Saturday, April 18, 2009

Benedict XVI's choice: NY Archbidhop Dolan is cowardly and disingenuous toward child sex abuse laws

It’s cowardly and disingenuous for Dolan to dodge questions

Statement by Barbara Blaine of Chicago, national president of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (312-399-4747)

It's cowardly and disingenuous for Dolan to dodge questions (as he did this morning) about reforming New York's predator-friendly child sex abuse laws.

At every opportunity, in Wisconsin, Ohio, Maryland, Colorado and other states, Dolan and his brother bishops have deceptively and aggressively fought against sorely-needed 'window' laws that enable child sex abuse victims to expose dangerous predators and those who shield dangerous predators. He will do so in New York too, and he knows it. Not only will Dolan continue to act in ways to keep the identities of predators secret, but it is highly likely he will continue his predecessor's policy of sinking hundreds of thousands of dollars into public relations and lobbyists to stop legislation that would identify predators.

He, like virtually every other high ranking church bureaucrat, fears facing tough questions in open court about how much he knew and how little he did to stop serial predator priests.

The bottom line is that he'll fight for keeping child sex crimes concealed and fight against warning the public about child molesters through the time-tested, open American justice system.

(SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the nation’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. We've been around since 1988 and have more than 9,000 members across the country. Despite the word “priest” in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers. Our website is

Contact David Clohessy (314-566-9790 cell, 314-645-5915 home), Barbara Blaine (312-399-4747), Barbara Dorris (314-862-7688 home), Peter Isely (414-429-7259), John Pilmaier (414 336 8575)

April 15, 2009, 10:16 am

Archbishop Dolan’s First News Conference

By Sewell Chan

Updated, 11:20 a.m. | Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan on Wednesday held his first news conference as the new leader of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York. Asked about Gov. David A. Paterson’s plan to introduce a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in New York, he said the church’s position on the issue was clear, but he declined to specify whether or how actively he would lobby the governor and state lawmakers on the issue.

The new archbishop also spoke of the need for the church to embrace immigrants, to speak with greater “vigor and clarity” in its teachings, and to continue the process of reform that began after the sexual-abuse scandals that rocked the church this decade.

The news conference took place at the New York Catholic Center on the East Side, the morning after a prayer service welcoming Archbishop Dolan to New York, and hours before Archbishop Dolan is to formally take his position in a Mass of installation at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It started on a friendly, cordial note. “Part of the business of being a bishop is being a communicator,” he told the reporters.

A New Style?

The first questioner asked about issues like the ordination of women, prayer on Saturday nights and abortion. “Will you be, sir, an agent of change in New York or an agent of continuity?”

Archbishop Dolan added:

The most sacred responsibility that a bishop has, Tim, is to pass on the faith that remains changeless and has for 2,000 years. So in substance, Timothy, in the quality, no, I couldn’t change things if I wanted, because they’re not mine to change. I’ve often said our goal is to change our lives to be in conformity with Jesus’s church, not to change the teachings of Jesus’s church to be in conformity with what we want.

“That said,” he continued, “changes in style, in the method, or the how” of the message, might be in the works.

So the substance “won’t change, but the style, the how, might.”

He added, “You might be able to let me know in a couple of months if you see changes in style.”

Declining Church Attendance

The second question concerned declining church attendance in among Catholics New York City. “How are you going to get Catholics back to church?” Magee Hickey asked.

“That’s a bigee,” the new archbishop answered.

He decried a phenomenon in which people want to be religious, but without a sense of belonging to a community of faith.

“They want to believe without belonging,” he said. “They don’t mind being the sheep, but without shepherd. They want to be part of the family, but only if they’re the only child.”

Elaborating on that analogy, he added, “We’re not used to our families sitting down and having quality time together… in our natural families. You shouldn’t be surprised that our supernatural families are having the same downward trend. It’s something we have to work on.”

Same-Sex Marriage

The third question, from Gabe Pressman of WNBC, was this: “Do you regard your position as a bully pulpit where you can speak out on public issues, and are you going to do that, and an example would be the recent introduction of a bill by Governor Paterson here to validate same-sex marriages?”

“I don’t know if I like the word bully –” the archbishop began.

Teddy Roosevelt started it,” Mr. Pressman interjected.

Archbishop Dolan continued: “– but I know what you mean, Gabe. Bully means aggressive and mean and sharp and bitter. I don’t know if I want to use the word bully pulpit… but the pulpit of the archbishop of NY has a particular prominence whether I like it or not… I’ll still preach the truth, I’ll still try to apply the immutable teachings of Jesus and his church to contemporary situations. I don’t know if I’d tailor that to New York.

He continued: “The topic you raise - other topics that are controversial that the church has a message to give - you’ll find that I don’t shy away from those things and I wouldn’t sidestep them. … We bishops aren’t into politics, we’re into principles.”

(In response to a brief follow-up question, Archbishop Dolan said the position of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Vatican on same-sex marriage is clear.)

The fourth question, from Laurie Goodstein of The New York Times, concerned whether the new archbishop would directly lobby the governor on same-sex marriage.

You can bet I would be active and present and I hope articulate in this particular position. Being still very new, my first day on the job, I would be eager to sit down with trusted advisers within this archdiocese like Bishop Sullivan and say: Tell me what we’ve done in the past. Tell me what’s worked. Tell me what is the best way to communicate the sentiments of the church on controversial moral issues, and this isn’t the only one… I wouldn’t be hesitant to talk about that in the future. I am, if you don’t mind my saying it, confessing it, hesitant to talk about it today… It might not be too appropriate to get into the particularities of some of these controversial issues…. I hope I can be more forthcoming in the future.

