Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Cardinal Dolan and the Dark Continent

His Eminence Timothy Cardinal Dolan
(Photo: Reuters)
Cardinal Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York recently gave an interview which seems to have received relatively little notice - which is perfectly understandable given the current flurry of reports coming out of the Vatican. It contains, however, a stunningly candid admission on the part of the Cardinal which confirms what many have suspected for years: western prelates have lost the courage of their convictions.

Asked by Francis X. Rocca of Catholic News Service to relate his impression of the African bishops and their participation at the 2014 Synod on the Family, the Cardinal said:
The African bishops have a freshness and - it's a strange words to use, perhaps - an innocence when it comes to their biblical faith. Now, when I say "innocence," I mean these are people - we just had Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos; 186 of his churches have been torched by Boko Haram, so you're hardly talking about some guy in an ivory tower, you're talking about a bishop who has literally mopped up the blood of his people and bandaged their wounds. When he speaks, though, you can hear Irenaeus, you can hear Polycarp, you can hear Ignatius of Antioch - not just Ignatius of Jos - and that's how young they are: the Church in Africa is where the second and third generation of Christians were. They speak with heroism and conviction, and the rest of us sit up and take notice. We in the Church in Europe, and in North America, we suffer sometimes from lethargy, don't we? Not Africa! And, boy oh boy, can they speak and call us back to the roots of God's revelation, and they're not afraid to do it. And they're not afraid to lead us in an examination of conscience. One of the African bishops today said, "Be careful in the West. What do you import? Military arms? Contraception? Abortion? We don't need that. We don't want that. That's cultural imperialism." And when they speak with that vigor, wow! You can just see the rest of us in the hall turn around, and look, and listen. I found them to be very inspirational. 
The bishops of Africa are prophetic in reminding us that the role of the Church is to transform culture, not to be transformed by the culture. They are magnificent at that. And when you look at the churches in their nations, you see that's being done. I find that very moving. I'm afraid sometimes we in the West might say, "Oh, I guess we've got to dilute things, I guess we've got to capitulate. Obviously this teaching is being rejected. Oh my Lord, we're not popular." And the Africans say, "Well, you know what? We're not supposed to be! What we're supposed to do is propose the truth, and invite people, by the love and the joy in our lives, to embrace that truth. And take it from us, brothers: it works!" We know from the history of the Church that it works, and we know from the present of the Church that it works, because we see it in the people of Africa.

Now, it would be wonderful if this encounter with the genuine, living faith of the African bishops had a knock-on effect on the Cardinal and his work in the Archdiocese of New York. It would be wonderful if he would come to understand that there are scores of American Catholics, both in his own Archdiocese and broader afield, who have that very same faith, and want nothing more than for their prelates to support them in the exercise of that faith. Countless prayers would be answered if the Cardinal would awaken from his complacent slumber and recognize that he, too, is called to fight - and to sacrifice - for Christ's Church. I pray for the same, as should you, gentle reader.

But let's not allow our hopes to blind us to the reality of the situation. The fact that Cardinal Dolan and his confrères from the western hemisphere take exception to the conviction and clarity with which the African bishops defend orthodoxy speaks volumes. What are we to make of the College when the bishop who vigorously defends the Faith sets himself apart in doing so? Conspicuously absent from the Cardinal's résumé, despite his open admission that western prelates - and I see no reason to exempt Cardinal Dolan himself from the charge - have lost the courage of their convictions, is any trace of shame or regret in that fact. It's as if the orthodoxy of the African bishops is to be safely compartmentalized because of the recentness of their conversion and the severity of their situation - that is, their orthodoxy is to be understood - and excused - as a product of their specific situation, which is not unlike that of the Church Fathers with whom they are compared. For, take that very same orthodoxy out of the African context, and put in the West - where more souls are being lost to the ravages of the culture of death than Boko Haram could ever dream of - and it is disparaged from the highest positions as "self-absorbed Promethean Neo-Pelagianism."

No, it is highly unlikely that this brush with orthodoxy will inspire action in the West. More likely is that it will instead serve to reinforce the notion that the days of orthodoxy, while perhaps alive in the remotes of Africa, are well behind us here in the "developed" world, leading us to wonder: which is really the "Dark Continent"? 


  1. Your interpretation of Cardinal Dolan's remarks is charitable. From where I sit he is so shamelessly hypocritical it makes me sick.

    Everything he said about the faith of African Catholics, and their courageous Bishops, is true and he admits that. What he is unable to do is recognize how far from even aspiring to that idea he is.

    How puzzling. Cardinal Dolan laid out in real words an ideal he does not live up to. But with all his good ole boy talk he seems to be saying that ideal is something he, and his priests, do live up to - but in a different way - in a way that is the same only not the same - after all we're so much more sophisticated than those simple Africans. Oh, the arrogance and hypocrisy is sickening.

    I have been feeling slightly crazy lately because of the disorientation of what I hear and see. I marvel at the brazenness of shepherds like Dolan - how they can spew out this incomprehensible language with a straight face.

    I'm grateful for your example of charity but I'm struggling with imitating it. God bless.

  2. In my experience, I've found that, rather than flatly telling people that men such as Cardinal Dolan are flaming hypocrites, I can be more effective by simply shining a light on their behavior and letting the reader draw the inescapable conclusion. If I've done my job well, the smarter ones will get it. That's not to say that I disapprove of the more direct approach taken by some bloggers. I'm a regular reader of Christopher A. Ferrara, John Vennari, Louie Verrecchio, the lovably irrascible Mundabor, and others. But I noticed there is little to be found on the web for those who are somewhere between the National Catholic Register and The Remnant - a demographic that is growing rapidly, particularly since the start of the Synod. I try to address those Catholics through this blog.

    As always, thanks for reading and commenting. And God bless!

    - RC

  3. Yes, you are right. However, don't you find that in most of the words that are poured out like water from a fire hose, there is always lots to sooth the sleeping Catholic.

    That's what is so insidious about the modernist heresy - hidden in the reeds is the viper.

    But again, you provide a well thought out voice.

    By the way, which Goodier book are you excerpting from? I have been cutting and pasting but would like to get some of his books for my library.

  4. Hopefully, we can help drain the marsh so as to make the work of crushing their heads easier!

    You can find the details of the book in question in my reply to your comment under the post The Fact of Sin: the title is The Meaning of Life and Other Essays, originally published in 1914.

    God bless!

    - RC


Comments are moderated according to both content and form. If you would like to keep your comments private, please indicate this, and include your email if you would like a personal response. Thank you for commenting.