So, the Cardinal-Archbishop of New York will apparently find himself in Florida next week offering prayer at the Republican national convention.  Understandably, even though he said that it won’t be an endorsement and he is open to doing the same thing if the DNC invites him, many have pointed out  that the optics of this are pretty bad–especially for those of us who are worried that this kind of decision allows the narrative to stick that Dolan and many US bishops are supporting the GOP.

My first reaction was to wish that had refused the invitation and publicly said that he wishes to leave no doubt about the fact that the Church’s commitment to a tradition which began in the ancient Middle East means that it simply doesn’t fit into a right/left American binary created in the 1970s. However, now that he is going, there is an important opportunity to send the same message in a different way.

His model could be that of Roger Cardinal Mahony speaking to the delegates of the Democrat national convention in 2000. He began that address in the following way:

I welcome you to the “City of Angels” with all its vibrant religious, ethnic, and racial diversity. I come to this great convening out of respect for our nation’s democratic traditions. I come as a pastor, not a politician; an advocate of values, not candidates. Prayer must be about moral values, not partisan politics. It should express faith, not ideology.

Beautiful way to open.  And then he went on to pray with them, and in a pretty courageous way:

As you gathered your people into the land that was promised to them, you called them to heed your voice and follow your commandments. These commandments are at once simple and profound: To love God above all else and to love our neighbor as ourselves. We have been called to “choose life” and to “serve the least of these.”…In You, O God, we trust that you will keep us ever committed to protect the life and well-being of all people but especially unborn children, the sick and the elderly, those on skid row and those on death row.

Dolan will now have an opportunity to do something similar.  Will he speak not only about values which he has in common with those present, but also where he disagrees with them?  Will he speak respectfully but unflinchingly about the relationship of human dignity to health care?  About the right to immigrate and the duty to welcome the stranger?  About the fact that our very salvation is determined by how we treat the poor and vulnerable?

If he does, perhaps the point that the Church is not an arm of the GOP will be made even more powerfully than if he didn’t go.