In bipartisan move, U.S. archbishop to pray for Democrats, too

Reuters News

8/28/2012 11:49:26 AM - Reuters News

By Daniel Trotta

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Roman Catholic Cardinal Timothy Dolan will deliver the closing prayer at the Democratic National Convention as well as this week's Republican meeting, in a sign of bipartisanship after Dolan had taken a role opposing the White House on policy matters.

Dolan, the archbishop of New York and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, last week accepted an invitation to deliver the closing prayer at the Republican National Convention on Thursday in Tampa, Florida.

His office announced on Tuesday he would do the same for the Democrats in Charlotte, North Carolina, on September 6.

Political analysts see many Catholics as "swing voters" who can be swayed to vote for either party, making Dolan welcome at both conventions.

"It was made clear to the Democratic convention organizers, as it was to the Republicans, that the cardinal was coming solely as a pastor, only to pray, not to endorse any party, platform or candidate," Joseph Zwilling, spokesman for the New York archdiocese, said in a statement.

Dolan has become an increasingly influential political figure in the United States and a champion for conservatives, especially since he challenged President Barack Obama in February over a federal health insurance provision that required Catholic institutions such as universities and hospitals to cover birth control.

On Monday Dolan said he wanted Obama and Mitt Romney, who will get the Republican presidential nomination at the party's convention, to sign a "civility pledge" to ensure they would not make personal attacks during the campaign and instead concentrate on substantive issues.

In February U.S. bishops, led by Dolan, had pressed Obama to exempt religious employers from a federal mandate that all health insurance plans offer free birth control.

Obama agreed to modify the mandate so religious employers would not have to pay for contraceptive coverage directly. That satisfied some Catholic groups but the bishops wanted the mandate repealed entirely.

Energized by the battle, Catholic bishops announced their intention to rally Americans against a long list of government measures they said intruded on religious liberty.

After a conference meeting a year ago, Dolan declared religious freedom "is now increasingly and in unprecedented ways under assault in America."

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta)