60 Minutes' Safer Grills 'Right-Wing Conservative' NY Archbishop, Urges Catholic Church to be More Liberal

On Sunday's 60 Minutes, CBS correspondent Morley Safer interviewed New York Catholic Archbishop Timothy Dolan and pressed him on the his commitment to traditional Church teachings: "No question that you're conciliatory, that you like to have dialog, but underneath that you're an old-fashioned conservative. I mean, in the sense of right-wing conservative."

Dolan turned Safer's characterization around: "I would bristle at being termed 'right-wing.' But if somebody means enthusiastically committed and grateful for the timeless heritage of the Church, and feeling that my best service is when I try to preserve that and pass that on in its fullness and beauty and radiance, I'm a conservative, no doubt."

After Dolan remarked that some Church critics "have thought that we continue, unfortunately, to cling to outmoded doctrines and beliefs," Safer proclaimed: "But if you think Dolan plans to push for changes in those doctrines and beliefs, think again. Despite the jolly open demeanor, he's about as conservative as they come....He is unwavering on what he calls the 'settled' questions: abortion, birth control, ordination of women, gay marriage, and celibacy."

On subject of celibacy, Safer pushed for a change in Church doctrine: "Aren't you losing some really good people that way?" He also claimed: "An awful lot of practicing Catholics feel that the degree of abuse that is going on would not be happening if the priesthood was attracting couples." Dolan observed: "I don't know if what we know scholarship-wise would back that up, Morley. The greatest culprits in sexual abuse are, unfortunately, married men....I don't think it holds water."

Later, Safer fretted that the Church "seems to be blind" to change. Dolan countered: "I still would maintain that there's an equally large group who would say, 'Oh my, what attracts us to the Catholic faith is its sense of permanence and its sense of consistency and stability.'" He added that he hoped to change "the perception of the Church as some shrill scold," noting that was something that Safer had been "hinting at over and over again" throughout the interview.

Near the end of the segment, Safer explained that Dolan wanted people to "not focus so much on what the Church prohibits." Dolan stated: "Instead of being hung up on these headline issues, let's get back to where the Church is at her best." Safer argued: " But the headline issues are where people are living their lives. An awful lot feel that the Church is going down the wrong road." Dolan replied by pointing out Safer's liberal perspective: "So, I guess, you got two different world views there....I'm in one world. You're in the other, I'm glad you're visiting."

While Safer went after the Catholic Church for not changing with the times, he recently staunchly defended a British men's social club that maintained its policy of restricting access to women, arguing in part: "What will be next?...Kosher dining rooms? Special facilities for nudists and transsexuals?"

Below is a transcript of portions of the March 20 segment. You can read the full story here.

7:58PM ET

MORLEY SAFER: The past decade has been devastating for the Catholic Church – seemingly endless cases of sexual abuse by priests, and bishops who turned a blind eye to it. And multi-billion-dollar payouts to victims, all of which led to a steady loss of the faithful. One man the American Church hopes can change all that is Timothy Dolan – for two years now, the Archbishop of New York, the nation's most prominent pulpit. He's also been called the 'American Pope,' after his election to head the U.S. Conference of Bishops. His mission, as he sees it, is to change a perception of the church that ranges from negative to irrelevant.

(...)

TIMOTHY DOLAN: For the first time in Catholic history, we have a large group of Catholics who are saying, 'I'm no longer in the Church.' That's a big problem. We got a big problem that our people think our preaching is no good. While others have thought that we continue, unfortunately, to cling to outmoded doctrines and beliefs.

SAFER: But if you think Dolan plans to push for changes in those doctrines and beliefs, think again. Despite the jolly open demeanor, he's about as conservative as they come.
    
DOLAN: They say there aren't many people to my right. That's what the critics say.

SAFER: He is unwavering on what he calls the 'settled' questions: abortion, birth control, ordination of women, gay marriage, and celibacy. No question that you're conciliatory, that you like to have dialog, but underneath that you're an old-fashioned conservative. I mean, in the sense of right-wing conservative.

DOLAN: I would bristle at being termed 'right-wing.' But if somebody means enthusiastically committed and grateful for the timeless heritage of the Church, and feeling that my best service is when I try to preserve that and pass that on in its fullness and beauty and radiance, I'm a conservative, no doubt.

SAFER: Last fall he was unexpectedly elected over a more liberal candidate to become president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.


(...)

SAFER: Dolan took us to his old haunt – the North American College, the American seminary that trains the best and the brightest. Dolan says it's essential that these men are fully prepared for what he calls a 'happy, healthy, celibate priesthood.' But aren't you losing some really good people that way?

DOLAN: I don't think there's any denying it, Morley, that perhaps if the Church dropped its obligation of celibacy there might be, there would be more candidates right away.

SAFER: An awful lot of practicing Catholics feel that the degree of abuse that is going on would not be happening if the priesthood was attracting couples.

DOLAN: I don't know if what we know scholarship-wise would back that up, Morley. The greatest culprits in sexual abuse are, unfortunately, married men. So, I don't know if marriage is the answer, although I would have to agree with you, that's a popular argument. I don't think it holds water.        

SAFER: What do you make of the Church's response to the abuse scandals?

DOLAN: When you think of what happened, both that a man who proposes to act in the name of God would've abused an innocent young person, and that some bishops would have in a way, countenanced that by reassigning abusers, that's nothing less than hideous. That's nothing less than nauseating. The second story, Morley, is the Church's reaction to that, which I think has been good. It's been strong. It's been rigorous.

SAFER: But to an awful lot of people, of Catholics, feel that as awful, as horrible as the crime was, the cover-up was worse than the crime.

DOLAN: And I'd say there's some truth in that. You'd think that the Church, of all, would know better. So, yeah, there's no denying that, Morley. That was a terrible thing. That's over with.

SAFER: But it's not – revelations keep coming. Since our interview, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia found itself embroiled in yet another sex abuse scandal. Still, Dolan defends the Church's efforts to protect children and he's a staunch supporter of Pope Benedict's handling of the abuse crisis.

(...)

SAFER: Dolan admits that restoring the Church's credibility is going to be an enormous challenge. Yet he insists that a dramatic reformation of the Church is not the answer. Certain changes may be necessary.

DOLAN: Sure.

SAFER: And the Church seems to be blind to that idea.

DOLAN: Sure. There's no denying that, Morley. There would be a good chunk of people who would want more change. But I still would maintain that there's an equally large group who would say, 'Oh my, what attracts us to the Catholic faith is its sense of permanence and its sense of consistency and stability.'

SAFER: Why is it that – I feel that in your heart of hearts there are certain changes you really wish would take place?

DOLAN: Yeah, there would be – yes, I think there would be changes in the Church. But I don't think they're the ones you have in mind. I don't want to see changes in the Church when it comes to celibacy or women priests or our clear teaching about the sanctity of human life and the unity of marriage between one man and one woman forever. I'd love to see changes in the Church in the very area that you're hinting at over and over again, in the perception of the Church as some shrill scold. We need to change that.

SAFER: Dolan says he wants people to celebrate the beauty, charity, and timelessness of the Church, and not focus so much on what the Church prohibits.

DOLAN: Instead of being hung up on these headline issues, let's get back to where the Church is at her best.

SAFER: But the headline issues are where people are living their lives. An awful lot feel that the Church is going down the wrong road.

DOLAN: So, I guess, you got two different world views there.

SAFER: And you ain't gonna change.

DOLAN: I'm in one world. You're in the other, I'm glad you're visiting.

[LAUGHTER]

— Kyle Drennen is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC