By: HH Brownsmith
Last month, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops voted to move forward with Dorothy Day’s canonization process.1 These proceedings are notoriously slow but Dorothy’s has been rightfully measured. Throughout her life, the founder of the Catholic Worker movement expressed resistance to being recognized as a saint. She had a myriad of reasons for being uncomfortable with the title, including the belief that all people are called to be saints and that the canonized are easily written off. She feared sainthood would both trivialize her work and make it seem impossibly difficult.
For a long while, members of the Catholic Worker movement made her opposition to canonization known and fought against the process. However, in the last 15 years some Workers have stepped forward to promote the cause of canonization with the reasoning that what is done posthumously is not for the dead but is for the living. I find this reasoning irreverent and as a person who spent time living in a CW house I strongly oppose canonization for Dorothy. But I do not intend to expound on her “Don’t call me a saint” quotes. Dorothy was clear about her wishes.
The histories and motives of clergy members who have promoted Dorothy’s formal recognition are in need of further analysis. National Public Radio touched on this topic briefly last week but failed to go into detail about the lives of the late Cardinal John J. O’Connor and Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan.2 Both men have done substantial work to put Dorothy in the Church spotlight.
John J. O’Connor became Archbishop of New York in 1984 after serving as a Navy chaplain and auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of the Military Services. Despite publicly critiquing some US military involvement abroad, John remained an ardent supporter of just war principles until his death in 2000.3 Military promotion aside, John is best known for his work regarding issues of sexuality and the church. Opposed to safer sex education, condom distribution, AIDS awareness, abortion and the acceptance of GLBT people in church and society, John was considered a “zealous conservative” focused on forwarding “traditional values”. During his tenure, John compared widespread abortions to the Holocaust; refused to support New York’s non-discrimination policy in housing, hiring, and public accommodations (shelters and hotels) for GLBT persons; and refused to sign onto the Catholic Church’s endorsement of AIDS education.4 His culture warrior mentality drew the ire of many groups in New York but his interactions with ACT-UP, AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, were perhaps the most widely publicized. In 1989, members of ACT-UP, entered St. Patrick’s Cathedral during a mass being performed by O’Connor, lay down in the aisles, and chained themselves to pews. Many of the men participating in this protest were HIV/AIDS positive, frail, and in their last year of life. Cops were allowed to enter the cathedral and forcibly remove these men. Protestors screamed “You’re killing us, O’Connor!” referring to John’s opposition to AIDS education and condom distribution to which John responded “I must teach what the church teaches”. To block out the sound of the protestors screams, John led the congregation in a deafening version of the Lord’s Prayer.5
Though John O’Connor recommended Dorothy for canonization, the current Archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, has done most of the work to forward the process. If John was a champion for the church’s values, than Timothy is a hero for its wallet. Before his installation as Archbishop of New York in 2009, Dolan served as Archbishop of Milwaukee. During Dolan’s time in Wisconsin, a slew of sexual abuse survivors came forward. In an attempt to save face and keep the Milwaukee diocese out of bankruptcy, Dolan “authorized payments of as much as $20,000 to sexually abusive priests as an incentive for them to agree to dismissal from the priesthood”.6 When questioned about these payouts, Dolan initially lied about making the payments and then called the money “an act of charity” so priests could pay for “health insurance”. Dolan refused to release the names of the priests who received this payout or any other sexually abusive priests in his dioceses.
Dolan, ever the advocate of institutional interests, has worked to silence proponents of women’s ordination and has publicly opposed the Affordable Healthcare Act as a violation of religious liberty.7 8 Dolan claims that his distrust of government is something that Dorothy shared. Of course, Dorothy’s politics are widely considered anarchistic and Dolan gave the closing prayer at both political conventions this year.9
In Loaves and Fishes, Dorothy recalls a story about Ignatius of Sardinia, a Capuchin. In the story, Ignatius begged for alms from neighbors of his monastery. But he always avoided the merchant Franchine, who made his money at the expense of the poor. Franchine was furious that Ignatius refused to visit him not because he so badly wished to give to charity but for “fear of public opinion”. Eventually, the Father Guardian made Ignatius visit the merchant. The merchant gave a good deal of money, Ignatius put it in his collection sack, and as he left the house “blood began oozing from the sack”. Ignatius carried it back to the monastery, laid it at Father Guardian’s feet and said “Here is the blood of the poor.”10
Cardinal O’Connor and Cardinal Dolan progressed through the ranks of the church and maintained their positions because they further marginalized the wounded, the sick, and the oppressed. Now these men of privilege have the power to convince America that the church that was beginning to look weak on economic justice and obsessed with abortion is neither. Dorothy is not their kindred spirit she is the answer to their public relations dilemma. Doesn’t Dorothy deserve better than this convenient accolade? Doesn’t the first Catholic Worker deserve more than a sack oozing with the blood of the poor?
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