Archbishop echoes brother bishops from Middle East who wonder where Obama's priorities are
When it comes to protecting Christians in the Middle East who are vulnerable to extreme persecution, the United States government has its priorities all wrong, said Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York. Part of the reason may be that government officials are not well-schooled in the nature of the persecution, but even more so, they seem to be focusing on the promotion of "reproductive rights" and "gay rights" almost to the exclusion of other issues.
Cardinal Dolan is also president of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, which conducts humanitarian work in the Middle East, and past president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. He said that bishops in countries where Christians have been under fire, such as Syria and Iraq, express to him a sense of wonder that the US government makes foreign aid and foreign investment contingent on a nation’s willingness to assure the legality of abortion or the redefinition of marriage and not upon the protection of religious minorities.
"They’ll say, ‘We need to see the American government put the same teeth in their investment, in their diplomacy, in their trade negotiations, in their political negotiations as they do in some of these other issues. And I think they’re right," the cardinal said.
The archbishop of New York made his remarks at a conference on the plight of Christians of the Middle East who are threatened by the advance of the Islamic State group and the spread of radical Islam. The May 7 forum was sponsored by the Hudson Institute, a Washington, DC, think tank. Nina Shea, a veteran human rights lawyer who heads the institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, hosted the daylong conference, which sought solutions for the problem of the rise of radical, politicized Islam and its threat of snuffing out an already dwindling Christian presence in the Holy Land and the greater region.
Speakers and audience members, who gathered at the Peninsula Hotel in Manhattan, bandied about ideas such as inserting the issue into the 2016 US presidential race, organizing a march on Washington and arming Christian militias. Many agreed that the persecution of mideast Christians, even in the wake of the Islamic State’s dramatic takeover last June of Iraq’s second largest city and its beheading of groups of Christians, is not in the center of American’s consciousness.
USA Today columnist Kirsten Powers, speaking near the end of the conference, said that it wasn’t hard to come up with solutions, but "It’s not going to make a difference until you get the American people behind it. They really don’t see that there’s a genocide going on."
Cardinal Dolan said he finds that kind of attitude among elected officals that he meets with.
"They seem, when I speak to them, to be ignorant of the situation. I don’t know if they realize it’s that bad. I don’t think they realize the precision of the target, namely, Christians. They tend to group all of the atrocities they hear about in so many of these suffering societies together. They don’t realize we’re talking about a well-oiled, well-coordinated program of precise hatred and persecution of Christians," he said. "Our brother bishops, especially in the Mideast and Africa, feel let down by us, the religious community in the United States. They really feel let down by the American government."
The cardinal, as well as other panelists, held up the example of Jewish activists who have over the years been vocal on behalf of Jewish causes. Powers reported that a fellow journalist, a Jew, expressed surprise that Christians are not protesting outside the White House 24/7.
"It’s mind-boggling to them that Christians aren’t demonstrating, complaining," said Powers, who was married to an ethnic Copt. "It’s clear the president isn’t going to do something about it unless there’s a massive outcry. It’s clearly not something he’s going to engage on his own."
Cardinal Dolan asked listeners to recall the waning days of the Soviet Union, when President Ronald Reagan went to negotiate with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.