Talking Catholic-Jewish relations, popes and holidays

Here’s hoping you had a good holiday.

Just before Holy Week and Passover, Archbishop Dolan and Arnold Eisen — chancellor of the (Conservative) Jewish Theological Seminary — had a conversation about Catholic-Jewish relations at the seminary in NYC.

Actually, Dolan spoke. Then the two religious leaders chatted.

According to Catholic New York and the Jewish Week, Dolan said that Catholic-Jewish relations were characterized for a long time by “grievances” but could now focus on a “a dialogue of mutuality,” which I believe means issues of mutual concern.

One issue that Jews and Catholics face, Dolan said, is “stopping the leakage of faithful.”

Dolan acknowledged Jewish support for the beatification of Pope John Paul II, who may have done more for Christian-Jewish relations than anyone. “I’ve been moved by how many of you have expressed your desire to join with us Catholics in thanking God for the gift of John Paul’s leadership,” he said.

On the always emotional question of Pope Pius XII’s record of condemning the Holocaust, CNY reported that Dolan said this:


“As a trained historian, I very much look forward to the opening of the Vatican archives at the earliest possible date,” he said. “The Catholic Church cannot fear the truth.” But he added, “I do resist the circular argument being advanced by many that says the purpose for opening the Vatican archives is to prove the guilt of Pius XII. We must remember that it is impossible to judge moral responsibility when the facts themselves have not yet been clearly established.”


On the same question, Eisen said: “I’m going to leave it to the experts and activists on the Pope Pius XII matter. He [Archbishop Dolan] said he wants to start without preconceptions and with openness. I welcome the initiative.”

On the possibility that Pius could be beatified before the historical record is clear, Eisen said: “I think there will be a certain amount of disappointment if that turns out to be the case. I understand the Church is also moving ahead with the beatification of Pope John Paul II, and people will welcome that.”

CNY also reported this exchange:


During the informal dialogue between the archbishop and the chancellor, Eisen asked, rhetorically, what lesson should be drawn from Easter and Passover, and Archbishop Dolan answered, “The towering necessity of hope” symbolized by Israel’s escape from bondage in Egypt and Christ’s resurrection from the dead and promise of eternal life.

Still a charmer after all these months

I’ve lost track of how many people have sent me links to New York magazine’s profile of Archbishop Dolan in the current issue.

I read it a few days ago, but don’t really know what to say about it.

It’s a fine piece, well written and researched. But it pretty much covers the same ground that everyone covered a few months ago when the big guy showed up in town.

The headline is “The Archbishop of Charm.” Well, yeah.

Robert Kolker writes:


His entire career, Dolan, 59, has approached the job of being a priest not as a daunting paterfamilias but as that heckuva-nice-guy you meet at some wedding who turns out to be a priest. He is what other priests call a “lifer,” someone who found his calling early and steered a course to the seminary right after grammar school (last spring, his first-grade teacher flew in to do the reading at his installation in Manhattan). He grew up in Ballwin, Missouri, the oldest of five children. His mother still lives in the St. Louis area, but his father, an aircraft engineer, died of a heart attack, in 1977—just nine months after Dolan was ordained. “He doesn’t have to put on any kind of show,” says Monsignor Michael Curran, a Brooklyn priest who has known Dolan for two decades. “He’s very comfortable with who he is and what he’s been called to be. And he uses his personality, his human gifts, to communicate a very powerful spiritual message. Maybe a psychologist could put it better, but I think there’s probably not a trace of an identity crisis in the man.”


Yeah, that’s Dolan alright.

The most interesting aspect of the profile, it seems to me, is how to shows Dolan’s ambivalence about the Great Gay Debate. Of course, he opposes gay marriage. He is Roman Catholic archbishop, after all.

But I get the feeling that Dolan would really rather talk about other things.

When I interviewed Dolan shortly after his arrival, I asked if he believed that homosexuality was inborn. He said that he didn’t know and would leave it up to the experts.

He tells Kolker:

“If you have been gay your whole life and feel that that’s the way God made you, God bless you. 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.”

Religious leaders can’t go along with release of Lockerie bomber

There was little talk of forgiveness in NBC’s report last night about what NY religious leaders have to say on the release of the Lockerie bomber from a Scottish prison.

You can read a full report HERE, but here are a few snippets:

Archbishop Dolan: “While as a follower of Jesus Christ I believe in mercy, I also believe that mercy must always be tempered with justice. Mercy can be demonstrated in ways other than by releasing a man responsible for so much pain, suffering, and death.”

