Though he's one of the leading critics of conservative politicians, comedy news anchor Stephen Colbert is a devout Catholic--and he "loves his Church, warts and all."
This past Friday, Colbert met with the Archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, to engage in a dialogue on “Humor, Joy, and the Spiritual Life" at Fordham University. Father James Martin, a Jesuit Catholic priest and author, moderated the conversation.
Three thousand Fordham students waited as long as five hours to gather in the gym at the university's Bronx campus. The Rose Hill campus, as opposed to the satellite campus at Lincoln Center, is also known as BROse Hill, and it couldn’t be more clear why: student attendees pumped up the crowd with well-timed bleacher stomping, slow claps, the wave, and intermittent “U-S-A" chants.
Dolan and Colbert met for the first time last April at Time's "100 Most Influential People" event, and, according to Dolan, the first words Colbert spoke to him were a request for a prayer for his son, who was receiving the sacrament of Confirmation the next day. The two are obviously pretty close buds, and Dolan even joked that if he is ever elected pope, he’ll claim Stephen III as his papal name.
“Stephen Colbert is both a Catholic and a comedian,” Dolan praised in his opening remarks, “and in my opinion he’s a good one of both.”
Colbert went on to explain his philosophy that humor and spirituality are similar because both can be used to overcome fear and pain. He dared the audience to try the impossibly hard task of laughing while they’re terrified.
“I don’t make jokes about religion, but the use of religion, and the misuse of it in politics,” Colbert explained, notably referring to his on-screen self as “his character.”
Cardinal Dolan made some interestingly double-sided comments at the DNC this year, and unfortunately, he has also been busy heading the Church’s mission to exclude Catholic institutions like Fordham from the contraception requirement in President Obama’s healthcare plan.
Last year, Dolan came to Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus to lecture on the matter, calling people who use contraceptives with “latex and chemicals” part of the “culture of death.” Meanwhile, Fordham law and undergraduate students have been petitioning the university to clarify how these conflicting opinions will affect Fordham's policy on birth control.
Despite the heightened importance of such debates on campus, only one audience-submitted question regarding conflicts between Catholicism and liberal social policy was selected for the two panelists to answer.
The question asked of Dolan and Colbert, “When so many Christian leaders are spreading hate, especially to homosexuals, how can we maintain our joy?”
To this, the Cardinal had no real answer, and instead spluttered uncomfortably that many religious leaders present themselves poorly in the media. Though Dolan avoided answering any part of the question, Colbert responded quickly when it came to be his turn.
“If someone is spreading hate,” he said leaning towards the audience, “then they’re not your religious leader.”
Photo and illustration via fordham.edu