A Conversation With Cardinal Dolan

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Cardinal-Archbishop, Archdiocese of New York


National Reporter, Religion News Service

JENKINS: Hello. Welcome, again, to the second day of the Council on Foreign Relations Religion and Foreign Policy Workshop.

I am Jack Jenkins, national reporter with Religion News Service here in Washington, D.C., where I cover the intersection of religion and politics as well as Catholicism. And the overlap has been significant in recent days.

And I am delighted to be moderating today’s conversation with Cardinal Timothy Dolan. Cardinal Dolan is the current archbishop of New York. He was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Louis in 1976. Pope Benedict transferred him to the Archdiocese of New York in 2009, and named him a cardinal in 2012. And Cardinal Dolan entered the conclave that elected Pope Francis in 2013. And he joins us here this morning.

Good morning, Cardinal Dolan.

DOLAN: Jack, good morning to you and all our gracious listeners. It’s an honor and a joy to be with you. Thanks for the invite.

JENKINS: Thanks so much.

So I’ll just lead out with a question. So the biggest foreign policy headlines in recent weeks have involved the ongoing conflict in Israel-Palestine, where violence has continued to ramp up. Shortly before we began this session, news broke that President Biden has called for de-escalation in that region. Now, the region, of course, is a place that is of profound religious significance to at least three major world faiths. And I’m curious from your perspective, what is the role of the Vatican in particular, and the Catholic Church broadly, in terms of responding to this conflict? Because, obviously, there are foreign policy things at stake here, as well as domestic demonstrations happening right now here in the United States. So what is the Vatican and the church’s appropriate response and role in this moment?

DOLAN: Well, thanks for asking, Jack. Yeah, the turmoil in the Holy Land, in Israel and Palestine, boy, that’s not new. And for those of us who are interested in foreign relations—and I salute the Council on Foreign Relations for their constant vigilance on this extraordinarily timely topic. It shows us how perennial conflicts are—that conflicts, unfortunately, are at the heart of the human project.
Also at the heart of the human project is the ardent desire for peace. And of course, the Holy See—which is kind of the technical name for the Vatican—the Holy See would always be promoting that.
The church—the Vatican, the Holy See—has always taken a special solicitude for the Holy Land. You hinted at one of the reasons, Jack, is just because it’s the historical roots for the monotheistic religions of the world: Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.

The Holy See—the Vatican—has been particularly solicitous in the Holy Land for a number of reasons. One, because it’s home to ancient Christian communities. Secondly, because they’re always concerned about the rights of people. And thirdly, because they know that, unfortunately, what happens in the Middle East—as the old saying goes, when the Middle East sneezes, the rest of the world catches a cold, and that means that there’s going to be implications throughout the world.
In one way, the church’s position—the Holy See’s position—would be very basic and very fundamental. And it’s going to be the same, Jack and listeners, to any turmoil or conflict that you have in the world, namely that violence is never the answer. Violence always breeds more violence. What is always essential is to step back, have some reflection and circumspection, and then to go into dialogue.
Now, those might sound like bromides from a Hallmark greeting card, but for the Holy See they are extraordinarily important. And the Holy See would say that words like “stepping back,” “prudence,” “distance,” “dialogue”—don’t tell me those are dreamy, cerebral ideals because they are extraordinarily practical. And they work where violence rarely, if ever works.

I remember, Jack, when I was taking a course in world history in my high school years. And it was a great course taught by a wonderfully astute priest, and we were studying the Second World War. And he said,“now, tell me the main reason for the Second World War,” and we all tried to give the reasons that we had learned from our reading in the textbook and all. And he said, yeah, those are all reasons, but he said, the major reason for the Second World War was the First World War. It was the First World War that caused the second one. Now, there’s an example of how violence, of how war, of how bloodshed, of how vendettas only lead to more.

So the church is always saying, whoa, hold on here. Yeah, I know tensions are high. I know that this is in your gut. I know that there’s a breeding sense of injustice, and tension, and apprehension. But let’s use our mind, and our hearts, and not just our gut. And let’s call for scaling back and getting together to talk. We, most of the time, think of the violence and upheaval in the holy land and in Israel, in the Mideast. 

We—as I’m speaking with you people who are much more learned on topics of international affairs than I’ll ever be—we can’t escape the fact that progress has come when the sides have gotten together. I’m thinking of Jimmy Carter and the Camp David Accords. I’m thinking about all the times that leaders have come together. And simply put, that’s what Pope Francis, that’s what his predecessors, that’s what the church believes. The church has a box seat on what’s going on in the Middle East because of the ancient Christian communities, who would weigh in. And does that help, Jack, or is there a follow up that I can be more specific?

JENKINS: Yeah. Just a quick follow up about that box seat. I’m curious. Given, as you noted, the duration of this conflict. And it’s not new. But I’m curious, does the Vatican have a particular voice and influence to offer in this moment, given the billion-or-so Catholics that are represented in that institution. I’m curious, is there a specific amount of clout that the Vatican and the church can—writ large—can exercise in this moment, that other nations or bodies might not have?

DOLAN: I would hope so. And I think that they do. By the way, in 1979 I was a graduate student in church history. And I was able to—I had Christmas free for the first time ever. And the first time I figured I ever would again, as a priest. And I went to Israel. I went to the Holy Land for Christmas, or at least we had the trip planned. And all of a sudden, come November, there was tension. There was some bloodshed. There was some upheaval. So I called the pilgrimage director. And I said, “well, I guess we better not go because there’s tension and conflict.” And he said, “look, if people only went to Israel when there was not tension and conflict nobody could ever go, because it’s been that way throughout history.”

Yeah, the church would have a particular voice in a number of ways. Number one, there is a nuncio there.  The nuncio is the fancy word that the Holy See or the Vatican uses for its ambassadors—one who announces, an ambassador. And the nuncio, the Holy See’s ambassador to Israel, has always had a central role. Secondly, the leaders of the ancient religions there, they would all have some historical headquarters. And those religious leaders—I’m thinking of the patriarch of Jerusalem. I’m thinking about the Maronite archbishop, the—and pardon me for using all these fancy words. I hope nobody asks me to explain them because I don’t know if I can. But all the different groupings of the ancient Christian communities would be here.

And they would have a loud voice. And thirdly, both parties historically, very much look to the Holy See for some type of moral approbation. So both the Palestinians and Israel are eager always to kind of explain themselves and seek the counsel of the Holy See. You would know in history that the state of Israel was eager, eager, eager always to have diplomatic relations with the Holy See. That didn’t come until the time of Pope St. John Paul II, if I’m not mistaken, in 1993. As the Palestinians were always eager for diplomatic relations. So they’re kind of sensitive to the moral authority of the church in world affairs. And I would like to think that that would give the church, the faith communities, a particularly significant role in brokering any type of advance in peace.

JENKINS: I see. I see. Now, on that topic of kind of the moral authority, I mean, obviously world leaders are the chief arbiters of foreign policy. And Catholic leaders routinely dialogue with world leaders on issues the church cares about. Most recently, we’ve seen Pope Francis speak vocally about the plight of refugees, immigrants, the threat of climate change. John Kerry, in his capacity as the U.S. special presidential envoy for climate, met with the pope over the weekend—again, kind of dialoguing about these issues. 

Now of course the church has also taken a firm stance opposing abortion, which is an issue that has both domestic policy implications and foreign policy implications here in the United States, such as the so-called Mexico City policy, which members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have vocally supported in the past. So there has been a debate recently among your fellow bishops over whether or not to deny Catholic politicians, such as President Joe Biden, communion if they back policies that support abortion rights. 

Now, you said back in 2019 that that’s not necessarily something you would want to have done back when there were reports that then-candidate Joe Biden was denied communion in South Carolina by a priest. But I’m curious, do you still hold that position now? And would you support—do you have any thoughts on this potential for drafting a document in the upcoming bishop’s meeting about this precise issue? And then the attached question to that is, is this what it looks like when the church tries to exert moral authority on moral questions to world leaders, both here in the United States and abroad?

DOLAN: Yeah. Yeah, way to go, Jack. I had mentioned to you that the Holy See always prefers dialogue, conversation, reasonable approach to things when it comes to international tension. That, by the way, is the church’s preference when it comes to intermural difficulties. You just raised one of them. So the Holy See recently wrote to us, bishops in the United States, and said: Hey, it’s good you’re worried about this issue. Let’s keep in mind that always the best approach is, before you get into sanctions or discipline, is always to have dialogue, OK? So we preach to ourselves as well as to others.

It’s interesting you bring up, Jack, moral authority.

Some people might be tempted to say, whoa, wait a minute, morality doesn’t have, shouldn’t have much to do in international diplomacy and foreign affairs. The people on this call know better, don’t they? Diplomacy at its core is a moral enterprise, insofar as it is based on such virtues as trust and honor, the reliability of one’s word, a concern not only about one’s self, but the common good. Those are all moral principles upon which fruitful diplomacy and foreign relations are built, OK? Most of the time we come into tension, as we’ve got now with the issue at hand in the Mideast, is because of why? A lack of trust on both sides. That’s a moral problem, OK? That’s just not an earthly problem. That happens to be a spiritual and emotional problem, a conflict of the heart.