Episcopal Bishop of NY Mark Sisk (that’s him): “It seems to me to be a truly terrible misunderstanding of what compassion is. It truly undercut the sensibilities of those who are the survivors.  And in that sense, it is, I think horrific.”

Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, head of the New York Board of Rabbis: “I cannot forgive this person (Al-Megrahi), I cannot forgive Adolf Hitler. I cannot forgive Timothy McVeigh.”

Imam Mohammed Shamsi Ali of the Islamic Cultural Center of New York: “I don’t want this to be a signal or gesture to the other criminals around to say at the end of the day you will be a heroic one. Terrorism is terrorism and we want terrorism to be stopped in any way and in any means possible.”

Pope defines bishop’s role

I’m off again this week, watching the kids until camp starts next week.

But I’ll post now and then.

I was interested to read about the pope’s remarks this morning when giving the pallium to his new archbishops, Tim Dolan among them.

The story from Catholic News Service is here.

Interesting that he said that bishops should not act like “prison guards.”

“To shepherd the flock means to be careful that the sheep find the right nourishment,” which for Christians is the word of God, he said.

For metropolitan archbishops, only

You may have heard or read that Archbishop Dolan left yesterday for Rome, where he will on Monday (June 29) receive a pallium.

A pallium?

It is a wool stole that goes around an archbishop’s neck.

Every archbishop named in the past year to head an archdiocese will get one.

The pallium represents Dolan’s authority over the Archdiocese of New York and the other dioceses of New York state. See, he’s a metropolitan archbishop.

The pope wears a pallium, too. He has authority over a larger jurisdiction.

Church historian Christopher Bellitto explained in his book “101 Questions and Answers on Popes and the Papacy:”


A  pallium is a circular piece of white wool about three inches wide marked by six black silk crosses, four of which are decorated with pins, with two slips of wool a bit over a foot long hanging down the front and back. A metropolitan archbishop’s pallium symbolizes his jurisdiction over a  geographic area, while the pope’s pallium represents the universal jurisdiction as Peter’s successor that is his alone. Pope Benedict XVI wears an elaborate form of the pallium: a version larger and longer than the usual one that looks like a stole tossed over the left shoulder, with red crosses instead of black. This style was used in the ancient church: mosaics depict early bishops wearing such a pallium, although it often looks like the decoration on their vestment, instead.


By the way, I think it’s safe to say that most media coverage of Dolan so far has been quite positive, if not enthusiastic. He’s a tremendously likeable fellow and there is, to be honest, a great sense of relief after a decade of no media access to Cardinal Egan.

But the Archdiocese has to be especially thrilled by some recent columns by the Daily News’ Joanne Molloy, who is absolutely fawning in her coverage of the New Boss.

She has a column today that is datelined “EN ROUTE TO VATICAN CITY,” which appears to mean that she’s going on the trip to Rome. (Yeah, I’m jealous.)

She writes:


He is charged with helping not only Catholics but all poor New Yorkers as head of the local branch of Catholic Charities, which wants to halve America’s poverty rate in 10 years.

But, for now, it was time to leave the world’s problems behind and take to the plane.

“I’m so excited,” said Suzie Palmgren of upstate Bearsville as she boarded the Alitalia flight that somehow seemed safer with Dolan on board.

“This is the first time I’ve left my husband and kids behind in 19 years.”

Archbishop Dolan likes joyful priests and Twinkies

I was a day late, but I got around last night to watching Benedict Groeschel’s interview with Archbishop Dolan on EWTN.

It was Groeschel’s Sunday Night Live show, which airs at 7 p.m. most weeks from St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers. (I probably would have attended if it wasn’t on Father’s Day. My kids wouldn’t have understood.)

You can watch it on Saturday at 5 p.m.

There were a lot of bellylaughs from Dolan, as you would expect. And some funny asides and quirky moments from Father Benedict, who has recovered well from a stroke of a few months ago but clearly doesn’t have the energy he did a few years back.

The show started with Groeshel calling his guest “my boss” and mistakenly calling him “your eminence” at one point.

“Some of these guys become cardinals,” Groeschel said with a shrug.

Most of the show focused on this being the Year of the Priest.

“One of the more towering pastoral challenges we have is to reclaim a sense of joy in the priesthood and a sense of appreciation for the gift of the priesthood in the church,” Dolan said. “I think this Year of the Priest might allow us to do that.”

