It's that time, again. The U.S. Catholic bishops are back in Baltimore and the agenda includes the election of a new president to replace the remarkably charismatic (especially in his crucial mass-media duties) Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York. Speaking of omnipresent, the primary voice of authority in the A1 Baltimore Sun piece on the conference is the one and only Rocco "friend of the blog" Palmo of the Whispers in the Loggia weblog, who basically narrates the whole report. I especially liked his quip on the challenge of replacing Dolan:
Whoever is chosen in Tuesday's election will have his work cut out for him, according to Palmo, in part because Dolan made such an extraordinary mark.
"Like him or not, you couldn't ignore him," Palmo said. "He's a once-in-a-generation leader. It's like Elvis is leaving the building. Who's going to take the stage now?"
There are at least two other "must cover" news angles in this bishops conference advance piece, with one angle of special importance to a newspaper in Baltimore. Alas, only one really made it into print, and it wasn't the all-news-is-local one.
There is, of course, the Pope Francis angle, which shows up early. Note the careful attribution (not) of the opinions expressed in this passage:
This week's meeting is the first during the tenure of Pope Francis, the first Latin American-born pontiff and a man widely seen as offering a friendlier face to the non-Catholic world than many of his predecessors.
It also comes in the wake of Dolan's term, which many felt gave the bishops a more unified public presence than they had enjoyed in years.
Who are the Catholic voices of authority hiding in the phrase "widely seen" on this back-handed slap at the Blessed John Paul II and, of course, the bookish Pope Benedict XVI? Then, a few phrases later, we have a vague reference to "many" Catholics feeling such and such. Lots of people talking, but few willing to be quoted? Not a good sign.
The other key topic that must be addressed is the presence of Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori in the short list of candidates to fill Dolan's chair as conference president. While he is not a lock-in, there is at least one reason to think that Lori could get the nod. This force in his favor, however, could be a reason he would not get the presidency in the new media-friendly age of Francis.
So, all together now, what is the primary leadership post held by the articulate and scholarly archbishop of Baltimore? Why has he been in and out of the headlines in recent years? What national church work has he performed (often in a partnership with Dolan)?
The story gives a hint, but never states the obvious.
Hint: What is the biggest current threat to the work and future health of many Catholic institutions here in America? What is the public issue that has dominated Dolan's term? The story does contain this short reference:
Behind the scenes, Palmo said, he expects the bishops to try to hammer out a consensus position on the contraception mandate in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act -- rules by which some Catholic-supported institutions would be required to help pay for patients' contraception in violation of the church's long-standing opposition to the practice.
And in addition to the HHS battle, what other public-square issues have commanded the attention of the bishops as a conference? The story mentions several, including this:
Also last week, three chairmen of bishops' committees -- including Lori -- wrote in opposition to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2013 (ENDA), passed by the Senate. Lori, with Bishop Stephen Blaire and Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, both of California, wrote while "the Catholic Church has consistently stood with workers ... and continues to oppose unjust discrimination in the workplace," the ENDA is unacceptable because, they said, it supports a definition of marriage that includes same sex unions, encompasses sexual conduct outside marriage and would threaten religious liberty.
Ah. A key term shows up at the very end of that passage.
Why is it logical that Lori would play a key role in the writing of this particular letter and many others on related topics? Hint: It is a national leadership post that he already holds and it is a Catholic leadership role that the team at The Baltimore Sun rarely if ever mentions, even when there are perfectly logical reasons to do so -- such as the presidential election during this Charm City meeting.
The answer: Lori is the chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty.
Why leave this crucial fact about Lori out of this story, especially in light of the tense church-state atmosphere in the land at this point in time? I really have no idea, other than the fact that the editorial page of the Sun sees absolutely zero threats to religious liberty in the current American political landscape. And this strange gap has appeared in Sun news copy before.