Cardinal Dolan Reaffirms: 'Church Is Not a Country Club for the Perfect', But 'Hospital for Sick'

The Archbishop of New York has said that even if none of us “live up” to the Church’s ideals, it still welcomes us with open arms.

In a wide-ranging interview with ZENIT this week, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York and prior president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, shares his thoughts not only about the synod, but also on the Church’s proper role and how that is being played out in the pontificate of Francis, as well as how it had been in those of his predecessors.

Moreover, the prelate, a native of St. Louis, candidly speaks about the pastoral challenges of his New York archdiocese, media reports, as well as why it would be fitting for Francis to visit not only the States, but especially New York, in 2015.

I don’t know of a single Catholic who implies that the Church is a “hotel for saints” or a “country club for the perfect” rather than a hospital for sinners. As far as I can tell, that is completely a straw man.

There are a few groups in Church history that did hold such a view (or something like it), but they are all heretics. I’m thinking of Jansenists, and perhaps those people in the early Church who argued that confession of mortal sins after baptism is impossible.

The only real debate in the Church seems to be between those who hold that the Church is a true hospital for sinners, and those who think that the Church is a kind of lounge for the sick, where they are made to feel as comfortable as possible and told in gentle voices that they aren’t even really ill.

The Church is a hospital for sinners. It is a place where the sick go when they acknowledge that they are sick and are committed to getting better, where they undergo the difficult remedies of physical therapy and bitter medicine and chemotherapy to root out their sickness, so that eventually they can be healthy again.

It don’t think it’s a straw man at all. Who was it that fairly recently said he’d welcome a fallback to a smaller, purer Church?

Then there’s the practical matter of how we administer or withhold the medicine and ensuring it’s the right medicine. Is the medicine of sacramental grace reserved for those who are trying, or those who have succeeded or perhaps not fallen in a given temptation? If the Holy Father himself was prompted to say that the Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect but medicine for the ill, it would appear that it isn’t a straw man argument at all, but rather that some of our disciplinary practices are perhaps not having the desired effect of conversion.

And do we apply that medicine equally for all? Or do we withhold it as much from those striving as those who don’t give a hoot about getting better?

In order for one to receive the medicine, one has to ask for it (in their heart, aka conversion of heart). This is what changes people to begin with, their desire in wanting to change. If one has no intention of changing, they will not change.

Taking the Eucharist and staying in a state of mortal sin isnt going to inhibit people’s free will and force them into sainthood. It most likely will have zero effect. When one is in a state of mortal sin, they are completely and totally severed from God. The mortal sin nullifies any good that the Eucharist would bring, and in fact, only compounds the sin further. Its called Sacrilege. What good does placebo do for patients who need real medicine?

I agree with your assessment.At first glance it does appear that it is being suggested that the Church adopt a softer stance on certain issuers. I have been praying daily for all of the clergy assembled at synod,that they remain faithful to Christ’s teachings.

This also!:thumbsup:

In it’s teaching the Church has always proposed eternal life for the sinner (aka all of us). The Church has always proposed mercy.

The actual practice is another thing. Humans being human, many (most) of our Churches do not welcome those different from us. In my parish (which is wonderful as far as it goes) there are no fringe types other than myself. :smiley:
Everyone is comfortable and fits in nicely. So pastoral language is a good thing for a pastor to use. And I think this language is needed so that we might put into practice what the Church proclaims.

Why would you call that a “straw man”?
He’s not debating anyone. He’s not misrepresenting an opponent’s argument. He’s merely describing the church and trying to do so with creative language.
He’s not implying that Catholics think the church is a “country club for the perfect.”
He’s telling non-Catholics that they don’t have to be perfect to join the church, if that is what they are worried about.


My first thoughts were the same as what you wrote in your first paragraph. And the rest of your post is “spot on” as well. :thumbsup::thumbsup::thumbsup:


Hm, I think that if you think about Benedict’s statements, you will see that it is part of a larger evangelical push: if the Church naturally gets smaller from voluntary attrition–kindly notice that this is never thought of as being desired, rather it is thought of as an unfortunate reality that could be coming–then those who are left will, for the most part, be extremely committed to the faith; they will then be able to evangelize more effectively as groups. It’s clear that Pope Francis’s immediate two Predecessors are/were extremely evangelically oriented men. John Paul II needs no comments and Benedict himself put in motion the whole project that is called the New Evangelization (don’t hear much about that anymore eh).

