We asked New York's Cardinal Timothy Dolan for his reaction to the interview with Pope Francis published last week in America. Here's what he had to say about it:
America: Many found Pope's Francis' words blunt and more than a little shocking. What was your gut reaction?
Dolan: My gut reaction? "Yippie!" I wanted to sing out a loud “Alleluia!” For one, I was so exhilarated that a Pope would even sit down for such a lengthy, personal interview. All of us take risks in doing this—as I am right now with you—but it’s worth the risk. Then, to have a Pope get so personal about his style of prayer, his models of holiness, his hopes and frustrations. It reminded of an ancient title for the bishop of Rome, Servant of the Servants of God. He’s not aloof from us, above us. To use his words, he’s walking with us.
How do you think U.S. bishops will respond?
The jury’s back: We bishops welcome and applaud his remarks. We bishops have placed the new evangelization as our top priority, as both Blessed John Paul II and Pope-emeritus Benedict asked us. We realize that perception is a pivotal factor in the effectiveness of that sacred task. If the church is perceived as crabby, nagging, hung-up on a few “pet peeves,” or judgmental, as unjust and inaccurate as that perception might be, we can’t evangelize very well. What Pope Francis has done is popped the blister of that perception, and we bishops cheer him on. We are about a yes, not about a no.
Some, who have felt marginalized by the church, have found great hope in the interview. Others, who prefer perhaps a more disciplined, doctrinally oriented church, have apparently been thrown for a loop by them. Are both sides missing something or is it possible that his positions could lead to even more discord within the church, rather than the healing Pope Francis seems to be seeking?
Yeah, both sides miss something, or, rather, someone. Pope Francis is probably frustrated that all the attention is on him, his interview, his statements. He wants the attention on Jesus. What he’s really telling us is, first things first! Seek ye first…! If we emphasize Jesus, His Person, teaching, salvation, invitation, death and resurrection, everything else works out. My friend, Father Bob Barron, observes that, when he helps a foreign visitor who wants to understand baseball, he doesn’t start with a technicality like the infield fly rule. Start with the beauty, majesty, poetry, legend of the drama of the game! That’s what the Holy Father is suggesting: Start with Jesus, the way, the truth, the life. Start with the Truth, not the consequences!
You have certainly been considered a welcoming face of the church in your day-to-day ministry, but based on the pope’s comments, are you reconsidering any aspect of your strategy, if that’s the right word, of engagement with American culture, secularlists, lapsed Catholics, regular pew sitters?
Thanks. I hope so. I’m a rookie compared to Francis. Yes, his observations on discernment move me. I’m always worried about where God seems to be absent. But Francis reminds me He’s always there, I’m just not noticing Him. That takes discernment. Where is He as I decide to merge a parish? Where is He as I mull over the budget? Where is He as I worry about dwindling Mass attendance. Pope Francis claims He’s there! In all those neuralgic areas where we think He’s sleeping…No. He’s there. I better discern that presence and that direction.