Cardinals face issue of Catholics embracing faith, but not the Church

U.S. Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York is eligible to vote in the upcoming conclave. He is pictured in a 2012 file photo. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)
U.S. Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York is eligible to vote in the upcoming conclave. He is pictured in a 2012 file photo. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — A major issue facing today’s U.S. Catholic Church is that many people express “absolutely no problem with faith, but they do have a problem with religion,” said New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan.

He said this is an issue facing many religions, but noted that for Catholics it is “a particularly pointed challenge because Catholics believe Jesus and his church are one; it’s a package deal.”

“To recover that intimacy of a relationship with Jesus and his church is a major pastoral challenge,” he told Catholic News Service several days before the cardinals agreed to a media blackout March 6.

Cardinal Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, was asked about issues the cardinals would likely consider in their general congregation sessions before the conclave when they discuss a variety of needs facing the universal church.

He said he had some ideas on these challenges, just based on what he has seen in U.S. dioceses from recent reports submitted to him by U.S. bishops in preparation for the next synod of bishops.

As these reports have been coming in, he said he is “seeing a clear pattern.”

He said the U.S. bishops are concerned with what they describe as an “ecclesiological challenge” as more and more people separate religion from faith and also say they “don’t have a problem with Jesus but they do have questions about the church.”

“That’s not just a Catholic problem, every religion seems to be experiencing this,” he added, but it is still a major challenge Catholic leaders cannot ignore.

Another major challenge is the vocations crisis, he said. Cardinal Dolan said he was not just referring to the vocation to the priesthood and religious life but marriage and family.

“The polls are showing that Catholic people are marrying at (the) same low rate as the rest and are divorcing close to the national rate. That means we have a vocation problem,” he said.

He also cited the issue of religious freedom and said there is a strong feeling that the church “needs to be more robust in its defense of religious freedom not only where Christians are subjected to outright persecution and harassment” but also what he described as a “more insidious kind of harassment” when the “ability to give public witness to the faith is curtailed and thought to be inappropriate.”

“Something tells me that those three challenges are not exclusive to the United States” and that they would likely be “priorities for the next pope,” he added.

When asked what qualities the new pope should have, he said he should be holy, theologically erudite, have an appreciation of the needs of the universal church. He said he should also have linguistic skills, pastoral competency and leadership sense.

With that said, he added there is “not a job description for the pope.”

He acknowledged that the qualities he is suggesting “nobody can meet up to” but added, “I think that’s what the cardinals will be looking for.”

By Carol Zimmermann Catholic News Service. Contributing to this report was Francis X. Rocca.