whitened sepulchers,” Jesus called them, covered with platitudinous posturing on the outside but inside filled with the stench of moral decay. “Hypocrites,” Jesus called them repeatedly, “blind guides” who are “fit for hell.” “Outside you look like honest men, but inside you are brimful of hypocrisy and crime.” (Matthew 23)
Nothing tepid about Jesus when poor workers and children were being trampled.
The seventy Catholic scholars who rebuked Boehner when the bishops welcomed him to Catholic University were in the Jesus mode. “Your record in support of legislation to address the desperate needs of the poor is among the worst in Congress… you gutted long-established protections for the most vulnerable members of society… particularly pregnant women and children,” while lavishing trillions on corporations, military kill-power, and the super-rich.
And to all of that Jesus and the other prophets of Israel would say “Amen!”