Timothy Dolan will face an array of challenges as he takes over the premier seat in the Catholic Church in the United States - from possible closures of parishes and schools to a drop in Mass attendance and the number of priests.
"He has the same issues that any other bishop would have, multiplied by 100," said the Rev. Thomas Reese, senior fellow at Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University.
But it is also because he will be facing some very real problems. Among them is the financial status of the archdiocese. His predecessor, Cardinal Edward M. Egan, closed 20 parishes and eliminated the archdiocese's $20-million annual operating deficit. But the archdiocese is hardly out of the woods.
"It remains a challenge because of the global financial meltdown. The recession has changed the calculus for everyone," said David Gibson, the Brooklyn-based author of "The Rule of Benedict: Pope Benedict XVI and His Battle with the Modern World."
Dolan said that as archbishop he plans to challenge the idea that the Roman Catholic Church is unenlightened because it opposes gay marriage and abortion. He also said he will work to restore pride in the church. He called the clergy sex abuse scandal a continuing source of shame.
"One would hope that through education and through the joy that we give by our lives that people will begin to see that these fears and this skepticism we have about the church are unwarranted," Dolan said.
The New York State Legislature is considering a bill that would eliminate the statute of limitations on child sex abuse cases for a year. Reese said "that could have a very devastating effect on the finances" of the archdiocese, although some victims' groups contend the church can afford the settlements.
Beyond that, Dolan will be faced with the challenge of bolstering the ranks of priests. As Gibson noted, "Egan said his greatest disappointment was not attracting more vocations to the priesthood."
The new archbishop will also have to figure out how to make the Gospel relevant to people in the 21st century, including to young people who often feel distant from the church, Reese said.
A key question also will be how Dolan fits into the national church hierarchy. Gibson said the hierarchy seems to be looking for some leadership.
Dolan will also be called on to minister to the archdiocese's increasingly diverse flock, with Sunday Mass celebrated in more than two dozen languages.
Despite the problems Dolan will inherit, Reese thinks he will handle them well. "I think he is up to the challenge," he said. "He is very bright, very articulate. I think he'll do a good job."
Copyright © 2009, Newsday Inc.
NYC's New Archbishop Faces Range Of Challenges
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