Sunday, May 03, 2009

Tim On... Everything

Another Sunday... if things keep up as they've been going in New York, another packed house for the new Archbishop's 10.15 Mass in St Patrick's Cathedral... and already this morning, another major Tim Dolan interview -- this time with one of the finest religion-writers around: Gary Stern of the suburban Westchester Journal-News:
Archbishop Timothy Dolan plans to turn up the Catholic Church's support for immigration reform, saying that Catholics cannot sidestep the controversial issue if the church is to maintain its historic role as a chief protector of immigrants' rights.

In a wide-ranging interview with The Journal News, Dolan said that he "bristles" when Catholic politicians do not support immigrants.

"I'm thinking, 'Darn it, I'm glad politicians didn't say this when your great-great-grandfather came over, or you might not be here today,' " he said.

The highly visible 10th archbishop of New York, who's been all about town since his installation on April 15, also said that:

- He doesn't know whether homosexuality is in-born and that experts are engaged in a "respectable debate" on the matter.

- It is a priority of his to make Hispanic Catholics - the largest and fastest-growing demographic in the archdiocese - feel fully at home in what may still be perceived as an Irish church.

- Some parishes will "probably" have to share priests at some point because of declining numbers, but that vocations to the priesthood will grow if the church can communicate the rewards of the priestly life.

- He is committed to maintaining and even strengthening the Catholic school system, although some neighborhood schools may have to be merged to create stronger, affordable schools.

- He plans to meet with Monsignor Charles Kavanagh, the former vicar of education who was removed from ministry in 2002 because of allegations of sexual abuse and whose case has reached no public resolution. Dolan said he cannot otherwise comment on the case....

Dolan said he plans to accept as many invitations to parishes as possible over the next year - especially when he's promised a chicken dinner.

"I didn't come with some prepackaged script or this strategy handed to me by Pope Benedict XVI," he said. "My major duty now is to get to know, love and serve the people of this vast archdiocese. The best way I can do that is by getting around to see them."

Dolan was typically colorful and emphatic, leaning toward a reporter as he tried to drive home his priorities and explain how he sees things. He talked often about the need to change perceptions of Catholic life in New York - that no one wants to be priests, that the school system is dying, that the growing Hispanic population is a problem of some sort.

He wants Catholics to take a fresh look at their church - its traditions, history and universality - so that they will see today's issues in a larger context.

He referred several times to Scripture to illustrate that "modern" challenges are often nothing new. About the need to react to demographic shifts by moving church resources from cities to suburbs and exurbs, he said: "These days, when we go to Mass and read from the Acts of the Apostles, these days after Easter, you're always seeing the apostles were thinking the same things: 'Uh oh, somebody better go to Corinth because people there are saying they want to hear about Jesus.' "...

Dolan said that most Catholic New Yorkers are probably not aware of how aggressively the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference in Washington is advocating for immigration reform, including the possibility of legalization for illegal immigrants. He said that he was disappointed when he heard about a big rally for immigration rights at a Seventh-Day Adventist Church in New York because he wants Catholic churches to host such rallies.

"The church must be seen, as it has in the past, as the great protector of the immigrant," he said.

Dolan has made clear that he will fight Gov. David Paterson's call for same-sex marriage in New York state. Asked whether gays and lesbians are born with their sexual orientation, he said he could not answer.

"I am aware that there seems to be a respectable debate among the experts - that is, is one's sexual orientation something that we're born with or something that's born of culture, how we're raised," he said. "I don't know the answer to that."

As far as two pressing matters - the declining numbers of priests and the struggles facing Catholic schools - Dolan sees better days ahead.

He said the archdiocese must plan for the day when priests may have to serve more than one parish. But he said that gloom and doom forecasts can become a self-fulfilling prophesy and that Catholics have to have "solid Christian hope" that God will provide priests.

"We need to say, wait a minute, fellas," Dolan said. "You bet we have problems, but we're also serving a man who happens to be the son of God, who told us he would be with us until the end of time and that the gates of hell will not prevail against us. And that we should not be afraid. So come aboard. You're going to love it."...

Dolan said he was aware of the case of Monsignor Charles Kavanagh, the former vicar of development for the archdiocese who was removed from ministry in 2002 after a former seminarian charged they had an improper relationship with romantic overtones decades before. Kavanagh received a church trial in 2006, but there has been no public resolution of the case, and many priests have complained about his treatment.

Dolan said he was aware Kavanagh had been a "very popular, effective pastor."

"I am aware that I have to take a careful look at that case," Dolan said. "I look forward to sitting down with him."

Dolan described his predecessor, Cardinal Edward Egan, who oversaw Kavanagh's banishment, as a man of "eminent fairness and justice."

"My gut would be that whatever Cardinal Egan did was the right thing to do," Dolan said.

The 10th archbishop of New York, who grew up in St. Louis and served since 2002 as archbishop of Milwaukee, said he feels like a kid when being driven around New York, hanging out the window and taking it all in.

"As we pass Radio City and pass the Ed Sullivan Theater and pass Times Square," he said, "the greatest challenge is to pass the hot dog carts and not stop."

At the same time, he said, Catholic life is remarkably the same from place to place.

"This is the third diocese I've been in and, in general, you will find the needs, the hopes, the aspirations, the dreams, the worries of people to be rather similar," he said. "So I'm always finding myself - pardon me for getting spiritual here, but if I can't get spiritual, who can? - finding myself sensing, shall we say, the universal embrace of the church."
Speaking of the banished, several reports indicate that, among others, Dolan's already reached out to James McCarthy -- the New York auxiliary forced to resign in 2002 after admitting to allegations of several affairs with adult women.

Still a beloved figure among the Gotham presbyterate, McCarthy -- a longtime priest-secretary to John Cardinal O'Connor -- now works in the private sector upstate. While the 66 year-old lives as a layman, he remains listed among the world's bishops in the Annuario Pontificio, the Holy See's yearly directory of the global church.

In an aside during his Journal-News session, Dolan told Stern that, having dealt with allergies all his life, their peak season's at hand.

"The two months of May and October I always found the worst," the archbishop said.

"And those on the Catholic calendar are dedicated to the Blessed Mother. I would say to her ‘What are you trying to do to me?’"

Making his first appearance in the nation's capital since being named to the Stateside church's most prominent post, Dolan will return to his alma mater -- DC's Catholic University of America -- later this month to headline a major public symposium celebrating the 25th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the US and the Holy See.

Holder of a CUA doctorate in American church history, the New York prelate will deliver an address on the history of Washington-Vatican relations, the establishment of which were once banned by Federal law.

* * *
Speaking of the archbishops of the "capital of the world," today at dusk marks nine years since the great O'Connor, felled by brain cancer at 80, passed from our midst.

Over the years since, no shortage of folks -- many who loved him... and even some who didn't -- couldn't help but remark that things just weren't the same without the "happy warrior" of Madison Avenue: the shy, insomniac admiral, quiet by nature, who became the undisputed voice of credible conscience both for the city and well beyond.

They really can't say that anymore -- in the second successor so readily and often compared to him, he is risen....

And, in that, he got the last laugh after all.

The following video -- a 1994 sitdown with Charlie Rose from the parlor of "The Powerhouse" -- is always good for a re-air...

...and on the occasion of O'Connor's death, Rose convened an ecumenical panel -- a rabbi, two priests and the atheist music critic Nat Hentoff -- to celebrate his life and grieve his loss.

May the nation's "good priest" rest forever in blessed peace. But even so, make no mistake about it -- these days, Jack is back.

PHOTO: Getty