Houston cardinal signals no retreat on religious freedom
May 12, 2016
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, vice-president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, spoke to Crux in a May 5 interview, insisting that “religious freedom is a genuine issue.”
May 9, 2016
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo is vice-president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, and, if things hold to form, he’s likely to take over the top job in November. Assuming that happens, one thing seems clear: criticism notwithstanding, the American bishops will not be dialing down their push on religious freedom.
Responding to one pundit who recently described a video from the U.S. bishops on the subject as a “ham-fisted attempt at propaganda,” likening it to Nazi filmmaking, DiNardo insisted that “religious freedom is a genuine issue.”
He cited assaults on Christians around the world, and also domestic church/state tensions.
“It’s not just the contraception mandates, but it concerns the future of Catholic charities and our other institutions,” he said. “Increasingly, the government seems to be trying to constrict religious institutions. It’s so coercive.”
“There has to be more leeway, more freedom,” he said.
DiNardo is realistic about the bishops’ success in making that case to a broad public, conceding, for instance, that if the current dispute over the mandates before the Supreme Court were “Bishops v. Obama” rather than the Little Sisters of the Poor, perceptions might be different.
“You can’t dislike the Little Sisters of the Poor, it’s just impossible,” he said.
If the bishops were the face of the fight, he acknowledged, “people would probably say, this is about religious interests, institutional interests, and so on,” adding he’s not really sure if public opinion is turning.
On other points, Di Nardo said:
Catholics in the United States should work closely with the Vatican and its diplomatic corps to raise awareness of persecuted Christians around the world.
Pope Francis’ advocacy on behalf of immigrant rights could have “long-term results” after the 2016 elections, he believes, no matter who wins, in creating momentum for comprehensive immigration reform.
On the other hand, DiNardo isn’t sure whether the pope’s example has moved the needle in terms of Catholic opinion at the grassroots: “I sometimes hear Catholics quoting the latest thing Francis said, but then others say, hey, we’re the ones feeling the crunch of all this, and they’re not always really happy.”
In Houston, the pontiff’s Year of Mercy has encouraged “practical ways of living the faith,” including charitable works, such as a parish becoming a Red Cross center, and also hunger for the sacrament of confession.
Overall, Francis remains a somewhat controversial figure among some Texas Catholics: “Some people … think the pope’s too vague,” DiNardo said.
When he runs into those concerns, DiNardo said he delivers a clear message: “We have to walk with people in difficult situations, but there’s a difference between accompanying people and approving everything they do.”
Born in Steubenville, Ohio, in 1949, DiNardo came of age in a Pittsburgh suburb in the Golden Age of American Catholicism in the 1950s, when the northeastern part of the country was its demographic core.
He entered the seminary in 1967, just after the Second Vatican Council, and after studies in Rome at both the Jesuit-run Gregorian University and also the Augustinian-run institute on patristics, he was ordained in 1977.
Today, DiNardo is based in the American southwest, where the new center of gravity of the Catholic population has likewise shifted, having become the first cardinal from the southern United States in 2007. He was elected vice-president of the bishops’ conference in 2013.