He continued: “For the past 40 years, what do we have? A lot of questioning. A lot of criticism. A lot of scandal. A lot of departures from the priesthood. Who knows what that is all about. But that has left wounds in the priesthood.

“What you gently see coming about in the life of the church, I think, is a rediscovery of the mystery, the message, of the priesthood. And I’m thinking this Year of the Priest might be a real booster shot to accomplish that in the church universal. I’m raring to go for this.”

Even more so than usual, Dolan spoke with a barely containable…exuberance.

He talked about leaving Thursday for Rome to receive his pallium from the pope (the pallium being a wool vestment that goes to metropolitan archbishops who oversee neighboring dioceses in limited ways).

Sunday happened to be Groeschel’s 50th anniversary as a priest. He and Dolan reminisced a bit about the “beautiful early days” before Vatican II made things nutty.

Groeschel: “I think the vocation ceased to be and what happened is it became a job or a profession. Don’t ever call the priesthood a profession.”

The duo talked a lot about the declining numbers of vocations to the priesthood.  Dolan offered an explanation that I’ve heard many times: “The problem is not that the Lord isn’t calling. He is calling. The problem is that we’re not listening.”

When Groeshel said that as a boy, he wanted to be a fireman, Dolan responded: “Well, you’re still saving the people from fire!”

Dolan laughed long and hard. I mean hard.

When he calmed a bit, Dolan said that he thought one reason that we have fewer priests is that fewer men are taught by nuns as children — a very plausible point.

Dolan said that the key — and he told me this several times in an interview — is that priests have to go about their lives with joy. Parents will not want their boys to become priests if their parish priests seem uninspired and tired all the time.

“Who wants to join a group of crabs?” he said, laughing. “Some of us have become that way.”

They talked a bit about the rise of a “new atheism,” which Dolan said might be a good thing if it shakes up the faithful. “I wonder if for too long we maybe coasted…” he said.

Groeshel started a conversation about what it means to be an orthodox Catholic. He said he did not like to be called conservative: “Conservative means preserving the status quo. I think the status quo should be dynamited.”

Groeschel said he has started a campaign to get nuns to wear habits, and acknowledged that he has gotten at least one angry letter from a dissenting nun.

He also came down hard on Catholic colleges and universities that do a poor job “representing the Catholic faith.” Dolan grimaced when Groeschel brought it up.

Groeschel came up with this unique, Groeschelian statement:

“I would think there is a special place in purgatory for those who run so-called Catholic colleges and universities that are not really living up to it. And when they get there in purgatory, they have bubble-gum flavored soda and Twinkies to live off for a long, long time.”

Well, the Archbishop of New York responded without missing a beat: “I wouldn’t mind that. I like Hostess Twinkies.”

Benedict Groeschel and Tim Dolan: A comedy team in the making?

Father Benedict Groeschel, the Franciscan friar who has been a popular writer and speaker for decades, has in recent years been doing a live TV show on EWTN on Sunday nights.

It’s called Sunday Night Live with Father Benedict Groeschel and is on most Sundays at 7 p.m. — live from St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers.

People call in with questions and comments from all over and Father Benedict has guests on to interview.

This Sunday, on Father’s Day, he’ll have Archbishop Tim Dolan. It promises to be an interesting, engaging and amusing show.

If you’ve seen Groeschel speak, you know that he is a quirky fellow with an unpredictable sense of humor. He speaks with the freedom of someone who has been writing and speaking on just about everything for a long, long time. He doesn’t hold back when offering his conservative takes on Catholic theology or the issues of the day.

And Dolan, we all know by now, is also a rather outspoken guy with a lot on his mind.

It should make for fun television, even if you would never otherwise watch EWTN, the very traditional and often stodgy Catholic TV network.

I understand that Groeschel, who was hit by a car a few years ago and suffered a stroke a couple of months ago, is winding down his long and active ministry.

NYS Catholic bishops: ‘No compelling reason’ for same-sex marriage

The New York State Catholic Conference has just released a new statement on the NYS Assembly’s passage of a same-sex marriage bill.

And here it is:


We face today the prospect of a law in New York which would radically change the timeless institution of marriage.  As pastors of citizens from every corner of our great state, we stand unified in our strong opposition to such a drastic measure.

Throughout history, different cultures have had different customs regarding marriage. But the one constant has been the conviction that marriage is the union of a man and a woman in an enduring bond, ordered for the procreation and stable rearing of children.  Regrettably, the state Assembly has voted to redefine what nature and our common heritage long ago defined for us. We fervently pray that members of the state Senate will stand firm in opposition to this ill-advised legislation, and we call on Catholics and all New Yorkers to contact their Senators to make their voices heard.

