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Conservative Cardinal Sees Saint in Catholic Anarchist Dorothy Day

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  • Dan Clore
    News & Views for Anarchists & Activists: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/smygo The word anarchist is conspicuous by its absence in this piece.
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 29, 2012
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      News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:

      The word "anarchist" is conspicuous by its absence in this piece.

      In Hero of the Catholic Left, a Conservative Cardinal Sees a Saint
      Meyer Liebowitz/The New York Times
      Dorothy Day, shown in Manhattan in 1972, was a prominent Roman Catholic
      social activist and antiwar campaigner.
      Published: November 26, 2012

      Dorothy Day is a hero of the Catholic left, a fiery 20th-century social
      activist who protested war, supported labor strikes and lived
      voluntarily in poverty as she cared for the needy.
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      Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

      The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, of which Cardinal
      Timothy M. Dolan of New York is president, voted this month to support
      Dorothy Day's canonization.
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      Michael Appleton for The New York Times

      Martha Hennessy, the granddaughter of Dorothy Day, washes dishes at
      Maryhouse in the East Village.

      But Day has found a seemingly unlikely champion in New York’s
      conservative archbishop, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, who has breathed new
      life into an effort to declare the Brooklyn native a saint.

      Cardinal Dolan has embraced her cause with striking zeal: speaking on
      the anniversaries of her birth and death, distributing Dorothy Day
      prayer cards to parishes and even buying roughly 100 copies of her
      biography to give out last year as Christmas gifts to civic officials
      including Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.

      This month, at Cardinal Dolan’s recommendation, the United States
      Conference of Catholic Bishops voted unanimously to move forward with
      her canonization cause, even though, as some of the bishops noted, she
      had an abortion as a young woman and at one point flirted with joining
      the Communist Party.

      “I am convinced she is a saint for our time,” Cardinal Dolan said at the
      bishops’ meeting. She exemplifies, he said, “what’s best in Catholic
      life, that ability we have to be ‘both-and’ not ‘either-or.’ ”

      Cardinal Dolan is often depicted as one of the most visible symbols of
      the rightward shift of America’s Catholic bishops. He has been critical
      of President Obama’s policies — he accused the Obama administration of
      “an unwarranted, unprecedented radical intrusion” into church life after
      the administration said it would require some Catholic institutions to
      provide their employees with insurance coverage for contraception — and
      he has been an outspoken opponent of the administration’s support for
      same-sex marriage.

      In recent years, he and other conservative Catholics have come to
      embrace Day, finding inspiration in her decision to support the church’s
      opposition to abortion, as well as her distrust of government and her
      overall religious orthodoxy. As someone who was both committed to social
      justice and loyal to church teachings, Day bridges wings of the
      contemporary church in a way that few American Catholic figures can.

      “For quite a while, the church at the grass roots in the United States
      has been fairly badly splintered to a kind of peace-and-justice crowd on
      the left and pro-life crowd on the right,” said John L. Allen Jr.,
      senior correspondent for The National Catholic Reporter. “And Day is one
      of those few figures who has traction in both those groups.”

      Day, born in 1897 to a nonobservant Protestant family, dropped out of
      the University of Illinois and moved to New York to work as a journalist
      for leftist publications in the bohemian literary world of downtown
      Manhattan. She converted to Catholicism in 1927, citing a spiritual
      awakening that was accelerated by the joy that she felt upon the birth
      of a daughter, Tamar. She said she chose Catholicism for many reasons —
      partly because it was the religion of so many of the workers and poor
      people whose cause she fought for as a socialist writer, and partly
      because she had lived in Chicago with Catholic roommates whose faith had
      deeply impressed her.

      She spent decades as a passionate lay Catholic, devoting her life to the
      principles of social justice, including pacifism and service to the
      poor, that she felt were at the root of her religion’s teachings.

      Though she was traditional in her religious practices and strong in her
      love for the church, her relationship with the church hierarchy in her
      lifetime was not always smooth. No Catholic bishops attended her
      funeral, though Cardinal Terence Cooke blessed her body as it arrived
      for the funeral Mass, according to Robert Ellsberg, the editor of her
      letters and diaries.

      But bishops now say Day’s life resonates with the struggles that they
      are most engaged in today: the fight against abortion and their concern
      about government intrusion in their affairs. In her radical rejection of
      government — Day believed all states were inherently totalitarian — the
      bishops see echoes of their fight with the Obama administration over
      health care.

      “As we struggle at this opportune moment to try to show how we are
      losing our freedoms in the name of individual rights, Dorothy Day is a
      very good woman to have on our side,” Cardinal Francis E. George,
      archbishop of Chicago, said during a discussion of Day’s sainthood cause
      at a meeting of bishops.

      Cardinal Dolan is, in one sense, the natural advocate for Day, because
      she lived most of her life in his archdiocese and her canonization was
      proposed by one of his predecessors. But promoting Day’s sainthood cause
      is also politically useful for him, and other bishops, at a time when
      the hierarchy is often described by liberal Catholics as caring more
      about reproductive issues than poverty, some Catholics said.