About the groups aspect, I think this is why JPII and BXVI were so uber-supportive of the associations of the faithful and religious and other groups. Just look at the support they gave to Opus Dei, C&L, etc., which, while different in many ways, are all extremely effective in their respective missions and have had major impacts on evangelization on an individual level.

You see, I don’t believe that what the Church teaches about Communion is basically a policy or a discipline. I believe it is… a belief. It applies equally to all people. The Church does not discriminate by saying that if you are in a state of mortal sin you cannot receive Communion. The Church does not discriminate by saying that pretending to be married to someone you are not in fact married to is sinful nor does the Church discriminate by acting like it (I think the latter part is really the key here). The Church does not discriminate by refusing to privilege certain sins over others; I think that, in fact, would be highly discriminatory and would implicitly be a highly negative commentary on the Church’s basic views of the human. It is not discriminatory because it applies to any and all people equally if they are in such a situation. This is all rather unfortunate to me; I have confidence in the ability of people to strive against their tendencies and unfortunate situations. Whatever happened to the universal call to holiness? Or are we–soooooo ironic!–back to the supposed status quo ante of “only sisters and priests can be holy, I’m just a layperson leave me alone?”

Just some thoughts, don’t read too much into what I’ve said above, I’m not commenting on you or anyone personally.

DaddyGirl, I believe you when you say this, but I think what the poster is saying is that, regardless of what you think you are saying, it may come off in a different way. Ironic because you are saying the same thing!

Creative language does not exist in a vacuum, we can both agree on that. It has real-world consequences and intent does not guarantee a congruent outcome.

Excellent. To those who would say that we can’t limit God’s mercy, I agree, however, we also have the proper use of reason–which by the way God gave to us, a fact I think we forget sometimes–and we know what the truth of the Eucharist is (albeit not perfectly).

I was not accusing Cardinal Dolan of using a straw man. I was criticizing those Catholics (“liberals” if you like, though I don’t like using that word) who accuse “conservatives” of implying that the Chirch is a hospital for saints. I was agreeing with Dolan. I was actually saying that Dolan shouldn’t have to make this clarification, because no one actually holds the position that the Church is a hotel for saints.

I agree we are all called to holiness. But I can say from my own experience that it isn’t something achieved instantly. It’s something we have to work at. I started my journey in somewhat of a mess, a difficult and irregular marriage. I married my unbaptized wife civilly, as a lapsed Catholic. It took some years for our marriage to improve and to finally have it convalidated (my wife was baptized after my reversion, but as an Anglican). I mentioned my story elsewhere, but a good parish priest applied the principle of gradualism in that I was told it was OK to receive the sacraments provided I worked at regularizing my own situation.

It did take longer than I would have liked, but eventually things worked out. At the time, not very well catechized, I took my priest’s “permission” to partake of the sacraments at face value. Later after convalidation, I was unsure I had received worthily, and I confessed, to another priest, that I happen to know very well (I won’t give any more detail to avoid identifying him), and who was very holy and orthodox. His response: “I won’t ever say this in public but you needed the graces of the Sacraments to reach this point”.

He was, of course completely right at least in my case. The sacrament of reconciliation and the Eucharist were vital to my ongoing conversion. Not to get too personal but being married to a non-Catholic, “living in continence” while we worked all this out (which took years) was not a practical suggestion and no priest ever even required it of us. Many priests “in the trenches” are aware of “gradualism” and have used it to good effect.

But according to Church “law” I would not even have been able to have access to the healing of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, never mind the Eucharist. I’m pretty sure I never would have made it without. To me, “spiritual communion” is a load of nonsense. Sacramental grace is healing, “spiritual communion” does not confer sacramental grace and we are cutting off the very people who genuinely want to heal, from it; conservative cardinals can spin it all they want, but their view is indeed that it is a “prize for the perfect” instead of medicine for the sick but striving. Note I’m not talking about admitting people who don’t give a hoot, but just want the Church to validate their sinful situations; I fully support that folks in these situations are not eligible to receive worthily (many do anyway, but that’s another issue).

