This morning Archbishop Dolan offered a 30 minute catechesis to young, English-speaking pilgrims in Madrid. It is worth listening in full but fast forward to 24 minutes in to hear him at his best. Our faith is in a Person…in fact three Persons and everything else is oriented toward that Truth.
Another gem from the archbishop of New York on well-placed faith. Posted on his blog , Archbishop Dolan once again demonstrates his remarkable gift of humor, simple, to the point, wanna-give-the-guy-a-hug delivery. Other than his poor choice of the word “lax” in characterizing some bishops complicity in the abuse scandal, he aptly directs us to put trust in the Lord, not in the hierarchy. Never with Jesus, but inevitably we will be disappointed by the latter. Pretty funny story thrown in there too.
A Blessed Holy Week
Let’s see now: we’ve got a Sunday night series on one of the most corrupt and tawdry families in Church history, the Borgias, with popes, cardinals, bishops, and priests, all part of this big, happy family; we’ve heard non-stop for a decade about abusive priests, (albeit a small minority) and lax bishops who reassigned them; we’ve got front page stories of priests who embezzled money from their parishes; and I saw one not long ago about a priest arrested for DUI.
Yes, all this is scandalous, sinful, sickening, and criminal.
But, it is not new.
Popes, cardinals, bishops, priests, deacons, nuns, brothers are human.
That means, we are sinners.
Granted, when one of us falls, it hurts and shocks more. People rightly expect their spiritual leaders to practice what we preach. When we don’t, we’re hypocrites. And we know what Jesus thought about hypocrites.
But, this is not new.
If you think it worse today than in the past, I ask you to consider the solemn days we will observe next week, Holy Week: Holy Thursday and Good Friday.
Within an hour or so after Jesus had ordained His very first bishops and priests — the twelve apostles — what happened? They fell asleep when He asked them to pray with Him; one betrayed Him for thirty silver coins; one — the first Pope — denied three times even knowing Him; and all but one, the youngest, ran away scared at the time He most needed them. That lonely loyal one, St. John, was there with our blessed Mother at the foot of the cross on a hill called Calvary on a Friday strangely called “good.”
Not a very good start for bishops and priests. Within a few hours after their ordination, 11/12 had abandoned Him. That’s a worse record than even the Mets!
What’s the point? That we should tolerate and overlook the sins and vices of the clergy? Absolutely not! Or, worse, that we priests and bishops should stop seeking the heroic virtue, holiness, and perfection called for by Jesus? Never!
The point is that, if the life, vigor, holiness, and efficacy of the Church depended only upon the virtue of priests and bishops, it would have been dead-on-arrival, not surviving that afternoon when the sun hid in shame and the earth shuddered in sadness.
Our faith is not in popes, cardinals, bishops, priests, or even in monsignors. Nope: our faith is only in Jesus. He and He alone will never let us down; He will never sin; He and He alone will never break a promise; He and He alone deserves our absolute trust and confidence.
That’s why it’s especially tragic when someone leaves Jesus and His Church because of a sin, scandal, or slight from a priest or bishop. If your faith depended on us, it was misplaced to begin with. We priests and bishops might represent Jesus and shepherd His Church, however awkwardly — but we are not Jesus and His Church.
One of the more moving, sad, yet, usually “sacramental” duties I have as a bishop is to meet at times with victim survivors of sexual abuse by clergy, and on occasion their families. Some of them tell me they have left the Church, they hate the Church, they have lost their faith. Most of them, though, tell me that, as shattered, sickened, and angry as they may be, nobody, nowhere, nohow is going to take their faith away! These are an inspiration to me.
The wife of one victim once graciously said to me, “Archbishop, you have helped me regain my faith in the Church! I am putting my trust in you!”
I replied, “I’m flattered and grateful, but, please, don’t put absolute confidence in me. I’ll work everyday to earn and keep your trust, and pray daily I’ll never, ever let you down, but, believe me, sooner-or-later, sadly, I’m afraid I will let you down and disappoint you. Please, put your total faith and trust only in Jesus! Anything else is idolatry!”
Maybe, maybe there’s a decent reason for leaving the Church. I’ve never heard one, but a lot of people apparently think they have good cause, since “ex-Catholics” sadly number in the millions.
