Archbishop Timothy Dolan, who shared with moving honesty the story of his encounter with an angry Catholic here will be featured tomorrow night on 60 minutes.
Asked if he feared the impact of the scandal would go on forever, Dolan replies, “In some ways, I don’t want it to be over, because…this was such a crisis in the Catholic Church that in a way, we don’t want to get over it too easily,” he tells Safer. “This needs to haunt us.”
Dolan defended the church’s recent response to the sex abuse crisis, but the deeds themselves and the decades-long cover-up are hard for him to bear or understand.
“When you think of what happened, both…that a man who proposes to act in the name of God would’ve abused an innocent young person,” says Dolan. “And that some bishops would have, in a way, countenanced that by reassigning abusers, that’s nothing less than hideous. That’s nothing less than nauseating…”
Then Safer points out that many believe the cover-up was worse than the abuse. “I’d say there’s some truth in that, you’d think that the church of all would know better,” answers Dolan.
Sadly, I don’t think the good Archbishop needs to worry that this won’t haunt us sufficiently. The distrust, doubt and disgust that have been engendered by the sins of some priests and too many bishops will be with us for decades. As a friend wrote to me today on a related issue, “this won’t be over in our lifetimes…”
I fear that’s true. And it makes me marvel all the more at the fact that right now — worldwide — there are more young men in Catholic seminaries than ever, something we don’t, in our Western conceit, always realize.
Materialism and cultural cynicism has worked like a one-two punch to the solar plexus of the priesthood, but — after decades of gasping — priestly vocations seem to be slowly regaining some wind, and getting up from the mat. The 2010 report has the worldwide total of priests rising by 1 percent.
Historically, most of our priests have come from poorer cultures, and that is still true, today.
In 2004, Hungarian Archbishop Csaba Ternyak presented some surprising numbers to the Congregation for Clergy, and those numbers painted a somewhat rosier picture of new priestly vocations than we usually get. Ternyak reported that while the number of Western seminarians is depressing, the overall numbers were not: In 1961, he found, there were 404,082 priests worldwide, while in 2001 there were 405,067. In 1978, when John Paul II was elected, there were 63,882 major seminarians in the world. By 2001 that number had nearly doubled to 112,982. These new priests are coming from Africa, Asia, and Oceania, where in 2010 their numbers have increased by anywhere from 3.6 percent to 6.5 percent. The future of the Church will depend a great deal on how effectively these priests can evangelize the self-saturated, tuned-out West, which has transitioned from a missionary culture to a mission.
But his is a subject that really does make the gorge rise, just as much today as it did a few years earlier when I wrote:
The terrible sin of some of our priests, compounded by their bishops, has been a source of sickening and unrelenting shame for us. We have felt the disgust in our bellies and wished we could push the whole story away, because the pain is so abysmal and vast.
It still brings a visceral reaction, as Dolan notes.
Try to watch Dolan on CBS. We can always watch (the real) In the Arena when it rebroadcasts at 11:30! This weekend we’re talking about Paganism, Wicca and the allure it holds over our young people.