After yesterday’s post here on, some might think (as one of the commenters on that post does) that I don’t believe anything good could come from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) meeting. But that’s not true. On the contrary, though I may be respectfully critical of the leadership of the Church that I love (I wouldn’t be committed to religious life or the lifelong study of theology if that weren’t true), I also celebrate with the People of God when such occasions permit. This is the case with much of what Archbishop Timothy Dolan, president of the USCCB, said in his opening address to the assembly of US bishops.

While I do not agree with quite everything the archbishop expressed in his remarks — particularly the more subtle references to challenging responses from the faithful to a top-down delivery of disciplinary and moralistic grandstanding and the tacit demarcation of the ‘secular’ and ‘sacred’ — he offered some wonderfully refreshing and, as Professor Terrence Tilley, chair of the theology department at Fordham University, said yesterday in an interview, almost poetic reflections that called his brother bishops to task and reminded them of who they are.

At various points Dolan did not shy away from acknowledging that the Church is indeed imperfect, with, as he put it, “wrinkles, warts, and wounds all the more.” He acknowledged that the bishops themselves are also sinners, “We profess it, too.  WIth contrition and deep regret, we acknowledge that the members of the Church — starting with us — are sinners!”

He pointed out that next year, on the fiftieth anniversary of the start of the Second Vatican Council, the Church should recall that Vatican II “showed us how the Church summons the world foreward [sic], not backward.” While he readily admits the repeated failings of the Church at times, he offers an optimistic description of the role of the Church in the world.

…the Church invites the world to a fresh, original place, not a musty or outdated one. It is always a risk for the world to hear the Church, for she dares the world to “cast out to the deep,” to foster and protect the inviolable dignity of the human person and human life; to acknowledge the truth about life ingrained in reason and nature; to protect marriage and family; to embrace those suffering and struggling; to prefer service to selfishness; and never to stifle the liberty to quench the deep down thirst for the divine that the poets, philosophers, and peasants of the earth know to be what really makes us genuinely human.

And then, of course, there is the most frequently cited part of the archbishop’s talk: the reference to the fishermen called to be apostles and the challenge the bishops have today to return to that guiding image of evangelization and mission.

Jesus first called fishermen and then transformed them into shepherds. The New Evangelization prompts us to reclaim the role of fishermen. Perhaps we should begin to carry fishing poles instead of croziers.

There is a lot to appreciate in the archbishop’s presentation, not the least of which is his ostensible openness to reenergizing and enlivening the life of the Church and the community of faith. He made the point rather directly that he see the need for us, and even more so for the bishops, to, “resist the temptation to approach the Church as merely a system of organizational energy and support that requires maintenance.”

Wisdom indeed. But is Archbishop Dolan (and those who would follow him) willing to accept the implications of such a statement? I hope so. Far too often the actions and statements of the leaders of the Catholic Church, particularly in the United States much more than in other parts of the world, reflect a paradigm that appears more interested in protecting a “system of organizational energy and support that requires maintenance.” There seems at times to be little life, little prophecy, little Good News in the day-to-day life of the Church. Hopefully that changes, perhaps Dolan will inspire his brother bishops to be more open to the Spirit — even if She leads them into places neither Dolan nor his fellow bishops would care to go.

Photo: CNS Pool/Stephen Brashear


  1. Dan Thanks – I love this honest post : and the last paragraph in particular resonates strongly with my own views these days.
    I think that the institutional church in the UK is pretty much in the same place and its efforts are seen by many as “re arranging the deckchairs……”
    As you say so cogently, “ostensible openness” in these words but on the ground the reality is so different and the forum for dialogue is so flawed.
    When you say,
    “There seems at times to be little life, little prophecy, little Good News in the day-to-day life of the Church.”…
    All I can do is think ahead to Advent when I think of a dusty road, a weary woman and a worried man, a sleepy town, a simple stable where it all began and hope for the light of transformation that will radically renew our church and turn it upside down !!

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