Posted Online: Dec. 02, 2012, 6:00 am

Dorothy Day's work has already made her saint

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Notes on church and state:

An item in the New York Times caught my eye and piqued my interest. It seems that Timothy Cardinal Dolan (that's the style used to identify princes of the church) is pushing for the canonization of Dorothy Day, "a fiery 20th century activist who protested war, supported labor strikes, and lived voluntarily in poverty as she cared for the needy."

Apparently the cardinal, a theological conservative and staunch Republican partisan, is serious. He recently prompted the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to recommend adding Day to the roster of saints.

This could not have been an easy matter. Times reporter Sharon Otterman wrote that "the bishops noted she had an abortion as a young woman and at one point flirted with joining the communist party." Yet, the vote was unanimous.

Cynics may see this as the bishops scrambling to reconnect with the many Catholics who abandoned the church after the disastrous decision to ignore a special commission's recommendation to drop the ban on contraceptives and, instead, reaffirm traditional interpretations of Aristotle's natural law.

But Dolan points out that Day, upon her conversion, became orthodox in her beliefs and practice. She supported the church's ban on abortion and (they really like this) had a profound "distrust of government."

Dorothy Day is already a saint in the eyes of most Catholics who knew her. I never met her, but she came to the Quad-Cities in 1972 to receive the Pacem in Terris Award. She had made the trip before -- traveling by bus -- coming to Davenport in the early 60s in part to be interviewed by Donald McDonald, editor of the Davenport Catholic Messenger. During that visit, she spoke of her relationship with an earlier, equally conservative prelate, Henry Cardinal Spellman.

Day and Ammon Hennacy had founded "The Catholic Worker," a radical newspaper, and ran the Catholic Worker House, She was influenced by Hennacy's anarchist beliefs and both had a deep, abiding compassion for those on the margins of society. I first heard of the plight of migrant workers in Hennacy's accounts of going to the southwest during harvest seasons to live and work with them.

Spellman opposed just about everything the "Catholic Worker" stood for. Still, once a year, he summoned Dorothy Day to a private audience -- through a side door -- at which he would present her with money to continue her work. It was a charity he never published, but one which helped to sustain an expression of Catholicism for which he had no sympathy.

McDonald found this a curious inconsistency in the cardinal. Day's explanation was that Spellman was wise enough to keep an opponent going just in case she was right and he was wrong.

Cardinal Dolan shows no lack of certitude in his beliefs and politics and he seems to be as resolute in his determination to have Dorothy Day canonized. Catholic Worker staff and Day's granddaughter think the bishops have their priorities wrong. In their eyes, it is her work for the poor, the dispossessed, for social justice and peace, that have already canonized this down-to-earth woman.

Besides, the process of canonization has been so cheapened since Pope John Paul II's unseemly rush to sanctify the notorious Josemaria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei, and the semi-automatic elevation of modern popes (even Pio Nono) that it is no longer the special event it was when causes were advanced seldom and slowly.

* * *

Even though the elections are over, we are not yet free of political phrases and slogans. Just now, it's "The Fiscal Cliff." Apparently, we are on course to drive over it on Dec.r 31st, like Thelma and Louise.

I suggest that we all take a deep breath and calm down. It's more like a slope than a cliff, and passing the deadline may be a prudent move, if the president wants to deliver on his promise to preserve middle class tax cuts while raising rates on the top one percent.

If the Bush tax cuts expire (they shouldn't have been passed in the first place; that was the first big step on the slippery slope to recession), not even Grover Norquist's slaves will be able to resist reinstating only the portion Obama wants.

That still leaves the sequestration to deal with. That will have to be canceled or radically modified. When federal expenditures are cut, people lose jobs. The dramatic drop in employment was due, in great measure, to the loss of jobs at federal, state, and municipal levels as budgets were slashed. People without jobs have no money to spend. Our economy depends on average citizens spending money, not on financiers' casino games.

If we are ever to untangle the corrupt industrial-military complex and put our tax system back on a fair, graduated basis, next year is the time.
God knows we can't put it off much longer; even as God knows that Dorothy Day is a saint: the real deal.
Don Wooten of Rock Island is a former state senator and veteran broadcaster;