Dolan Disses the Papacy

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On yesterday’s Today show, Genialissimo Cardinal Timothy Dolan did everything in his power to persuade Matt Lauer that Pope Francis’ airborne comments on gays were nothing new under the Catholic sun. In the process, he asserted that the pope has no power to make church law. Say what?

Dolan allowed as how the only thing that surprised him about the remarks was that people were surprised. Maybe, he conceded, “a tone has changed.” But, Lauer asked, wasn’t Francis overruling his predecessor, who signed a document basically banning gays from becoming priests?

“No, he wouldn’t have overruled him, Matt,” replied Dolan. “Keep in mind that it was Benedict too who wrote a good chunk of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and in the Catechism of the Catholic Church it’s very clear that homosexual people deserve love, respect, and dignity, while homosexual acts, uh, will be immoral.”

Evidently, according to Dolan, Benedict and Francis are totally in accord on gays, with Francis standing behind the 2005 Instruction Concerning the Criteria for the Discernment of Vocations with regard to Persons with Homosexual Tendencies in view of their Admission to the Seminary and to Holy Orders, which bars from the priesthood men with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies.”

Lauer, perhaps unconvinced, then allowed as how Francis had certainly said no to women priests. Right, said Dolan:

Keep in mind, Matt, that the pope’s job is to hand on, with its full purity and integrity, the teaching of the Church. He can’t make it up, he can’t change it, it’s not some policy like the board of governors changes. He can emphasize or set different tones or put different emphases, and I think that’s what he’s doing.

Now that’s a pretty good description of the papal state of affairs 1,000 years ago, but beginning with the reform papacy of the 11th century, it all changed. Between Gregory VII and Innocent III, popes took it upon themselves to become the legislators of Christendom, and they never surrendered the claim to possess such plenitude of power.

Thus, in 1950, the year of Dolan’s birth, Pope Pius XII declared the Assumption of the Virgin to be a dogma of the Church, in the one and so far only formal exercise of papal infallibility. By saying that John Paul II had “definitively…closed the door to women priests,” Francis was himself pointing to the fact that popes determine church law.

Of course, over the centuries there have been Catholics who wished it were otherwise. And what with all the excitement Francis has generated among progressives, there’s doubtless some fear in conservative circles that he will make changes in church law that they won’t like. You’d almost think that Dolan, who’s always flown with the right wing, was substituting church doctrine with wishful thinking.

Update: Dolan turned his remarks into a a blog post yesterday.

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  • JohnM

    Sycophants such as Dolan–and they are Legion–are like puppets in which you can put a new tape depending on the audience. What’s wrong with saying one Pope disagrees with another…after all, infallibility concerns fe et mores, i.e., faith and customs…not faith and morals? There is nowhere for this beauty to go but to Rome.

  • tony

    I think okums razor would dictate that YOU are the one suffering from wishful thinking. Let me get this straight one minute you praise francsis for his humility and desire to be called the bishop of rome and the next you want him to overturn 2,000 years of teaching because he feels like it.

    btw how does church teaching on whether homosexuals make good candidates for the priesthood have anything to do with politics? And why don’t you ever comment on muslim teachings regarding gays or women?

  • lionel

    Oft-forgotten fact: it was in fact Pope John xxiii whom initially stated that homosexuals should not be ordained… In 1961

  • Amos 2013

    Good post, Mark. I wish to add that the Roman Catholic Church always condemns what it does not seem to fully understand at the moment. For example, a Catholic who committed suicide would often be denied a funeral Mass and even burial in a Catholic cemetery.Canon law no longer specifically mentions suicide as an impediment to funeral rites or religious sepulture because the Church has a better understanding of mental illnesses. As a Roman Catholic who has a sibling who is gay, I don’t think that Catholic Church knows everything there is to know about human sexuality. I do not agree that my brother has a disorder including many of my gay friends, relatives and co-workers. Pope Francis might not have changed church teaching on homosexuality, but he is trying to change homophobia attitudes in our Church. God Bless Pope Francis.

