As hundreds prepared to gather at Battery Park to protest President Donald Trump’s executive orders severely limiting refugees on Sunday — a day after more than a thousand besieged JFK’s Terminal 4 to do the same — New York’s political, business and religious elite also huddled as one. How did they stand?
The 30 Rock lunch celebrating Catholic Charities of New York’s 100th anniversary was a perfectly scripted moment for some of the state’s “top influencers” to decry the refugee orders, couched in praise of a worthy philanthropic aid organization devoted to helping Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
Sen. Chuck Schumer swung at the fastball, calling the orders “a terrible thing” before haltingly reading part of Emma Lazarus’s “The New Colossus” — the poem printed on the Statue of Liberty.
In less specific but still strident terms, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo lauded New York’s inclusiveness and said New Yorkers had “new issues” to face today, highlighting in particular a “rash of hate crimes.” Mayor Bill de Blasio said “our brothers and sisters who are immigrants are gripped by fear right now” and noted that “clergy leaders are going to have a moment now where their voices matter more than ever.”
Those pols left the lunch. There were other pro-immigrant events taking place around the city. That left Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, to give the keynote address.
With Trump layering his orders with an undertone of religious divisiveness — falsely implying as he did throughout the campaign that President Barack Obama was allowing Muslim as opposed to Christian refugees — some religious leaders have felt compelled to come out strong and against. That included University of Notre Dame president Father John I. Jenkins, who slammed the order in context of its dangers to American universities. He asked the president to rescind it.
Cardinal Blase J. Cupich, archbishop of Chicago, also spoke out decisively and forcefully: “The world is watching as we abandon our commitments to American values.”
Dolan was far more circumspect on Sunday.
He rightfully praised the good work of Catholic Charities, who tend to some of the city’s hardest cases — often dealing with immigrants. In a short speech he lightly reminded attendees of the organization’s “irrevocable promise to our immigrants,” and highlighted an expansion of some immigrant-aiding programs.
Speaking to reporters afterward, the archbishop said that “at first blush” the orders caused “some apprehension.” He noted the importance for him to speak “with civility” on the issue.
With detainees held into Sunday at some airports, that seems to be an understatement, but fits with the walk-the-tightrope angle Dolan has traveled as a ranking member of the church. In 2015 he wrote a scathing op-ed about the rise of nativism in the Daily News. Yet in perhaps the spirit of beneficence or evenhandedness he participated in Trump’s inauguration ceremony — and also, last week, in the anti-abortion March for Life in Washington, D.C.
During the presidential campaign, Dolan brought Hillary Clinton and Trump together during the campaign for the annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner, another high-profile NYC charity event. Catholic Charities can’t do its good work without funding, which explains why Trump-leaning businessmen like grocery magnate John Catsimatidis, J.P. Morgan’s Jamie Dimon and Blackstone’s Stephen Schwarzman were either present or lauded.
Perhaps Dolan will use that spirit of bipartisanship and his position above-the-fray to pressure Trump on explicitly anti-Christian actions like his refugee ban. Has he spoken to Trump on the issue yet?
“Nope,” he told me while exiting 30 Rock. “We might write or something. Stay tuned.”
Parishioners should pressure him to do just that.