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Congregational leaders criticize Cardinal Dolan’s remarks on Trump

May 6, 2020

by Soli Salgado

Cardinal Timothy Dolan is hearing from some sisters in congregational leadership concerned over his approving public remarks of President Donald Trump and a phone call addressing cardinals, bishops and hundreds of Catholic leaders.

They worry that the New York archbishop’s open admiration of Trump communicates wider approval on behalf of the Catholic Church, despite their concerns that the president’s record falls short on a number of Catholic social teachings.

“We find ourselves very discomfited by your praise of his leadership,” the congregational leadership team of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet wrote in a letter dated May 1 addressed to Dolan.

Roughly 170 women religious signed a separate letter organized by Faith in Public Life, with signatures from more than 1,000 Catholic leaders, including Social Service Sr. Simone Campbell, executive director of Network, and Sr. Pat McDermott, president of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas.

Dolan’s comments were recorded in an April 25 phone call with Trump and 600 other Catholic bishops and leaders in which Dolan shared his admiration for the president’s leadership. He later repeated that praise in an interview with Fox News, prompting the letters.

Shortly after Trump identified himself as the “best [president] in the history of the Catholic Church,” he called Dolan a “great gentleman” and “a great friend of mine,” with Dolan responding that “the feelings are mutual.”

While the president emphasized his positions on abortion and school choice, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet said that their concerns were “not a political disagreement,” as political differences can still be based on Gospel principles. That Trump expressed verbal support of these two issues, the sisters note, is “designed to create the impression that he supports Catholic values.”

Instead, Trump “is notorious for his consistent lying to the public and for poor judgment,” they wrote, citing his positions on immigration and migrants that are “directly opposed” to that of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The St. Joseph sisters list their concerns with the president, pointing to both his actions in office as well as his dealings as a businessman prior to his election:

Instead of welcoming or even simply tolerating the “other,” our bishops themselves have said that the president sows “polarization and animosity.” Instead of offering moral leadership, he is a philanderer whose business activities like Trump University have taken advantage of the poor and vulnerable. The current president exemplifies much of what John the Baptist condemned in the ruler of his day — a prophetic task for which he lost his head but not his integrity.

They conclude with a plea to the cardinal to reconsider his “well-publicized praise and support of this president. It gives the impression that the Church itself stands with him. The scandals of the past few decades call us to a much higher standard.”

Five congregational leaders signed the letter: St. Joseph Srs. Sally Harper, Patty Johnson, Mary McGlone, Sean Peters and Therese Sherlock.

In an email with Global Sisters Report, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious shared a statement emphasizing the need for moral leadership from church leaders, as the country deals with the repercussions of the coronavirus while heading into a polarizing presidential election:

In the midst of the pandemic, as the country and the world face unprecedented challenges, it is imperative that all faith leaders exercise their public voice and influence with supreme care. … As we proceed into the election season in a highly charged political environment, clear, thoughtful, and responsible moral leadership is an urgent necessity. As we, Catholic women religious leaders, will carefully discern the exercise of our voices in the discourse about important moral issues in the run-up to the elections, so too we urge all leaders in the Catholic Church to do the same.

Though Campbell “wasn’t surprised” by the friendship relationship between Dolan and Trump, the Sister of Social Service told GSR that she found the content of the phone conversation to be “shocking and appalling.” While the president may no longer surprise her, she said, what “really disturbed” her was Dolan’s “catering to this idea that the president is the best ‘Catholic’ president ever — that’s just ludicrous.”

As executive director of Network, she was disappointed that, when given the opportunity on the phone call, “Dolan said nothing about Catholic social teaching: nothing about the treatment of immigrants, the environment, the care for the poor, the effort to kick people off health care — the litany goes on,” she said.

“I would think that is a Catholic witness, but there was none of that.”

Seeing this as just the beginning of Trump courting the Catholic vote, Campbell said that, while she expects politicians to schmooze, “I also expect church leaders to lift up the fullness of Catholic social teaching.”

She also pointed to Pope Francis’ exhortation to holiness, in which the pontiff said that while politicians look for votes by saying the right thing, “a Christian has got to stand in the shoes of immigrants,” she paraphrased.

“I expect that from our leadership — not this pandering to power.”


[Soli Salgado is a staff writer for Global Sisters Report. Her email address is Follow her on Twitter @soli_salgado.]

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  1. Roy Donovan says:

    What is wrong with so many American Catholic Bishops? What planet are they living on or bubble are they working from? What was wrong with Benedict XVI & his cohort who tried to silent these courageous American women who continue to speak truth to power both within and without the Catholic Church?

  2. Pól Ó Duibhir says:

    It was said recently, I think at a WACI talk, that the female religious orders are less constrained in their public actions/statement than their male counterparts.

    Assuming this is true, and it certainly seems so, would anyone like to speculate on the reasons for this. Is it a matter of personal courage, an institutional difference of some sort, or just that they are considered by Rome to be irrelevant?

  3. Barry McGonigle says:

    @pól óduibhir
    Could the answer to your question be that unlike priests no woman religious leader has any hope of preferment whether she is toeing the party line or dissenting. She can therefore be true to her faith and open to the Holy Spirit.

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