  • Ken


    Great headline if you want to attract attention, but your post is seriously flawed. If you are a professor of religion, you undoubtedly are familiar with the documents of Vatican II and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

    Here is Paragraph 2034:
    The Roman Pontiff and the bishops are “authentic teachers, that is, teachers endowed with the authority of Christ, who preach the faith to the people entrusted to them, the faith to be believed and put into practice.”76 The ordinary and universal Magisterium of the Pope and the bishops in communion with him teach the faithful the truth to believe, the charity to practice, the beatitude to hope for.

    Note that the deposit of faith is with the Magisterium, not with just the pope on an airplane.

    You may have an agenda and you may be reading more into Pope Francis’ remarks than he intended.

    You are certainly wrong regarding Cardinal Dolan’s support for this Pope.

    And by the way, if you are a professor of religion, you may want to comment on the hatred and animosity toward the Catholic Church that is so common among progressives. It appears that the most essential idea to many in our society is that they be free to engage in behavior without regard for consequences. And they damn anyone who believes otherwise. As a professor of religion, you probably have familiarity with the difference in outcome for societies of belief and honor and opposed to societies of license.

  • Dan

    .”By saying that John Paul II had “definitively…closed the door to women priests,” Francis was himself pointing to the fact that popes determine church law”

    False-Pope John Paul II did not himself determine the issue of female ordination. He clarified it, but the matter was already doctrine. He didn’t make the teaching up himself.

    Surprising that a religion professor would make such an obvious error here.

  • I think you missed my point, Dan. Had Francis said that there would be no women priests because the church had always held to that doctrine, that would have made your point. But his point was that Benedict’s “definitive” pronouncement made a difference — foreclosing the possibility that the Church could go the other way. By the way, would you deny that the the pope has the power to have the Church adopt the Eastern Orthodox approach to married clergy?

  • John

    Wow Mark, you either do not understand Catholic doctrine at all or you are intentionally misrepresenting it. The Catholic Church has married priests – in the Eastern Catholic Churches and among some priests who convert from other churches, like the Anglican communion. Clerical celibacy is a discipline, not a matter of doctrine and could be changed – and the Church has always said that. Women priests, on the other hand, are unbiblical and the Church has always taken the position that it lacks the authority to ordain women to the priesthood.

  • Dan

    It was Pope John Paul II who issued the clarification-Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, in 1994 and it was issued to provide emphasis and clarification on the teaching. Church teaching, specifically- not anything made of whole cloth by Pope John Paul II.

    I got your point. I just think that your assertion that ‘one Pope acknowledging the work of any of his predecessors means that Popes construct doctrine themselves’ is fallacious. Again, John Paul II didn’t himself construct Church teachings on female ordination. I assume you know this.

    Clerical celibacy is a discipline-nothing akin to the teaching on female ordination, which speaks to ministerial authority. Why bring that up?

  • Allan Lille

    You are grasping at straws in the most painful way. Pope Francis is well aware of the Church’s perennial teachings. The fact that he did not use the exact words you suggest he should have used does not negate his devotion to his obvious familiarity with the magisterial teaching of the Church. Just read his homily for the feast of St. Ignatius yesterday. The pope works in concert with the bishops as part of the magisterial body. You cannot compare priestly celibacy with the ordination of women. They are not the same thing. Again, you are painfully grasping at straws.

  • Dan

    One other observation, Mark-

    I’m not as sure as you are that Pope Francis’ statement is at odds with Pope Benedict’s 2005 Instruction.

    Pope Francis stated “When I meet a gay person, I have to distinguish between their being gay and being part of a lobby. If they accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them? They shouldn’t be marginalized. The tendency (to homosexuality) is not the problem … they’re our brothers.”

    The 2005 Instruction wished to bar from the priesthood men “who are actively homosexual, have deep-seated homosexual tendencies, or support the so-called ‘gay culture’ (part of a lobby-my note).”

    Not picking on you on this, Mark, but I think your dislike of Dolan got the best of you on this post here.

  • OK, then. Dolan talked about “the teaching of the Church.” The teaching of the Church includes everything from dogma to discipline. I take it you all are agreed that the pope could, if he so chose, change the disciplinary rules with respect to clerical celibacy.

  • Dan

    Yes, the discipline could be changed by the Pope. He probably wouldn’t do it by fiat, but yes.

    My wife doesn’t have to cover her head at Mass and Mass is in English for the last few decades, so those things can be changed as they are non-doctrinal.