However, leaving because of something a priest or bishop may have done or not done is surely not a decent reason.
When I was about six-or-seven, I spent Saturday night with my grandpa and grandma, “Nonnie” and “Pata.” On Sunday morning, we got ready for Mass. Pata wasn’t budging from his EZ chair with the sports page and a second cup of coffee.
“Let’s go, Dad! (that’s what Nonnie called him),” yells Nonnie. “We’ll be late for Mass.”
“I’m not going. I can’t stand that new priest, Father McCarthy,” replies Pata.
“Oh, yeah,” responds Nonnie. “You can’t stand the new bartender up at Nick’s, either, but that sure doesn’t seem to keep you from going up there! Get moving!”
All three of us went to Mass . . .
Frank Sheed, that great Catholic lay theologian of last century, expressed it a bit more eloquently than Nonnie: “We are not baptized into the hierarchy; we do not receive the cardinals sacramentally; will not spend an eternity in the beatific vision of the pope. Christ is the point. I, myself, admire the present pope, but even if I criticized him as harshly as some do, even if his successor proved to be as bad as some of those who have gone before, even if I find the Church, as I have to live with it, a pain in the neck, I should still say that nothing that a pope, a bishop, a priest could do or say would make me wish to leave the Church (although I might well wish that they would).”
Pray for us bishops and priests, please. We’re sorry when we hurt you. We must try harder to conform our lives to Jesus. But don’t ever let our sins drive you away.
A blessed Holy Week!
[CNY Onine] I wish I could tell you that Church leaders were brave, countercultural and prophetic,” I can still hear him say, “but that would not be the truth.”
“With very few exceptions,” he went on, “Catholics in the United States did little or nothing to condemn the dramatically moral evil of slavery, and demand its end. And that is to our shame to this day.”
Those words came from my mentor, friend and teacher, Msgr. John Tracy Ellis, the legendary professor of the history of the Catholic Church in the United States, during his sobering lecture on the Church and slavery, when I was a graduate student at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
Perhaps we have learned our lesson, for Catholic leaders—committed laity, religious sisters and brothers, clergy, bishops—have been on the front lines of the premier civil rights issue today, the right to life. And that is to our credit. And that’s good to ponder during October, Respect Life Month.
The comparison of abortion to slavery is an apt one. The right of a citizen to “own” another human being as property—to control him/her, use him/her, sell him or decide her fate—was, prior to 1865, constitutional, sad to say.
That “right” to own a slave was even upheld by a decision of the U.S. Supreme Court (whose Chief Justice at the time, Roger Brooke Taney, was a Catholic, “personally opposed” to slavery!) in the infamous 1857 Dred Scott Decision, declaring that a slave who had escaped and claimed freedom had to be returned to his “master,” because he had no rights at all.
Tragically, in 1973, in Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court also strangely found in the constitution the right to abortion, thus declaring an entire class of human beings— now not African-Americans, but pre-born infants—to be slaves, whose futures, whose destinies, whose very right to life —can be decided by another “master.” These fragile, frail babies have no civil rights at all.
Our faces blush with shame as we Catholics admit we did so little to end slavery; but we can smile and thank God that the Church has indeed been prophetic, courageous and counter cultural in the right to life movement. As an evangelical pastor recently commented to me, “We may criticize you Catholics for some things, but we have sure been inspired by your early and courageous leadership in the pro-life movement.”
A few years ago, I met with a prominent philanthropist, who described himself—and I always know I’m in for trouble when I hear this—as a “former Catholic.” Now, he went on to say, he was a “progressive,” and would consider a large gift to the Catholic Church “if you changed your position on abortion.”
I must admit I’m afraid I made no headway at all when I patiently tried to explain to him that this was hardly a “position” of the Church that could change, but a conviction grounded in natural law, shared by most other world religions, and, for that matter, dramatically obvious in our American normative principles, which hold that certain rights are “inalienable”—part of the inherent human makeup—the first being the right to life itself.
Many issues and concerns in addition to protecting the baby in the womb fall under the rubric of the right to life—child care, poverty, racism, war and peace, capital punishment, health care, the environment, euthanasia—in what has come to be called the consistent ethic of life. All those issues, and even more, demand our careful attention and promotion.
