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Dolan ready to become new Archbishop

April 13, 2009 5:58:03 PM PDT
New York Archbishop-designate Timothy Dolan said Monday, on the eve of his installation, that he will challenge the idea that the Roman Catholic Church is unenlightened because it opposes gay marriage and abortion. In an exclusive interview with The Associated Press, Dolan said he wants to restore pride in being Catholic, especially given the damage the church endured in the clergy sex abuse scandal, which he called a continuing source of shame.

"One would hope that through education and through the joy that we give by our lives that people will begin to see that these fears and this skepticism we have about the church are unwarranted," Dolan said.

He said Catholics also must defend themselves against bias, which he said was still deeply ingrained in American culture.

"Periodically, we Catholics have to stand up and say, `Enough,"' he said. "The church as a whole still calls out to what is noble in us."

Dolan, 59, will be installed as leader of the Archdiocese of New York before thousands of well-wishers in services Tuesday night and Wednesday in St. Patrick's Cathedral. The former archbishop of Milwaukee, Dolan succeeds New York Cardinal Edward Egan, who is retiring at age 77.

In his sermons this week, Dolan says he will ask Catholics not to be so consumed by their problems in these difficult times that they turn inward and away from the community.

His daily life has been a whirlwind since the Vatican announced his appointment seven weeks ago. He celebrated Mass on Easter Sunday in Milwaukee then flew with relatives to New York.

On Monday, speaking in the archbishop's residence, which is attached to St. Patrick's through a dining room door, he said he was still unpacking.

The job of New York archbishop is the most visible in the church in the United States, and has been filled by men who became giants not only in the American church, but also in broader society. Among them are Cardinals Francis Spellman and John O'Connor.

Dolan will have a daily reminder of his predecessors' achievements every moment he's in the residence. Imposing portraits of the clergymen line the entrance hall and stairways.

On Feb. 23, the day the Vatican announced his appointment, Dolan asked Egan to take him to the crypt in St. Patrick's, where the previous archbishops are buried.

Dolan said he wanted to pray for them and ask for their prayers, and to see where he will be buried, so he can remember his goal: to live a holy life and "be with God forever in Heaven."

Dolan is known for defending church orthodoxy with a friendly face. At one service in Milwaukee, he donned a cheesehead hat in honor of the Green Bay Packers. Dolan often jokes about his girth; he had said that one of his previous church jobs was so demanding that he forgot to eat and lost one of his chins.

Still, Dolan said he struggles with how best to convey Catholic teaching. Among his heroes is New York Archbishop Fulton Sheen, who was a 20th century pioneer in TV and radio evangelism.

Dolan was given a rosary used by Sheen and said he prays with it every day. He plans to talk about the church "as our spiritual family," which people need despite its flaws.

"We need you. We love you. The church is your family," he plans to tell alienated Catholics. "Please come back. We miss you.

We're sorry if we hurt you. We'll listen to you. It's not the same without you."

The archbishop is taking the New York job at a time when same-sex couples need only drive over the state border to be married - in Connecticut, Massachusetts and later this year, Vermont. New York Gov. David Paterson ordered state agencies last May to respect out-of-state gay marriages.

Dolan said he would challenge any efforts to legalize same-sex marriage in New York, but insisted that his position was not anti-gay.

"We love them," he said of gays and lesbians. "We would defend their rights."

However, marriage must remain as it always has been, between one man and one woman, he said.

"If we let that definition of marriage go and begin to include other relationships, it will be to a detriment to the civilization," he said.

Regarding the fight against abortion, Dolan said that the University of Notre Dame had made a mistake by inviting President Barack Obama to give this year's commencement address, in light of Obama's support for abortion rights.

Dolan said that the invitation and the honorary degree the president will receive sent the wrong signal to students that "we hold him up as a model to you."

But the archbishop said it would also be wrong to freeze out abortion rights supporters and that Catholics should instead engage them. He said Obama could have been invited to Notre Dame to speak without honoring him.

"The word we have to keep using is engagement," said Dolan. He does not deny Holy Communion to Catholic politicians who break with church teaching. Obama called Dolan on the day of his appointment and the archbishop says he prays for the president daily.

Dolan joked that he had crows instead of butterflies in his stomach at the prospect of taking over the New York archdiocese, which serves 2.5 million parishioners and is the nation's second-largest diocese after Los Angeles.

But he said, "I hope at my core, I hear Jesus say, `Timothy be not afraid,"' he said.

"Then I take a deep breath and say, `Let's go,"' he said, "and I'm going to enjoy it and I'm going to give it my best."


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