In a New York Post op-ed on Tuesday, Cardinal Timothy Dolan accuses New York Democrats of alienating “faithful Catholic voters.” He begins the piece first by decrying the state Legislature passing and Gov. Andrew Cuomo signing the Reproductive Health Act, which expands abortion rights to codify the protections of Roe v. Wade in state law. Dolan described the measure as “ghoulish” and “radical.”
Extreme language aside, it’s unremarkable that the archbishop would speak out against legal abortion, but Dolan did not stop there. He went on to discuss the Child Victims Act, which Dolan never actually mentioned by name, as another slight against the church – not because it passed, supposedly, but because of the narrative that the Catholic Church has been the main roadblock to its enactment and Dolan’s belief that Cuomo is making childhood sexual abuse out to be only a “Catholic problem.”
This is not the first time that Dolan has tried to downplay the church’s well-documented obstruction of the Child Victims Act, which raises the statute of limitations for childhood victims of sexual assault to bring civil or criminal charges against their abusers or organizations. That opposition only dissipated once it became clear the bill would pass after Democrats won control of the state Senate last year. Earlier this month, Dolan wrote a piece for the Daily News to defend the church against attacks from Cuomo, characterizing his own opposition as “express(ing) some concern” and explaining the church has since come around.
At the end of last year, Dolan published a different op-ed advocating for a version of the legislation that the church supported. The church does not want to stop the Child Victims Act, he argued, it wants the best version, which would involve a compensation program similar to one the New York Archdiocese created. While child sexual abuse exists in other institutions, including some that also opposed the bill, such as the Boy Scouts of America and some ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities, Dolan’s revisionist history is disingenuous. On Tuesday, Cuomo hit back at the cardinal in a press conference, pulling out press clippings that showed Dolan’s outspoken opposition to the bill through last year.
Below is an excerpt of Dolan’s piece, annotated to provide context or fact checks.
Then our governor insults and caricatures the church in what’s supposed to be an uplifting and unifying occasion, his “State of the State” address.
The bishops of this state have long supported a reform of the inadequate laws around the sexual abuse of minors. Yes, we and many others expressed reservations about one element, the retroactive elimination of the civil statute of limitations, but urged dramatic reform that, in many ways, was tougher than what was being proposed by legislators. A month ago we renewed that stance, and even dropped our objections to the “look-back” section if all victims would benefit. The governor was aware of all this.
Why, then, would he use his address to blame the church, and only the church, for blocking this bill? Why would he publicly brag in a political address about his dissent from timeless and substantive church belief? Why would he quote Pope Francis out of context as an applause line to misrepresent us bishops here as being opposed to our Holy Father? Why did he reduce the sexual abuse of minors, a broad societal and cultural curse that afflicts every family, public school, religion and government program, to a “Catholic problem?”
I’m a pastor, not a politician, but I feel obliged to ask these questions, as daily do I hear them from my people, as well as colleagues from other creeds. I’ve been attacked in the past when I asked — sadly and reluctantly — if the party that my folks proudly claimed as their own, the Democrats, had chosen to alienate faithful Catholic voters. Now you know why I asked.
As an American historian, I am very aware of our state’s past record of scorn and sneers at Catholics. It used to be called “know-nothings.” Now it’s touted as “progressivism.”
Genuine progressives work to pass a “DREAM act,” a “voters rights act,” a “prison reform act,” and we pastors of the church pitch in to support them. That’s government at its best. I pray that spirit returns.