For over seven years, I have had a mailbox just above E.J. Dionne’s in the Department of Government at Georgetown University. E.J. and I have always shared cordial relationships, periodically getting together to discuss our shared and differing opinions on American politics. We have speculated on what might be a blood relationship, as my mother’s maiden name is Dionne and we both have family that hail from Fall River, Massachusetts, by way of French Canada. In graduate school I was impressed and influenced by E.J.’s book Why Americans Hate Politics, a book I hoped some day to emulate in sensibility if not sales. E.J. recently wrote an admiring blurb for a book of essays that I co-edited by my mentor, Wilson Carey McWilliams.

Thus it goes against my personal inclination to criticize E.J., but I have grown increasingly distressed by his tendency to define the Church and its activities in terms of American partisan politics. By doing so he diminishes the Church and threatens to make it merely an extension of modern politics and even the State.

Dionne has written in the past that the Church’s positions, reflecting a commitment to a “seamless garment of life,” should have the effect of “making us feel guilty” about the tendency of American Catholics to identify first as political partisans and only secondarily as Catholics. Indeed, the Catholic Church’s teachings do not map well, or at all, with the particular way in which American partisan positions have developed in the last fifty years, particularly out of the cauldron of the Cold War and its aftermath.

Dionne has been lambasting the Catholic leadership for its “conservative” positions, and praising the Church’s “moderate and liberal” elements, whether bishops, religious, or lay. He has accused the bishops of becoming too cozy with the Republican party and engaging too directly in electoral politics leading up to the 2012 election, particularly in regard to its stance against the HHS mandate and in the actions of a number of bishops and Catholic organizations filing suit against the mandate.

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