NEW ORLEANS (CNS) -- New York
Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan suggested to more than 400 priests of the state of
Louisiana that humbly and openly sharing the "wounds" and shortcomings of the
church might bring those who are alienated back to the practice of the faith.
Using the image of the church as
"our supernatural family, which we, as priests, are called to image," Cardinal
Dolan told the opening session of the three-day Louisiana Priests' Convention that
human weakness has been a part of the church from the beginning.
"The church is not just our
family -- it's also a dysfunctional family," he said Sept. 19
during what is one of the largest statewide gatherings of priests in the U.S. "Everybody
today talks about dysfunctional families. Have you ever met a functional one?"
Cardinal Dolan, who spoke on the
theme of "Shepherding Today as Priest, Prophet and King," said in the jubilee
year of 2000, St. John Paul II "apologized publicly" 54 times for "the specific
sins of the church."
"That's more than once a week,"
Cardinal Dolan said. "And Pope Francis surely has done so."
The cardinal said while the
world is "ever ready to headline the flaws of the church," the dynamic changes
when "her loyal members are more than willing to own up to them."
If that happens, people
estranged from the church "might just take a second look," he said.
"Their favorite caricature of
the church is as a corrupt, arrogant, self-righteous, judgmental hypocrite,"
Cardinal Dolan said. "I sure don't have any problem admitting that, at times,
it can be tough to love the church because of her imperfections. The mystical
body of Christ has lots of warts."
However, Cardinal Dolan noted,
it is clear from the Acts of the Apostles, in particular the conversion of St.
Paul, that "Jesus Christ and his church are inseparable."
When Saul was blinded and
knocked off his horse on his way to Damascus, Cardinal Dolan said, the voice he
heard was, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?"
"He didn't say, 'Why do you
persecute my people?' Nope. 'My followers?' Nope. 'My disciples?' Nope. To be
rather blunt, Jesus and his church are the same. Christ and his church are one.
Jesus Christ and his church are synonymous," the cardinal continued.
"My brother priests, as we
consider the priesthood, preserving the unity of Christ and his church is
perhaps the most significant pastoral challenge we shepherds face today,"
Cardinal Dolan said. "I'm not telling you anything (new) -- you're all on
the front lines. The dominant opinion and sentiment that we face today is, 'We
want Christ; we want nothing to do with that stupid church.'"
A YouTube video by evangelical
Jefferson Bethke -- "Why I hate religion but love Jesus" -- "went viral with 27
million views" because of that sentiment, he said.
"Such is the popular and the
successful crusade now to annul the spousal bond between Christ and his bride,
the church," Cardinal Dolan said. "We hear this all the time, right? 'I prefer
spirituality to religion; I want the Lord as my shepherd, as long as I'm the
only one there; I want Christ as my king in a kingdom of one; I'll believe, I
won't belong; God is my father, and I'm the only child; Jesus is my general,
but there's no army.' They want Christ without his church."
Cardinal Dolan said Pope Francis
has made it clear that a Christian cannot be "a nomad" but is someone who
"belongs to a people, the church. A Christian without a church is something
"We live in a world that often
considers belief in God a private hobby, at best, a dangerous ideology, at
worst," Cardinal Dolan said. "The church is considered superstitious,
irrational, backwards, useless, counterproductive, out of it. So, what do we
do, my fellow museum pieces?"
Cardinal Dolan suggested to the
435 priests that they evangelize by developing "a theology and a practice of
the church as a family." He said it's not a new idea; it's one that also
resonate with the Jewish community, which is experiencing similar challenges of
keeping young people within the practice of their faith.
Cardinal Dolan said the late New
York newspaper columnist Jimmy Breslin once wrote: "We Catholics might not be very
good at being members of the church, but we never leave. We're all just one
chest pain away from going back."
"Not anymore, I'm afraid,"
Cardinal Dolan said. "I don't know about you, but every time the Pew Research
Center puts out a new study, every time CARA (Center for Applied Research in
the Apostolate) announces more statistics, I, as a priest, a shepherd, a
prophet and a king, hold my breath because the percentage of people who claim
to be ex-Catholic or 'none' rises a couple of points."
If people with a cynical or
jaded view of the church experience priests who "prize honesty and humility"
and are "contrite and eager" to reform the flaws of the church, then they may
begin to view the church as "a warm, tender, inviting family."
"If we're not afraid as priests
to show our wounds -- the wounds of the church, the wounds of our family --
maybe the other wounded will come back," Cardinal Dolan said.