Thursday, August 13, 2009

Archbishop Dolan On The State Of American Catholicism

N.Y. archbishop takes stock of challenges in the American Catholic Church
Phoenix, Ariz., Aug 13, 2009 / 12:33 am (CNA).-

Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York told CNA last week that the Catholic Church is currently facing many challenges, four being: the vocation to marriage, the state of Catholic parishes and schools, the great number of lapsed Catholics and finally the difficulties in a culture desperate to keep the Church and morals out of the public square.

Sitting down with CNA in Phoenix, Arizona during the 127th annual Knights of Columbus convention, the archbishop noted that while he loves his new assignment as the Archbishop of New York, his archdiocese of 2.6 million Catholics, as well as the Church in the United States, is currently facing some serious challenges.

“Oh, there’s tons of challenges, my Lord, there’s never any dearth of challenges,” the archbishop began, explaining that the basic challenge for all Catholics is the same one that Jesus gave on Pentecost Sunday: “Go out to the world and preach the Gospel.”

The archbishop then broke down Jesus’ words into four practical challenges the Church currently faces in preaching the Gospel to all people, the first being the instability of marriage and family.

“That’s where we have the real vocation crisis,” he remarked, noting that “only 50% of our Catholic young people are getting married.”

“We have a vocation crisis to life-long, life-giving, loving, faithful marriage. If we take care of that one, we’ll have all the priests and nuns we need for the church,” Dolan said. (Only if these young couples agree to have more than two children. Addressing this crisis will not happen through wishful thinking or genial memories of the way it used to be when you were a boy. There is no answer for this in a return to the past.)

The second challenge the Church faces, according to Archbishop Dolan, is that it must “maintain and strengthen the blessed infrastructure that we have in the Catholic Church in the United States.” This infrastructure, the parishes, schools, religious education programs, Catholic Charities and hospitals, has “fortified the Church” for “over 200 years.” Now, however, these same institutions are struggling because of their size and cost. ( Size and cost. Spoken like a true bureaucrat. This infrastructure was actually built by the LCWR congregations you are now investigating. It was paid for by immigrant laity. Nice of you to leave the 'people' part out of the equation.)

The aim isn’t only to maintain them, he continued, they need to be strengthened because “now more than ever does the Church need a public face.”

The Church needs to have a good public profile because there are “a lot of people out there who would like to exclude the Church from any type of public witness and we can’t let that happen,” the Archbishop of New York said. (There are also people out there who are using the public witness of the Church for their own agenda and we can't let that happen either.)

Moving on to the third challenge for the U.S. Catholic Church, Dolan simply described it as reaching out and inviting our people home.

“It scares the life out of me when I find out that second most identifiable religious grouping on the religious landscape of the United States are people who say, ‘I used to be a Catholic.’” (It should scare the life out of you because this trend isn't close to reversing. It's getting worse.)

We bishops have to do something about this, he insisted. “We have to say, ‘no, look, there is no such thing as a former Catholic. Your Catholicism is, as a matter of fact, in your DNA. And whether you like it or not you’re born into it just like you’re born into a natural family.’” (Perhaps you could start this process by telling your conservative members to stop telling us to find another church and remind them that we are indeed, Catholic in our DNA, and whether they like it or not part of the family. Good luck with that one.)

Now, he continued, “you might say, ‘I’m ticked off at my natural family, I’m not hanging around with them anymore, I’ve got things to work out.’ But you’re still a member of that family and sooner or later you usually make your peace with it and go home.” (Sometimes, but that also depends on the family who was left. It's never a one way street. see parable of prodigal son.)

In comparison, “the Church is our supernatural family,” he explained, “you might be upset with it, you might not be showing up for Sunday dinner, you might be mad at it about a couple of things…but you’re still a member.”

The Church “is your supernatural family, and, darn it, we need you and want you to come back home. You’re always welcome,” Dolan offered. (You mean welcomed like the father of the prodigal son--with no strings attached? Or more like his brother who pitched a fit.)

The final challenge the he listed is confronting “a culture” with many “strident voices who want to keep” God, morals, virtue and the Church “out of the public square.”

He explained that those voices will say that “religious is fine as an individual hobby… but don’t enforce it on the rest of us.” (Nice turn of phrase-- because it's true. For too many people religion is lived like a hobby and that witness is why so many other people want those voices kept out of the public square. Who wants to be controlled by the vagaries of some one elses hobby?)

However, Dolan argued, without the voice of the Church, “our public square is reduced if the Church isn’t part of it, and what makes America great is that religion has always had a strong, respected place at the table.” Those who want to exclude the voice of the Church, he said, are involved in “galloping secularism.”

He explained: “There are those movers and shakers in society that want to take the teeth out of religion and we can’t let that happen” because America, individuals, the world and culture would be much worse off. (And there are movers and shakers who want to hide behind the teeth of religion and let it mask their own personal agendas and we can't let that happen either.)

“We’ve got something to say, and darn it, we want to say it,” he stated. (I know you have something to say, the question is, darn it, will you also listen? Or is this just a one way dialogue?)


I hope Archbishop Dolan reads this. One because I am very gratified that he has listed the exodus out of the Church as a major concern. Not many bishops have had the grace to actually admit this in public, and two, because I'm beginning to think he may actually care enough about it to listen.

More than any of his other concerns, the exodus of millions of lay Catholics out of the church is the fundamental reason for the existence of the his other concerns. Along with the priest abuse scandal, the fact the second largest grouping of religious in America are non practicing Catholics has to have under cut the credibility of the voice of Catholicism in the public square. This staggering loss is a major contributor to his concerns about the loss of the Catholic infrastructure. Only God knows how many lost vocations are in this continuing exodus. It is pointless to plug holes in the dike, when the dike itself is breached.