But the most pressing life issue today is abortion. If we’re wrong on that one, we’re just plain wrong.
When our critics—and their name is legion—criticize us for being passionate, stubborn, almost obsessed with protecting the human rights of the baby in the womb, they intend it as an insult. I take it as a compliment.
I’d give anything if I could claim that Catholics in America prior to the Civil War were “passionate, stubborn, almost obsessed” with protecting the human rights of the slave. To claim such would be a fib. But, decades from now, at least our children and grandchildren can look back with pride and gratitude for the conviction of those who courageously defend the life of the pre-born baby.
I well remember being in Baltimore two years ago for the installation of their new archbishop, Edwin F. O’Brien, a native son of this archdiocese in whom we are very proud. He gave a stirring homily, recounting how his predecessors had often been on the forefront of promoting issues of justice in our country: Cardinal James Gibbons came up, of course, for his defense of the rights of labor back in the 1880s; Cardinal Lawrence Sheehan, who was jeered at a City Council meeting in 1965 for speaking on behalf of open housing for African-Americans; Cardinal William Keeler, criticized for advocating the rights of immigrants. And now, the new archbishop concluded, the tradition has to continue, as the Church must be on the front lines of the premier justice issue of the day: the protection of the right to life of the baby in the womb.
It’s October, Respect Life Month.
New York Magazine featured a great article on Archbishop Dolan of NYC entitled Archbishop of Charm. The writer captures Dolan well: “He is a glad-hander and a backslapper, a tall, energetic, portly Irish-Catholic lug who likes smoking cigars and sipping Jameson’s. He makes a point of saying he’d be far happier talking to me at a parish fish fry than here, jamming himself sideways into an ornate, narrow chair.”
Here are some memorable quotes from the article:
On the Church
He once heard [Pope] Benedict say, “The church is all about yes, yes, not no, no.” “And I thought, Bingo! You know, the church is the one who dreams, the church is the one who constantly has the vision, the church is the one that’s constantly saying ‘Yes!’ to everything that life and love and sexuality and marriage and belief and freedom and human dignity—everything that that stands for, the church is giving one big resounding ‘Yes!’ The church founded the universities, the church was the patron of the arts, the scientists were all committed Catholics. And that’s what we have to recapture: the kind of exhilarating, freeing aspect. I mean, it wasn’t Ronald Reagan who brought down the Berlin Wall. It was Karol Wojtyła. I didn’t make that up: Mikhail Gorbachev said that.”
“I guess one of the things that frustrates me pastorally,” he adds, “is that there’s this caricature of the church—of being this oppressive, patriarchal, medieval, out-of-touch naysayer—where the opposite is true.”
On Gay Marriage
“If you have been gay your whole life and feel that that’s the way God made you, God bless you,” Dolan says. “But I would still say that that doesn’t mean you should act on that. I would happen to say, for instance, that God made me with a pretty short temper. Now, I still think God loves me, but I can’t act on that. I would think that God made me with a particular soft spot in my heart for a martini. Now, I’d better be careful about that.”
So, I ask, is being gay a character flaw?
“Yeah, it would be,” Dolan says—his smile broadening. “And we are all born with certain character flaws, aren’t we?”
But this leaves gay men and lesbians no choice but to form sexual partnerships that will always be seen as sinful. Isn’t that unfair?
Dolan takes a moment to think this over. “There’s no option,” he agrees, still smiling. “But I don’t know if that’s unfairness.”
Sex, he goes on to say, is not a human right, even if modern culture has made it appear that way. But this, he adds, is actually good news. His eyes light up. He seems excited—both by what he’s saying and by the fresh way he’s found to say it.
“The church—this hopeless romantic that she is—holds that sexual love is so exalted that it is the very mirror of the passion and the intimate excitement that God has for us and our relationship. We actually believe that when a man and a woman say ‘I do’ forever, that our love will be faithful, forever freeing, liberating, life-giving. We believe they mean it and they can do it! That’s exciting, that’s enriching, that’s ennobling. That’s a big, fat yes—yes!”