  • Allan Lille

    Yes, the discipline of celibacy could be changed and as Dan said, this would probably only be done, if it were to be done, in cooperation with the bishops. The bishops would not be very happy if this were done without them being consulted in a manner that respects collegiality.

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  • Dan

    Now that we’ve made response on the clerical celibacy matter, curious if you’ll inform as to why you inquired?

  • Where I started, Dan, was with +Dolan’s claim that the pope is merely supposed to transmit doctrine. Whereas for the past 1,000 years popes have functioned as legislators, definers and (yes) creators of doctrine. The larger issue, which has been discussed by such distinguished scholars as Philip Gleason of Notre Dame and Mark Massa of Boston College, is the resistance within the Catholic community to the idea that the church changes. This is an ideological or, one might say, a theological position; historians find it important to discuss because it is so much at odds with their reading of church history. Of course, it serves the leaders of the Church to pretend that all is continuity. But it’s hard to square that with the facts on the ground.

  • EssEm

    This post, confusing doctrine with discipline and disciplines of varying weights, shows the danger of pronouncing on religions that are not yours.

  • Dan

    The Church changes. Dolan knows this. A Pope just resigned, after all.

    Dolan isn’t speaking to a group of theologians here-he’s speaking to Matt Lauer for a mass audience. Taking him to task for a lack of nuance in this setting is rather picayune, isn’t it?

    He said, and you quote it, that a Pope can make emphasis, etc.

    A Pope cannot, for instance, unilaterally rewrite the Creed or declare new doctrine. Greene and Massa would tell you the same.

    Equating ritual and practice with doctrine makes your point hold up, I guess, but that’s taking the easy road in service to a snazzy headline, in my opinion. You (hopefully) know the difference, but your audience may not, so you can run it out to skewer Dolan, I guess.

    A little disappointing.

  • tony

    Prof you seem very concerned about the dignity of women and homosexuals. If so, why don’t you write about how muslims treat these two groups?

    Which is the greater sin to say that women have an equal, complementary nature that does not comport with the priesthood or throwing acid in a women’s face because she took a walk with a man? Or marrying girls off at 13? Or refusing to educate girls?

    One minute you claim that the church needs to modernize and recognize that its moral teaching are really cultural biases left over from a by gone era. An era when apparently Jesus was brave enough to eat with sinners, heal lepers, forgive prostitutes and die on a cross but was too afraid to call women to the priesthood and too dim to preach against homophobia. Okums razor would again dictate that its you not the pope who is creating doctrine out of thin air.

  • gilhcan

    According to Cardinal Dolan, Pope Benedict–and, ah, the “unchanging teaching” of the Vatican Church, “homosexual people” who “deserve love, respect, and dignity,” were created by a God who created them as celibates requiring lifelong chastity, driven naturally toward sex, but forced to do without it. What a wicked God! Why not eunuchs? At least castrati for the choir at St. Patrick Cathedral?

    As for Benedict’s notion of “deep-seated homosexual tendencies,” besides betraying his awful lack of scientific knowledge, not a surprise for one who has concentrated so exclusively on theology, are there “shallower” homosexual tendencies that would not bar one from the priesthood? If so, are they to be diagnosed by seminary rectors? And if so, how?

    When Dolan speaks of non-changing policies, he ignores the facts that there were married clergy during the first millennium of Christian history, including Peter, but not Paul. He ignores Pius IX’s infallibility “doctrine” used only once, to assume Mary into heaven in 1950, eighty years after infallibility was declared.

    What about the ignorance of the Latin Mass for the masses for whom that language was no more than magical noise? We could go back to the medieval Mass of the asses. Bray! Bray! Bray!

    Dolan flew “right” when it was the sure way of climbing the hierarchical ladder. He’s trying to justify being stuck there now after hiding diocesan funds as cemetery upkeep when he was in Milwaukee to avoid paying court-ordered awards to those sexually abused by his clergy. That and other clever episcopal tactics won him New York and a red hat–from Benedict. And a term as president of the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops–soon to expire. Now he’s stuck with hot dogs from 5th Av venders. I never saw one peddling their wares on Madison Av.

