The Archbishop’s Dictionary

Last week, Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, in arguing against the idea that marriage equality conferred freedom on gay and lesbian people to marry, offered a definition of “freedom” straight from the Newspeak Dictionary: freedom is doing what the Church tells you you ought to want to do.

This week, arguing in the same – thank God! – losing cause, Dolan also redefined “conscience” as meaning “voting the way I tell you to.”

I’m particularly disappointed in that, once again, the terribly illogical heresy of “personally opposed but have to do this” seems to be dominating some of our Catholic politicians. How in the world, as I said on the feast of St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher, you could have some Catholic politicians say they’re following their conscience. The heroes of conscience are people like John Fisher and Thomas More. You bet they followed their conscience — a properly formed conscience in conformity with divine revelation and the teaching of the Church. Everybody follows their own conscience. Pol Pot followed his own conscience. We’re talking about a properly formed conscience.

Note that it’s not enough for the good Archbishop to claim that those who disagrees with him are wrong. He needs to deny them any virtue at all; if “conscience” is a virtue, then they mustn’t have it. He cites Fisher and More; by his standard, Ridley and Latimer did not die for conscience. Feh.

(I think he threw Pol Pot in just to see if anyone was still awake.)

The claims get more and more bizarre. Dolan casts the Catholic Church as David against the Goliath of the gay-rights movement, and himself – certainly among the hundred most important people in the state – as the victim of “the elites.” As to the fact that the view he fought so hard to maintain as a matter of law is now a minority view in New York, he simply denies it:

They … claim to speak for the overwhelming majority of people, but they wouldn’t accept my invitation: perhaps to go to Staten Island and visit some backyard barbecues and sense what the people really believe.

But perhaps this is merely a bit of high comedy, or at least High Palinism; bored with church administration, Archbishop Dolan may be looking at a second career in stand-up.

Footnote Yes, I know those peculiar definitions of “conscience” and “freedom” aren’t peculiar to Archbishop Dolan; he’s just quoting the party line. But I’ve always found old jokes to be the funniest.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

Mark Kleiman

Mark Kleiman is a professor of public policy at the New York University Marron Institute.