Our opposition to this bill is based not only on Catholic teaching regarding human sexuality and the Sacrament of Marriage. Just as importantly, it is based on reason, sound public policy, and plain common sense, as we stated in our 2008 pastoral statement on same-sex “marriage.” (The statement can be found at To briefly reiterate, the state has a compelling legal interest in promoting marriage between men and women in order to create stable families and provide for the safety, health and well being of children.  The state has no such compelling legal interest in recognizing a relationship between two people of the same sex.

If there are injustices against those in relationships other than marriage, those injustices can certainly be reformed and corrected in a way other than by drastically redefining marriage.

We close with a final point from our 2008 statement:

“(W)e want to make absolutely clear that our firm beliefs about marriage … must not be misconstrued to be in any way a condemnation of homosexual people or an attack on their human dignity. Our Church teaches, and we affirm, that we must treat our homosexual sisters and brothers with dignity and love, as we would all God’s children. Indeed the Catechism of the Catholic Church warns that any form of prejudice or hatred – “every sign of unjust discrimination” – against homosexual people should be avoided. (CCC 2358)

The statement is signed by:

+Timothy M. Dolan
Archbishop of New York

+Howard J. Hubbard
Bishop of Albany

+Nicholas DiMarzio
Bishop of Brooklyn

+Edward U. Kmiec
Bishop of Buffalo

Rev. Terry R. LaValley
Diocesan Administrator of Ogdensburg

+ Matthew H. Clark
Bishop of Rochester

+William F. Murphy
Bishop of Rockville Centre

+Robert J. Cunningham
Bishop of Syracuse

Dolan still going…and going

New York’s fascination with Archbishop Dolan has probably ebbed a bit after his breathless first few weeks.

But Dolan is still very much on the move.

My colleague Theresa Juva was at Maryknoll on Saturday when Dolan ordained a new Maryknoll priest, Father Stephen Taluja (whose story is quite interesting, as he was raised a Sikh in India).

And yesterday, colleague Christine Pizzuti was at Holy Name of Mary Church in Croton to watch Dolan rededicate the church, mark Pentecost and do three Confirmations. He also addressed the parish’s past problems (Holy Name lost its last two pastors to sex abuse allegations and each was later defrocked).

Dolan said that he talked to the current pastor, Father Michael Keane, by phone before he came.

“He went on to tell me some of your recent, painful history,” Dolan told the congregation. “I’m here on Pentecost Sunday to let you know I love you very much.”

Dolan doesn’t waste any time.

I recently learned that Dolan spends his time in the car — and there’s a lot of it when you’re running a 10-county archdiocese — making phone calls. He calls people who sent him notes and letters. He calls people he has been asked to pray for. He calls people to offer a kind word or to thank them for a job well done.

He calls. He makes contact. He relates.

He is Archbishop Connection.

Photos: Mark Vergari,

He’s not really overweight, is he?

The house was rocking — so to speak — at St. Francis of Assisi in West Nyack last night.

I don’t want to overstate Archbishop Tim Dolan’s appeal only weeks after he got to town. But, boy, people were excited.

There were more than 1,000 people there, with hundreds sitting in folding chairs and people lined up along the walls. And people seemed to be excited about the excitement that Dolan brings.

Everyone I talked to said something about a fresh start for the Catholic Church in New York. It’s like a big, slow exhale…

Dolan was funny, of course. He made quite a few cracks about food and his expanding waistline (which really isn’t that large, now, is it?).

And he emphasized that all the fuss is not about him. It’s about Jesus.

Dolan said that when he was in Milwaukee, a fellow from out of town said he wanted to become a Milwaukee priest because he wanted to serve with Dolan. But Dolan claims he told the guy that he was only a hamburger away from a heart attack and that the fellow needed to serve the church and not Tim Dolan.

A telling story in the midst of Dolan mania.

By the way, quite a few people came up to me to tell me that they liked my blog or my overall work covering religion. It was quite surprising and means a lot. So thanks.

In a bit, I’m heading to the Big City to watch a bunch of United Methodists perform random acts of kindness.

They’re doing it as part of a new national initiative called RETHINK CHURCH.

What exactly does it mean to perform random acts of kindness in New York City. ? I’ll find out.

Photos by Vincent DiSalvio / The Journal News