But that was not the case for me, and for many others. I hungered to be able to be in a regular situation and I know many do as well. I even tried radical sanation at one point but my diocese refused to get involved with that and told me to have my marriage convalidated instead. Fortunately by then my wife was ready to consider convalidation. A one-size-fits-all pastoral solution seems to be what the conservatives are proposing. I don’t believe it will work at evangelizing.

I’ve always upheld the orthodox position of the Church but now, what I see with from the conservative side, the machinations, the lack of any shred of mercy, taking a cardinal’s interview in a language he has difficulty with and putting a negative spin on it (anybody with a modicum of linguistic skills recognizes that the cardinal’s syntax was so mangled that it couldn’t be a true representation of his thinking), openly criticizing the Holy Father, I find very disturbing; it is disloyal to the Holy Father, and to the Church at least to do it so publicly.

Meanwhile, I pray, especially for our Holy Father, and I pray that my faith in the Church, at least the institutional part, survives this because it has been badly shaken. I will cloister myself into my Benedictine spirituality until the storm dies. I see no further gains from debating in circles and talking past each other (not directed to you personally, but in general).

:clapping: Bravo.

After thinking about this for a few minutes, I still have to ask, how does this square with my comments about privileging this over (what are objectively) other sins?

Either the sacramental laws mean something or they don’t. Either it’s true or it’s trashy masochistic lies. Does not compute. Why is this situation privileged (hypothetically) over other sins? I can’t see it objectively as anything but a privileging, saying that, because a lot of people do this today, well hey, the rules don’t apply to them. It’s not a personal commentary about your situation specifically, just in general. It seems so unjust. It all falls apart, the center does not hold. All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others. I’m struggling to see the effect of this line of thinking as anything other than that.

This matters to me because it makes me question my need for confession. “If they can confess, receive Communion, and still do what they do, then why can’t I?” It seems immature and it probably is but that is where I’m at right now (for the next five minutes or so lol).

Fr. Z has commented about the situation–which I don’t think is possible to happen–that the whole economy marriage thing–that sounds extremely funny, double entendre–would create a second class of relationships in the Church. I’m over that now, my brain has computed it, it is officially impossible and absurd to me.

But now this (what you and I are talking about here) just sounds like we (would hypothetically) have two classes of sinners:

first-class sinners, ie those in difficult marriage situations
and everybody else, second-class sinners who get second-class treatment

Basically, privileging.

Exactly. There is no need to be defensive. In teaching, even Jesus used hyperbole. As to the main point, yes there are those who forget that the Church welcomes sinners. No, not all are committed to giving up all sin the moment they step in the doors, just like not all patients are committed to quit smoking, drinking or excessive eating whenever they receive any medical treatment.

Just a note on how this comment is best understood in proper context.

She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes . . . she will lose many of her social privileges. . . As a small society, [the Church] will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members…

It will be hard-going for the Church, for the process of crystallization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek . . . The process will be long and wearisome as was the road from the false progressivism on the eve of the French Revolution — when a bishop might be thought smart if he made fun of dogmas and even insinuated that the existence of God was by no means certain . . . But when the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church. Men in a totally planned world will find themselves unspeakably lonely. If they have completely lost sight of God, they will feel the whole horror of their poverty. Then they will discover the little flock of believers as something wholly new. They will discover it as a hope that is meant for them, an answer for which they have always been searching in secret.

And so it seems certain to me that the Church is facing very hard times. The real crisis has scarcely begun. We will have to count on terrific upheavals. But I am equally certain about what will remain at the end: not the Church of the political cult, which is dead already, but the Church of faith. She may well no longer be the dominant social power to the extent that she was until recently; but she will enjoy a fresh blossoming and be seen as man’s home, where he will find life and hope beyond death.

Pope Benedict XVI on multiple occasions also has been clear that a smaller less socially privileged Church will have the opportunity to give the greatest witness.

“Living in a plurality of value systems and ethical structures makes it necessary to journey to the core of one’s own self and to the nucleus of Christianity in order to reinforce the quality of our witness unto sanctity, and to discover the paths of the mission that lead even to the radical choice of martyrdom.”

The Church was never guaranteed to be prosperous, large, or influential in politics.

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