For example, the cardinal prayed for God's blessing "upon those yet to be born" and those "at the end of this life" -- but avoided direct references to abortion, euthanasia or related health care issues.
In another passage, Dolan alluded to immigration -- a tense topic for some Republicans and the Catholic hierarchy. Without being specific, he prayed for God's blessings on "families that have come recently" to America and reminded his listeners they must "strive to include your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, in the production and prosperity of a people so richly blessed."
And what about the high-stakes battle between the White House and those who insist there is more to "freedom of religion" than mere "freedom of worship"? In the most pointed lines of the prayer, the cardinal mentioned this issue by name, then linked this debate to natural law and belief in moral absolutes.
"Almighty God, who gives us the sacred and inalienable gift of life, we thank you as well for the singular gift of liberty," said Dolan. "Renew in all of our people a respect for religious freedom in full, that first most cherished freedom. ...
"May we know the truth of your creation, respecting the laws of nature and nature's God, and not seek to replace it with idols of our own making. Give us the good sense not to cast aside the boundaries of righteous living you first inscribed in our hearts even before inscribing them on tablets of stone."
In the end, said Kandra, the cardinal could probably "change a few words, a few names, in this prayer and then use it again at the Democratic National Convention. That was probably his goal."
(Terry Mattingly is the director of the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities and leads the GetReligion.org project to study religion and the news.)
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