Cardinal Timothy Dolan will soon enter his eighth year as archbishop of the Archdiocese of New York, since being named to the post by Pope Benedict XVI in February 2009. He was asked to lead a prayer at the inauguration of President Donald Trump on Jan. 20 in Washington. He spoke Jan. 11 with the Register.
This was obviously an intense political year for the country that revealed sharp divisions. You saw that up close at the Al Smith Dinner in October. What do you see as the root of this problem, and what do you see as a solution to this current political rancor?
Rancor, division, a lack of unity seem to be part of the political process. Now, some of that is natural, some of that is expected, some of that is good, because whenever people are passionate about something, you’re going to have divisions. And [divisions], let’s face it … seemed to be on steroids this past campaign.
What was unique about this campaign season, as you would know, is that there even seemed to be internal to the Republican Party a lot of rancor and division. Where is it going?
I’m in the business of hope, as a believer, as a pastor, and, right now ... I would like to [have hope in] the American tradition of coming together, when we have a new president, of a kind of taking a deep breath and saying, “We want to make this work.”
I look forward to going to the inauguration. I look forward to a bit of a “springtime,” and I look forward to that; usually in the American genius, once a campaign is over, there seems to be a move to a little bit more common ground. There seems to be a sense of “Let’s make this work.”
That could be a well-grounded hope, because I think one of the things that people found appealing in Mr. Trump is the fact that he wasn’t kind of a politician in the classical sense. Even the Republicans were saying, “Well, he’s not kind of your classical Republican; he’s a bit of a maverick,” and one of the things, it seems to me, that the American people found somewhat appealing is that he said, “Let’s just make Washington work.” We all know that there are a lot of things that need improvement. We all know that there are a lot of things that cause fear and disquietude, and let’s get together and make it work. Who knows? Let’s hope it does. And I’m hopeful about it. And I hope I’m not shown to be some Pollyanna in all of this.
You mentioned the inauguration. You’re going to be there.
I was flattered to be asked to lead a prayer. The Trump campaign, I think somewhat wisely, asked people to do the prayer, and they said, ‘Not really a prayer, but could you tell us a section of Scripture from your own tradition that you’re going to use?’ I’m going to use the ninth chapter of the Book of Wisdom, King Solomon’s prayer, which we priests pray every Saturday morning, those of us and the faithful who do the Divine Office. I love that prayer, when we say it on Saturday morning, for the gift of wisdom — and it’ll come from the heart.
Well, the president-elect has made a series of pretty remarkable promises and pledges, both to the Catholic community of the United States and also to the pro-life community. What’s your sense of that, and where do you see that pledge taking us?
Well, in that regard, look: I, like other Americans, might have some reservations and apprehensions about some of the things that the president-elect has spoken about or said he would do. However, I sense relief, and I sense satisfaction, over his promises — first of all, that he’s going to be pro-life, that he’s going to nominate pro-life judges. No. 2: that he’s going to be very muscular in defending religious liberty and canceling some of the regulations that we found to be very intrusive and very threatening to religious freedom in the United States. Those are two things. I should add a third: his benevolent attitude towards non-public education, to charter schools, to Catholic schools and parental rights. Those are three areas where I think no matter what you might think about the rest of the platform, those are three areas that we can say, “Alleluia.” And let’s see what happens.
And talking about the pro-life cause, there has been disappointment over the years from pro-life administrations that have come in with a great deal of promise followed by a great deal of heartbreak. What do you foresee happening that might be different this time around?
You are absolutely correct in that observation. The older I get — I’m 66 now — the more the line in the Psalms — “Put not your trust in princes” — is more and more true. You might say today a new translation would be: “Put not your trust in politicians.” And we have been singed in the past, haven’t we? Even people who have come in with strong promises, sometimes, it seems, that the best we could do is [assure] that they don’t advance aggressive, unfettered abortion license.