‘Vigor and Clarity’ in Preaching

The fifth question, from Fox News, asked Archbishop Dolan for a defense of the Catholic tradition over other interpretations of Christianity. Archbishop Dolan defended the Catholic tradition, saying:

What we’re doing is choosing what we’ve gratefully inherited from a supernatural point of view, in the same way we embrace and claim our families. … Just as sometimes a child when he or she grows up in the teenage years might grow rebellious, lose their moorings with their family, and then come back to it … I’m thinking, I’m hoping, that’s the way it is with a lot of our people who have decided to depart from the church. It’s very interested what you raised, in that what we see in the sociology of people that leave the church, many of them, most of them, … go to the evangelical mega-churches, where they find the preaching of the Bible, the Gospel, the teachings of Jesus, preached with particular vigor and clarity. I wonder if we have to examine our conscience as a church to say have we done that… or have we gotten a little too subjective… diluting, watering down the essentials of the faith.

The Sex-Abuse Scandals

The next question, from a Reuters correspondent, concerned the sexual-abuse scandals that have rocked the church. Archbishop Dolan replied:

Without taking away from the fact that we have made a lot of progress, a lot of renewal in the church…. we’ve made some very tough decisions and things are beginning to work… the rigor with which we have removed any priest who’s been guilty of this in the past. … we’ve got a lot of trust to re-earn from our people.

To a follow-up question by a reporter who noted that critics had accused Archbishop Dolan of not being forthcoming enough on the sex-abuse issue when he was archbishop of Milwaukee.

Archbishop Dolan struck a conciliatory tone: “Some of those criticisms have been unfair. That said, those who said that I could have done more, that bishops could have done more, they may have a point… ” He said the archdiocese’s safety training and child protection programs had become much more rigorous, with annual audits by “outside forensic experts.”

“Do you keep trying to refine it, do you keep making it better, do you keep learning new things? Yeah,” he said.

He said he had talked with Boy Scout officials about sex scandals in their organization, comparing the “war wounds” experienced by both entities.

Religious Vocations

Rich Lamb of WCBS then asked Archbishop Dolan, “In an instant-gratification society, what’s your argument for organized religion in the form of the Catholic church? … How are you going to persuade young men, young women, to take up the religious life? And are you holding your breath to become a cardinal?”

Archbishop Dolan sidestepped the last question, saying only that he hoped the St. Louis Cardinals, his hometown team, would play the Mets at Citi Field. (He did not specify for whom he would root.)

He said it was important to communicate the message that a religious vocation “is one of the most freeing, liberating, joyful styles of life that you can lead,” and not burdensome, oppressive or dour as is commonly believed.

He recalled visiting, in Milwaukee, visiting cloistered, contemplative religious women who live an austere life devoid of worldly goods. “From a worldly point of view, these are obviously women who should be sad, should be crabby, should be dour, who should be oppressed,” he said. Instead, however, “they are the most free, joyful, loving, happiest women you’d ever meet. And that shouldn’t surprise us.”

“True freedom is the liberty to do whatever we ought, not the freedom to do whatever we want,” he said. “We are at our best when we give away freely what’s most inside of us.”

The experience of giving and sacrifice is what makes us most happy, he said.

The Church and Immigrants

Asked about the plight of undocumented immigrants in New York, Archbishop Dolan said the church and the archdiocese have long been sanctuaries for poor immigrants, like his own Irish ancestors.

“The first place they go is where? The parish, the church,” he said. “The church became the spiritual version of the Statue of Liberty. As the Statue of Liberty kind of fostered a sense of worldly freedom, and a new start and promise, the holy mother church, that other woman, began to be this embracing, loving lady, welcoming the immigrants.”

The challenge now, he said, is that the Catholic church in the United States is now a “settled, accepted religion.”

“We’ve got to revive within the more settled Catholic people a sense of energetic solicitude for the immigrants that are coming today,” he said. “The immigrants have got to be able to look to us for care, for support, for love.”

Statute of Limitations on Sex-Abuse Cases

The next question, from Paul Vitello of The New York Times, concerned legislation in Albany that would lift the statute of limitations for sex abuse crimes — legislation that the church has opposed in other jurisdictions and that Archbishop Dolan testified in opposition to in Wisconsin. Again, the new archbishop of New York deflected the question:

This is an area where I gotta listen. I understand my brother bishops in the state of New York have already been rather clear in addressing this issue. I appreciate what’s been done. I would anticipate I would be a partner and, after today, a leader, in that. If there’s going to be any change in that, if there’s going to be anything new in that, it’s a little premature for me to say. Something tells me, Paul, I’ll be eager to speak out on that issue in the near future. It might not be the best for me to say anything today.

Morale Among Priests

A reporter asked what the archbishop can do to “lift up” the spirits and morale of the priests of the archdiocese.

“The perception of a morale crisis among priests” is widespread, Archbishop Dolan said, while adding that many priests individually express satisfaction and happiness about their work.

“You’ve got an individual reality that priests report a tremendous satisfaction and fulfillment and joy in their ministry,” he said.

Final Words

Archbishop Dolan made some warm remarks about his nieces and nephews and about his large family, many of whom have joined him in New York for his installation as archbishop. He expressed gratitude that his mother was able to come; his father died in 1977.

Archbishop Dolan said he was delighted to see parishioners, colleagues and friends from Missouri, Washington, D.C., and other areas where he had served travel to New York to welcome him. The duty now, he said, “is to make new friends here."


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