The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) announced on Monday that it has hired Kim Daniels as spokeswoman for the USCCB president, currently Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York. Daniels, the USCCB announcement explains, is "an attorney whose practice has focused on religious liberty matters," and she "brings to the USCCB her experience as director of Catholic Voices USA, an organization of lay Catholics that works to bring the positive message of the Church across a broad range of issues to the public square."
The bishops left a few things off her résumé, says Grant Gallicho at Commonweal. Notably, the announcement "does not mention two of Daniels's previous employers: Sarah Palin and the Thomas More Law Center," a conservative legal organization at which Daniels fought for the right of pharmacists to refuse to dispense the morning-after pill. She spent nine years, from 2000 to 2009, at the Thomas More Law Center, established in 1998 by its president, Richard Thompson. Thompson and his center increasingly tend to "make news by making provocative comments about Islam."
The more eyebrow-raising job is Daniels' work as a paid adviser to Palin and her political group, SarahPAC. Daniels signed up to work with Palin after doing some legal work for John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign, at a time when "the former Alaska governor tried to remodel herself" after McCain's loss, says David Gibson at Religion News Service. Daniels was described as "Palin's personal domestic policy czar," and that association leaves an open question for the bishops about "whether Daniels will deflect controversies or become a lightning rod herself," says Gibson.
Palin has continued to alienate herself from all but her most loyal fans on the movement's right flank, and it is not clear where Daniels' relationship with Palin stands today. [RNS]
Yes, Daniels worked for Palin, says Kathryn Jean Lopez at Patheos, but "I wouldn't read too much into the political significance of this as a bishops' conference matter." As Daniels has explained it, she "felt a call to work with this most prominent pro-life mother who was giving voice to issues close to her heart in the public square."
Her heart belongs to her family and the church, and her work with Palin was an outgrowth of that.... One of the key questions the church is confronted with today is: How do we teach and share the Gospel effectively?.... How Catholics in the pews hear and what they hear plays a major role in that. But the media in all its mainstream and social forms is where most people's views of the church is formed. How do we engage there clearly, as Christians, lovingly and responsively? Kim has been devoting her time to just that question as a director of the Catholic Voices USA project. So I really can't think of a better person to be joining Cardinal Dolan and the bishops' conference in that effort to address that question. [Patheos]
What role Daniels will fill remains an open question, however. Her position is a new one, separate from the USCCB's official press office. "Kim Daniels is not in the Communications Department," Sister Mary Ann Walsh, the USCCB's longtime spokeswoman, tells Religion News Service. "As head of the USCCB Office for Media Relations I speak to the media in that capacity." That makes this "new territory for everyone," says RNS's Gibson.
Daniels' hiring also looks like an effort to satisfy Dolan's goal of finding an "attractive, articulate, intelligent" laywoman to help recast the hierarchy's image... because, as he put it, "In the public square, I hate to tell you, the days of fat, balding Irish bishops are over." Yet Daniels, a mother of six, will also have to be credible, which means she would need to have a clear mandate. [RNS]
Whether Daniels has that mandate isn't clear, since not all the bishops are comfortable with one spokeswoman speaking for all of them. Will she be the public face of Dolan's policies, or a rival to Walsh's media shop, or a behind-the-scenes policy shaper? We'll find out. But there's also "a final wrinkle," Gibson says: "Dolan's three-year term as USCCB president ends in November, and a new president may want to use Daniels in a different capacity, or not at all."