But there are a couple of things that give me a little bit more of a flicker of hope now. No. 1 is, you seem to have a man who kind of stands his ground, and says, “No, this is what I’ve said I’m going to do; what you see is what you get. I said I’m going to do it; I’m going to do it.” No. 2, I think there’s some good, thoughtful assessment of the election, that even Democrats are admitting, that one of the reasons that the Democratic Party did poorly was that there has been almost a wholesale capitulation to what you might call the aggressive pro-abortion lobby, that they will not brook any dissent from that, and that we have moved from not just a toleration of abortion, an abhorrence of abortion — even though you might say it’s legal — we’ve moved from that, making it “safe, legal and rare,” to almost celebrating it, not only as legally defensible, but as a right that should be paid for and that people should celebrate.
When you have at the Democratic Party … speakers who would celebrate the fact that they had abortions, I think, in retrospect, thoughtful Democrats are saying [in response], “Boy, that was a big mistake.” Because the people of the United States are not there. They’re tired of this drift to what you might call the more chic social causes. And that would be an added reason why I think Mr. Trump might say this is a good climate to make some progress in that.
We saw, just in 2016, about 60 pieces of legislation across 19 states relating to abortion from what are now increasingly pro-life state legislatures and governors’ mansions. Do you see the pro-life movement expanding, and to your point on the changing of that argument, are we becoming really much more of a pro-life country?
Again, in American history, the pro-life movement would be the most recent and most successful illustration of a truly grassroots movement. It’s scorned by much of leadership; it’s snickered at by the elite. But it keeps getting stronger and stronger and attracting more and more people. It’s truly grassroots.
You could put it in the whole beautiful pedigree, beginning with the movement of the revolution itself, which was a grassroots movement, to abolition, to the temperance movement, which wasn’t the most popular among Catholics, to the labor movement, to the civil-rights movement, to the peace movement, and now the pro-life movement. It’s all part of that pedigree of a grassroots movement, which genuinely resonates with what the American genius is all about: that the people have a good common sense. And even though we who are passionate about the pro-life cause know that we’ve still got a tough challenge ahead of us, and that we’ve got a long fight ahead of us, I think we’re getting a second wind to say that our people have immense common sense, and they don’t like abortion in their gut; they don’t feel that they should be obliged to pay for it; they feel that there should be thoughtful and prudent restrictions on it. And they’re tired of just this tsunami towards the unrestricted abortion right.
We need to listen to the people, and I think that gives the pro-life movement a lot of confidence and a lot of encouragement.
So there’s common ground, obviously, between the bishops and the Trump administration on a number of issues.
On those issues, yes. Education; pro-life; sort of a chagrin at government intrusion into the internal life of the Church: Those would be some common ground.
How do you see, in practical terms, that relationship developing over the next four years?
People seem to think that I have this unique relationship with the president-elect. I don’t. I’ve been honored to be in his company a couple of times. In this room, I had a long meeting with him. I found him, first of all, to be much more attentive, much more listening, much more sensitive, much more eager to learn, and a bit meeker in private, than maybe his public persona would be. He seemed to admit that he wanted to learn a lot more about things Catholic, and he asked me some very good questions.
… Because I had done a little research — and I had found his fondness for [Protestant preacher] Norman Vincent Peale, whom I had studied — (after the Second World War and that great religious revival in America, that would be especially personified in the three great leaders of Billy Graham, Fulton Sheen and Norman Vincent Peale) — when I mentioned Norman Vincent Peale, he perked up, and he told me what a religious influence Dr. Peale was on his life. And he said to me, “I feel that, right now, one of the vacuums in American public life is that the voice of religion has been somewhat muted.” And he said, “I would like to create a climate where religious leaders would feel much more comfortable in the public square.” Now, I took solace from that, that he seemed to be very attentive to religious sensibilities.
You know Norman Vincent Peale was a complicated figure, and there would be some who would think he might not be the best example of a leader in faith, but he was amazingly popular. He was a man of the Bible; he was a great preacher. And he had tremendous impact on American public life, so I was heartened by Mr. Trump’s interest in religion and … what seemed to be a sense that [he] would go back to Washington and would characterize, like almost all of our presidents, that America is best served when there is a vigorous religious voice in the public square. I like that.