    Dolan used the attachment of the archbishop’s mansion on Madison Av to St Patrick Cathedral on 5th Av as an excuse for not being able to imitate Francis’ choice of more appropriately modest living quarters than the “apostolic palace.” He could use the Madison Av mansion for his closest chancery offices, along with the other episcopal mansion a block away at Madison & E 51st St. Then he could live in a modest apartment himself. Amidst all the fancy real estate in New York, there are some humble apartments.

  • gilhcan

    Yes, a pope just resigned, but it wasn’t the first time. And don’t forget those who were forced out, fought out, killed. After all, without trustworthy autopsies, we’ve never been sure about John Paul I’s sudden demise. And what about all those popes at the same time, Avignon and elsewhere? What about the Crusades? What about the Inquisitions? What about the non-Christian Roman emperor, Constantine, usurping the early Jesus communities when he forced all the bishops to attend his council at Nicaea in 325. One of the early creeds emerged from that council, along with the eventual murder of Arius. So much for an unchanging church.

  • tony

    2,000 years of teaching, billions of people and the best change in church teaching you can come up with is whether priest can marry? well this has already been covered to death. priestly marriage is not a moral teaching. there is no 11th commandment that priest can’t marry. its a discipline. a complete handing over of ones’ life to to the church and her spiritual children. in fact, its obviously NOT a moral teaching since the “rigid” church allows for married priest in certain circumstances.

    I love all of this talk about the opulence of apartments. its an apartment. get over yourself. there are many a democratic politician who claim to love the poor and given less than 2% of their income to charity, even though they live in a real mansion that is paid for by the taxpayers.

    your post has general undertone of condescension and judgement, i am pretty sure these aren’t christian virtues…even if they are directed at people who have given their life to serve christ in the spiritual and materially needy.

    cardinal dolan wouldn’t have to make any decisions on funding cemeteries if it weren’t for the previous bishop of milwakee who was both gay and gay friendly. yipppeee!

  • gilhcan

    It certainly won’t–and shouldn’t–be done only in consultation with the bishops, collegiality or no collegiality. That would be only one step less bad than a single man, the pope, deciding matters. Things will not be right with the Catholic Church until the lay people are included in all decisions making. It is the laity who are affected by church decisions at least as much as the clergy, if not more. If it is theologians who are needed, there are numerous, superbly qualified lay theologians. If it is church historians who are needed, there are at least as many of those among the laity as among the clergy.

  • gilhcan

    It may have been covered–not to death or resurrection–but it certainly has never been resolved. Gender discrimination is as obscene now in the light of the Gospels as any other discrimination–even if Jesus is claimed to have announced that slaves should be obedient to their masters. That was then, a radically different culture. This is now, and the Gospels should have had much deeper effect than even those that were attributed to the preachings of Jesus in his own time.

  • gilhcan

    Also, John Paul attributed clerical celibacy, wrongly, to the Gospels. Benedict followed suit. And Francis has supported John Paul’s wrong theology as if the “discipline” could be cited chapter and verse from the Gospels.

  • tony

    So let me get this straight Jesus ate with sinner, cured leapers, called prostitutes and died on the cross BUT he was too afraid of cultural norms to call women to the priesthood. Got it! If you want a simpler more believable rationale, why don’t you go with just before Jesus went to the cross, he pulled the disciples aside and said “I was just kidding about that finding a church thing…and humans are only observes of the trinity, they can not partake in it…and for the next 2000 years the world is going to live in grave error, which I don’t love you enough to correct, until gilhcan is born and then all things will be revealed in spirit and truth.”

    Are you saying JP didn’t know that the church allowed married priest for a full millennium? that the anglican priest that JP allowed to enter the church, even though they were married, were in fact married? that the eastern church, who JP longed to breath with both lungs was actually going to spread a heresy?

    its not gender discrimination to say that the two genders have equal dignity and different gifts. Sort of like they were one body with different roles…if only someone would have thought to explain it thus.

  • Niva Zimel

    Okay–if all the Catholic leaders that make church Doctrine are so against homosexuals being priests, THEN WHY ARE THERE SO MANY HOMOSEXUAL PRIESTS????? They must not be doing a very good job in seminary of qualifying their applicants!

