Thursday, November 25, 2010

Archbishop Dolan: Pope cannot change Catholic teaching

New York Times
Published: November 22, 2010

Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York, elected president of the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops last week, said Monday that the bishops faced the urgent task of stopping the huge exodus of Roman Catholics from the church of their birth.

He said the bishops would not stop speaking out on political issues like abortion, same-sex marriage and immigration. But he said there was now a movement among them to confront internal problems like the “sobering study” showing that one-third of Americans born and baptized Catholic have left the church.

“The bishops are saying we need to make sure our house is in order as a church. We need to recover our vigor,” Archbishop Dolan said. “Then we can be of better service to the world and to our culture.”

In an expansive interview in the front parlor of his residence on Madison Avenue — the only news interview he has granted since he spoke to a Catholic television station after last Tuesday’s election — Archbishop Dolan discussed his surprise at his election, whether the bishops will push for repeal of the health care overhaul and what Pope Benedict XVI said about condoms.

“The Pope didn’t say, ‘Oh good, you should use a condom,’ ” Archbishop Dolan said, referring to a controversial comment the pope made in a book that is being released worldwide on Tuesday.

In the book, the pope said that a male prostitute who used a condom to prevent the spread of AIDS might be taking a first step toward moral responsibility. Some Catholic analysts claimed that the pope was floating a possible exception in the church’s ban on birth control. But Archbishop Dolan said the church could not simply change its doctrine.

“You get the impression that the Holy See or the pope is like Congress and every once in a while says, ‘Oh, let’s change this law,’ ” he said. “We can’t.”

He was most animated on the topic of disaffected Catholics. Archbishop Dolan leaned forward as he cited recent studies finding that only half of young Catholics marry in the church, and that weekly Mass attendance has dropped to about 35 percent of Catholics from a peak of 78 percent in the 1960s.

He said he was chagrined when he saw a long line of people last Sunday on Fifth Avenue. “I’m talking two blocks, a line of people waiting to get into ...” he said, pausing for suspense. “Abercrombie and Fitch. And I thought, wow, there’s no line of people waiting to get into St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and the treasure in there is of eternal value. What can I do to help our great people appreciate that tradition?”

Archbishop Dolan’s election last Tuesday to head the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops was the first time in the conference’s history that the sitting vice president running for the presidency was not automatically promoted. The archbishop said he thought he might be elected vice president, but was surprised to win the presidency, a three-year term.

He now holds three weighty posts simultaneously: archbishop of New York, president of the bishops conference, and chief investigator of the seminaries in Ireland in the wake of a crippling sexual abuse scandal there — a task assigned by Pope Benedict XVI.

Archbishop Dolan said he planned to spend three weeks this winter in Ireland and Rome visiting seminaries that train Irish priests. He said he would focus on whether priests were being prepared for a “healthy, happy celibacy.” He said the pope expected his report by Easter.

One of the most contentious issues facing Archbishop Dolan at the bishops’ conference in Washington is whether it will support Republican efforts to repeal the health care law. The bishops opposed the final version of the bill, convinced it allowed federal financing of abortion.

But Archbishop Dolan said the bishops ought to be “great cheerleaders” for the expansion of health care coverage, and could possibly support a “refinement” of the bill. He said he did not yet know whether the bishops would want to “overthrow” the legislation completely.

On the handling of the sexual abuse scandal, Archbishop Dolan was criticized last week by two victims’ advocacy groups for failing to post lists of priests removed from ministry for credible accusations of abuse. The archbishop said that his newspaper, Catholic New York, had identified priests as they had been removed, and that that was sufficient.

He said he had heard complaints from Catholic laypeople on his pastoral council that although they love their priests, the quality of their preaching is poor. Archbishop Dolan said he hoped to reinvigorate Mass attendance by declaring 2011 the “Year of the Mass.”

The Mass will be changed significantly at this time next year when, for only the third time in history, the church adopts its new Roman missal — the text that contains the prayers for the Mass. The text has been fought over for years, and many priests in English-speaking countries have protested that the final translation is formal and awkward. But Archbishop Dolan said he was happy with it.

“I think there’s a renewed awe, a sense of reverence, a greater fidelity to the ancient texts,” he said.

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