I hope he can understand that inviting people back is not just a matter of them trundling back on their own. No one returns to a family which has consistently made their presence unwelcome and unwanted, with re admittance on their terms, no negotiation, no compromise, no coming back otherwise. In other words, coming back to the very same conditions which precipitated leaving in the first place. Truly healthy people don't do that. What they will do though is come back if everyone agrees the coming back into the family adds more to the family than it causes angst--for either side. This calls for both sides to swallow a little pride, let go of some self certainty, and work for the bigger picture.

Imagine how much could be added if even a third of those who have left came back. The addition which be worth far more than the angst it might cause, but this can only happen if Catholics like Archbishop Dolan really want it to happen and are realistic about what they expect.


  1. I am one of those Catholics who came back to the Church family. I also came back to my blood relative family. Wow, the problems, the arguments, the fighting, the labeling, the lies.... The one-sidedness. It was enough to drive me out again.

    My Catholic blood family gets in touch with me when there is a death in the family. So much for Catholic charity in their hearts for one another. A lot Church teaching and going to Church every week has done. One relative didn't even tell me about the death of an aunt, because she was angry with our uncle for not going to our mother's funeral. Sickness abounds.

    The Catholic family does not care about me. They are only interested in me voting the way they want me to vote. They are only interested in controlling me. They are only interested in dollars. You'd think that the leaders in the Church would put 1 + 1 together and figure out that if the economy is sunk for the middle class, which it is, what makes them think they aren't sunk also monetarily.

    Families are unstable in an unstable economy, in an unstable political environment and of right wingers hogging up the public square with their one and only issue of abortion and record of voting for fascist like GW Bush. Sick!!!

    The truth is, as a Catholic, I don't need the Gospel preached to me as if I never heard it before. It is rather the Church that doesn't seem to have the word of God in them.

    Good luck Dolan with getting Catholics back to Church when the Church itself is more messed up than the one's who have left.

  2. Butterfly, my family also finally contacted me about the death of my brother. We had been on the outs for four years. Mostly over failure to communicate and serious money issues.

    I wrote this piece from that experience. It never works for family reconcilliation when only one party is willing to swallow their pride, but sometimes, even one party willing to swallow their pride can eventually make a big difference. I'll know more about that concept on my own family basis tomorrow.

    I will say one thing. It is possible to live life without either the family of your birth or the family of your birth faith. It's not easy, but it can be done, and it can be done well.

    There is family and then there is family. Sometimes friends become more family than family. Especially if those friends are dealing with the same kinds of family issues.

    I will be leaving a very big family here in Helena, and one very lovely young family member has decided he wants to make this same jump.

    I will really appreciate his presence in a totally new world. He needs to move on and this is a secure way for him to do it. In the meantime I get a whole lot of help with all the moving stuff!

    My daughter is completely torn, but something tells me she will shortly follow--and not alone. Then I will have a very crowded house. Something I'm not used to, but everyone else down there is. Must be a message there.

  3. I'm sorry to hear about your brother Colleen and your family. How long did it take them to tell you?

    I was told weeks after the funeral. I was totally floored that no one told me. I've learned not to react to such an insult, but respond in another way that will not lead to another big argument. I say not much of my own opinion, for that matters not, and it gets me nowhere. At least a family should get together at a funeral and celebrate someone's life, but a family member with an agenda denied me a chance to grieve this family member with them and for very selfish reasons.

    Too many manipulators and operators around these days only thinking about themselves, not really cognizant that they've hurt others by their choice. I've had to swallow my pride, let the things of the past go and give it to God, for the burden is too heavy for me to carry. He willingly takes our burdens and we give our burdens to Him in humility and trust that He will take care of everything and everyone.

    We'll be alright Colleen. We're good family. Even my husband is behaving himself and I know it is because he has steady work. What a difference and God knows how much we have needed this steady work. How blessed we are. My son was here and fixed the computer on his vacation. What a guy.

    I'm so glad that someone in your family will be nearby in NM. Your daughter will adjust to the move and she probably has friends in Montana she can visit when she does move and they can visit her. It will be fun and a good learning experience for her.

    You are in my thoughts and prayers Colleen.

  4. Colleen,
    Technically speaking, we do seem to make a little progress when we do not return the projections of people in out families. It is important to think of creative ways to respond. May you be blessed with that inner peace that comes from making tiny steps of progress. dennis

  5. Regarding Dolan - one observes that he is presented as being 'always smiling & glad to know & meet everyone with tremendous & seemingly endless glee'.

    In real life, there are only two kinds of people who fit this description:

    1) the mentally retarded.
    2) professional liars.

    We can safely rule out #1.....

    This overfed twit does not believe in God, nor has he comprehended much less tried to internalize the core of Jesus' teachings.

    His 'God" is the Roman Catholic Church organization & its Administrators. To that he gives loyalty, absolute obedience & fealty. Not to the God of Abraham.

    The proof of this is found in the substance of his words. Sometimes overtly; sometimes between the lines. He is a 100% Company Man, gleefully singing the Company Song.

    He just happens to be enough of a professional BS artist to make it appear to sound warm & cozy.

    Dolan is the kinder-gentler Inquisitor; trained to play "good cop". He is the very model of this mode of Opus Dei prelate....which I assure you he is. It matters not whether he is a card carrying member or a collaborator.

    It looks like a duck, walks like a duck & quacks like a duck......