      “It is an opportunity for him to demonstrate that conservative Catholics
      are not uncaring, without accepting liberal principles in how you
      service the poor,” said William A. Donohue, president of the Catholic
      League, a conservative antidefamation organization. “She was not, like
      many liberal Catholics today, a welfare state enthusiast.”

      But some of Day’s closest supporters are critical of how conservatives
      interpret her message on the role of government.

      “I think she would be appalled to have her commitment to voluntary
      poverty and works of mercy and charity in their deepest sense be used as
      cover for an agenda that I think she would see as part of a war against
      the poor,” said Mr. Ellsberg, a former editor of The Catholic Worker
      newspaper that Ms. Day founded with Peter Maurin in 1933.

      To be canonized as a saint, Day will face several major hurdles,
      according to the Rev. Thomas J. Reese, senior fellow at the Woodstock
      Theological Center. First, the Vatican must determine that two miracles
      have occurred as a result of prayers to her since her death. Second, she
      needs organizational support to keep up a lobbying effort for her, and
      the Catholic Worker movement she helped found is often ambivalent about
      the canonization process, fearful that her message will become
      oversimplified. Day herself once said, according to the church, “Don’t
      trivialize me by trying to make me a saint.”

      Then there is simply the matter of time — the heavily bureaucratic
      canonization process can take decades. “Dolan is behind this, but it
      might take more than his lifetime to get this whole thing through,”
      Father Reese said. “And there’s no way of knowing if the next guy will
      place it as high on his agenda.”

      When Cardinal Dolan talks about why he supports Day, he tends not to
      mention her arrests at protests of nuclear weapons or at a farm labor
      protest with Cesar Chavez. Instead, he describes her as a sinner whose
      life was transformed when she converted.

      Describing for reporters at the bishops’ meeting Day’s life as a young
      woman, Cardinal Dolan offered a litany of concerns: “Sexual immorality,
      religious searching, pregnancy out of wedlock and an abortion.” But, he
      said, after her conversion, she not only flourished, but she also became
      an icon “for everything right about the dignity of the human person and
      the sanctity of human life.”

      But her granddaughter, Martha Hennessy, 57, who volunteers in the East
      Village at Maryhouse, a Catholic Worker refuge for the poor that Day
      founded, said in an interview that she found the bishops’ increasing
      focus on her grandmother’s abortion uncomfortable.

      “I wish we would focus on the birth of her child more than on her
      abortion because that’s what really played a role in her conversion,”
      said Ms. Hennessy, whose mother, Tamar, was Day’s only child. “It’s hard
      for me to hear these men talking about my mother and grandmother that way.”

      Her daily work continues. The Catholic Worker, a newspaper she helped
      start has grown into a broad movement, and more than 200 Catholic Worker
      houses of hospitality continue to serve the poor around the country.
      Followers of the movement — who do not have to be Catholic — run soup
      kitchens, rooming houses and clothing distributions, and continue to
      hold protests, which these days are focused on torture, drone attacks
      and other aspects of the war on terror.

      At St. Joseph House on First Street in the East Village on a recent
      Thursday, a kitchen full of volunteers rinsed down giant stockpots and
      bowl-size ladles after finishing the morning’s soup line for the
      neighborhood poor. Around 25 residents and volunteers live in the
      graffiti-tagged building, relying on donations for their work. More
      Catholic workers live two blocks away in Maryhouse, the refuge where Day
      lived the final years of her life.

      As the volunteers gathered for lunch at St. Joseph House — in a simple
      dining hall hung with hand-drawn pictures of Day, a portrait of the Rev.
      Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and a crucifix — Carmen Trotta, who has lived
      in the house for a quarter-century, said that while he believed Day’s
      message of pacifism and works of mercy should be the focus of
      discussions about her possible canonization, he was confident that
      anyone who read her writings would understand her priorities.

      “None of us really have any doubt that she was a saint,” he said.

      This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

      Correction: November 29, 2012

      An article on Tuesday about efforts to canonize Dorothy Day as a saint
      in the Roman Catholic Church included several errors. In some copies, it
      misidentified the Catholic diocese in which Day was born. It is the
      Diocese of Brooklyn, not the Archdiocese of New York. The article and a
      picture caption in some editions rendered incorrectly the name of the
      place Day lived toward the end of her life. It is Maryhouse, not the
      Mary House. The article also referred imprecisely to clergy members at
      Day’s funeral in 1980. One bishop blessed the body but did not attend
      the Mass; it is not the case that “not a single Catholic bishop came to
      her funeral.”

      A version of this article appeared in print on November 27, 2012, on
      page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: In Hero of the
      Catholic Left, a Conservative Cardinal Sees a Saint.

      Dan Clore

      New book: _Weird Words: A Lovecraftian Lexicon_:
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      News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:

      Skipper: Professor, will you tell these people who is
      in charge on this island?
      Professor: Why, no one.
      Skipper: No one?
      Thurston Howell III: No one? Good heavens, this is anarchy!
      -- _Gilligan's Island_, episode #6, "President Gilligan"
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