Pope Francis’s appeal for the Church not to focus exclusively on moral issues does not mean that the American bishops have to change their priorities in the public square, Cardinal Timothy Dolan has said.
Speaking to the American Catholic News Service, the president of the US bishops’ conference said: “What he’s saying is that if the perception of the Church is of a scold who’s always nagging and always negative and always fearful, we’re not going to make many converts, because nobody wants to join the Church out of fear or [join a] a paranoid group.
“If we emphasise the positive, the gracious, the embracing, the warm, inviting side of the Church, then we’re going to attract people,” he said. “And that, of course, is what Pope Francis is saying and doing on steroids.”
Cardinal Dolan met Pope Francis at the Vatican on Monday, along with Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, vice president of the US bishops’ conference, Mgr Ronny Jenkins, general secretary, and Mgr J Brian Bransfield, associate general secretary.
The cardinal said the group told the Pope about some of the US bishops’ “pastoral priorities”, including support for immigration reform and objections to the Affordable Care Act, “because it excludes the baby in the womb and the undocumented worker, and also because the implementation of it would place a severe burden on our religious convictions and our consciences” by mandating coverage of contraception in violation of Catholic moral teaching.
Pope Francis “was very attentive to that and he listened very closely”, Cardinal Dolan said.
According to Cardinal Dolan, the US bishops have a “lot of issues we’re hung up on, including immigration, the budget battle, proper health care, world peace, Syria, hunger and the HHS [contraception] mandates,” he said. But the “only one that ever seems to get attention would be any kind of controversial promotion that we would do in defence of life, in defence of marriage and in defence of religious freedom, because they tend to be the more combative issues of the day.”
In an interview published last month Pope Francis said that the Church “cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods… We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the Church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”
Cardinal Dolan said that “when the Holy Father suggested this new strategy, I don’t think he got a longer standing ovation from anybody than he did from the bishops in the United States. Because we’ve been saying for a long time: ‘Listen to everything we say, don’t just listen to us when we speak about your pet issue.’”