E.J. Dionne, Jr. was a prominent speaker during a weekend-long conference on the role of laity 50 years after the opening of Vatican II. The conference was held at John Carroll University’s Dolan Center for Science and Technology last weekend.
Dionne, Jr., who spoke Saturday night on the Catholic vote, is a columnist for The Washington Post, a regular contributor to MSNBC and NPR, a frequent roundtable guest on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. and a professor at Georgetown University.
The interview with Dionne, Jr. was conducted Tuesday afternoon by phone and email.
CN: Should the Catholic Church be involved in politics?
ED: I always say that the Catholic Church’s job is to make all of us feel guilty about something. My view is that the Church should challenge more liberal Catholics on issues related to life and abortion, and the Church should challenge more conservative Catholics on issues related to poverty and injustice. The Church is only challenging one set of us; it’s not doing its job in politics. I think the Church should be involved in speaking out about public issues, but I think it shouldn’t be the case that its witness can be easily interpreted as being in favor of one party or the other.
CN: Many feel Congress is broken by their inability to reach consensus on major issues. You talked quite a bit about our quest for finding community. How do you think Congress can come together and find some community, despite the partisan atmosphere?
ED: I think it depends on the outcome of the election. My basic view is that you need the Republican Party to come a little closer to the middle in order to create the possibility of the consensus, the possibility of compromise. I could talk for hours about that.
CN: What is an issue that has been lost in the shuffle during this election season that you think both presidential candidates need to discuss more?
ED: People don’t want to talk about the poor, they don’t want to defend programs fro the poor. I was on TV last night and I quoted one of my favorite FDR lines, “Better the occasional faults of a government that lives in a spirit of charity than the consistent omissions of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference.”
CN: Talk about the cost of culture wars and how it’s affecting both our society and discussion within the Catholic Church among the faithful and hierarchy.
ED: The purpose of culture wars is to divide people. Instead of, for example, trying to make it easier for families to raise kids, figuring out what kind of rules might we have in the workplace on family leave [or] how can we structure childcare or in the school day to make it easier for working parents, we just demonize people for being that parent, or we demonize people for being gay and that just doesn’t solve problems. We create divisions and demonize each other rather than looking for practical remedies to the problems that underlie all of this hostility that we show towards each other.