  • Niva Zimel

    Quote: “Had Francis said that there would be no women priests because the church had always held to that doctrine, that would have made your point. But his point was that Benedict’s “definitive” pronouncement made a difference — foreclosing the possibility that the Church could go the other way. By the way, would you deny that the the pope has the power to have the Church adopt the Eastern Orthodox approach to married clergy? – See more at:

    What makes me mad in ALL of this argument is that NO ONE is paying ANY ATTENTION to what the BIBLE SAYS should be going on in an organization that SUPPOSEDLY REPRESENTS the Christian GOD.
    The Bible says that women are NOT to be spiritual leaders in the church, except to “minister” to those outside the congregation as teachers, and to teach their children (Psalm 68:11; Titus 2:3; Philippians 4:3)
    . They are not to teach or have spiritual head over baptized men in the congregation, (1 Timothy 2:12; 1 Corinthians 14:33, 34)
    They are heads over their children, and their husbands are heads over the wives. THAT is what the Bible says, yet none of that would be “popular” today, and would lose congregants if THE BIBLE were TRULY preached.

    Also: The Congregation belongs to GOD and NOT to the priest or ministers or “shepherds” who have it in their care: 1 Peter 5:2; 1 Timothy 3:5; 1 Timothy 3:14, 15.
    Religious leaders have a very heavy burden in shepherding the flock of God IF they teach wrong doctrines and lead their flocks to destruction.
    1 Peter 5
    “Be shepherds of the flock of God that is entrusted to you; watch over it, n not simpy as duty but gladly, because God wants it; not for sordid MONEY, but because you are eager to do it. Never be a dictator over any group that is in your charge, but be an example that the whole flock can follow. When the chief shepherd appears, you will be given the crown of unfading glory.”
    Jerusalem Bible (Catholic Imprimatur)

  • Niva Zimel

    What everybody seems to be forgetting is that both fornication and homosexuality, according to all Bible translations, are sins.
    Heterosexuals have the same desire for sex that homosexuals have, and must also curb it, putting it in its proper place (within marriage only).
    But, the Bible has no opening for homosexuals to marry a person of the same sex. It is pointedly explained to be sin and abomination in sight of God.

    All of us have some things we must live with that make life more difficult, yet if we go along with God’s direction we can still be successful in living the way God wants us to, according to the Bible. I know that is not the popular view, but real Christianity was NEVER a popularity contest, and it’s worth the effort.–John 17:3

    The Bible explains itself–so keep reading.

  • Similar to Mark writing about Jesus when he isn’t a Christian, (see his blog post about this) he can also write about people who are Christians who experience same-sex sexual attractions who desire to follow Catholic teaching on sexuality, and thus feel it wouldn’t be honest for them to say that their identity is gay.

    However, because of Mark’s vantage point, which is not the same vantage point as even the person who is a Catholic priest, who does experience some level of same-sex sexual attractions, who has made the decision to be celibate chaste in their position as a priest, it is harder for him to understand and to write accurately about what Timothy Dolan is speaking about.

    Thus, the phrase that Mark uses, “basically banning gays from becoming priests,” shows that Mark has trouble understanding the difference between someone who would say that they are bisexual and someone who would say that they are gay. There are Catholic priests who are bisexual, who choose to be celibate chaste, when the majority of their sexual attractions are towards women. Our culture would want those individuals to also say that they are gay.

    It would be difficult for someone like Mark to understand the phrase, “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” from a Catholic perspective.

    I appreciated Scott Richert’s explanation of Pope Pius XII’s declaration of the Assumption of the Virgin, even though I am not someone who understands it. I could see the logic that Scott explained that Pope Pius XII used in his reasoning.

    So, I can see how it is difficult for Mark Silk to understand what Pope Francis is trying to explain.

  • I’m glad that you asked these questions, “are there “shallower” homosexual tendencies that would not bar one from the priesthood? If so, are they to be diagnosed by seminary rectors?”

    Yes, for the person who is bisexual who is a Catholic priest, or today a man who is desiring to enter into Catholic seminary, they experience shallower homosexual tendencies than men who only experience same-sex sexual attractions.

    I agree that it is more challenging for seminary rectors to explore this with seminary candidates than exploring with them some of the other issues that would impact them in being successful in becoming a priest in the Catholic church and following Catholic church teaching.

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