And from the middle of the fourth century, as you all would know in your history of foreign affairs, the Holy See, the Vatican, the central government of the Catholic Church, has always been looked upon as a player in foreign relations because it does have a particularly compelling moral voice. We’re not the only faith that does, that’s for sure. Thank God there’s a whole array of voices in it. But the Holy See—and that’s why since the middle of the fourth century the Vatican, Rome, the Holy See has sent and received diplomats. Because world powers would appreciate the role—the moral authority that the Holy See uniquely has. 

We have no troops to send. We have no currency to float. We have no borders to protect. We have no arms to trade, OK? Our only coinage, Jack, is in the moral and spiritual realm. But that’s not to be dismissed. When that is dismissed is when we get into hot water, as is going now. That’s why the holy father would constantly call both sides: Slow down. Ease up a little. Let’s get together and talk. And, by the way, if I can be a partner in bringing sides together, let me know. As often the Holy See is. Remember, as often the Vatican is. More often than not, behind the scenes. Diplomacy by its nature is heavy on discretion, OK? And the Holy See is sort of an expert on discretion.

JENKINS: Got it. And just to make sure that you address the first part of my question, do you have any specific remarks about this dialogue about denying communion? And do you still hold your same position as you did in 2019 saying that you personally wouldn’t do this to then-candidate Biden or now President Biden?

DOLAN: Yeah, I would have welcomed the Holy See’s counsel to us recently. This is a timely moment for us as teachers, us bishops in the United States, to issue a clear teaching on what we believe about the holy Eucharist, and what is necessary for a worthy reception of holy communion. That’s a challenge to all of us, not any particular politician. So I think the church’s role is to teach, and then in dialogue with individual politicians who profess the Catholic faith would ask for guidance. That’s where we would come in. So you quoting me in 2019? That would probably be my position today, yeah.

JENKINS: Got it. And I have a couple more questions if we can get through them. One is just, one of the realities of foreign policy is that sometimes domestic policy can influence foreign policy. So for instance, the struggle for racial equality here in the United States has been noted by other nations as calling into question the moral high ground that the United States sometimes claims in conversations around human rights. And racial justice has also been a topic within the Catholic Church. You know, the USCCB has dedicated resources to it and Pope Francis has even mentioned demonstrations that happened here in the United States around racial justice recently.

And so with that in mind, how can the Catholic Church—which activists noted has been among the myriad of faith communities that were complicit in perpetuating slavery and other forms of White supremacy throughout American history—how does the church help this country reckon with that past and create a future that embraces racial justice in order to help further the foreign policy goals that the United States and the Catholic Church have put forward?

DOLAN: What your good question is predicated upon, Jack, is the importance of credibility when it comes to foreign affairs and diplomatic initiatives. One has to have a certain amount of credibility, especially if you’re talking about morality, which the Holy See does. That’s our cache. And part of that morality is to admit that we don’t often practice what we preach. So very often a contrite posture that, hey, we’re going to hold up the values, we’re going to hold up the principles. We’d like to think that more often than not we’ve been a good example of showing those in the past. But we got to let you know that we’re also painfully aware that there have been examples in the past where we ourselves have been guilty of the atrocities that now we warn against in the world, and that we ourselves haven’t been the best in living up to.

So that bluntness, that candor, I think, is always important in the life of the church. So when it comes to racism—I remember very well, Jack, over the summer we had a most enlightening and an extraordinarily blunt Zoom call with our priests and deacons, religious women and men leaders in the diocese, on the question of racism. And that came up, that we had some people painfully speak about their personal wounds of racism, even within the family of the church in the past. Thanks be to God even more people spoke about how the church was a light to the world, as Jesus asks us to be, in speaking about racial justice. You have to remember, everything the church does is based on those two pillars: of the dignity of the human person made in the image and the likeness of God, OK. And number two, the sanctity of all human life.

Those are the two pillars. And every time we preach them. and preach them we must even in the realm of foreign affairs, we also have to do a mea culpa in saying, hey folks, sometimes we learn the hard of the horror and the trauma of not living up and defending those two pillars. Maybe that give us a bit more credibility. Can I give you an example, Jack?


DOLAN: What am I asking you for? I would have done it anyway. (Laughter.) You know, the church, the Vatican, and its central teaching has a checkered history in the defense of religious freedom, all right? So there would have been kind of the drift of the church’s teaching through the centuries that the one true religion—for us, Catholicism—should have a privileged posture in the common good, in society, OK? Gradually the church changed in that, OK? Led, if I might say so, by dah-dah, the United States of America. So when we have our First Amendment, when we had the separate of church and state, when we came across as the champion of religious freedom throughout the world, at first the Holy See said, oh, we don’t know about this separation of church and state because the union of throne and altar was always such a part of history, especially in Europe. 

But gradually they came to see, this is the providential way, in such a way that at the Second Vatican Council between 1962 and 1965, through the leadership of the American bishops, the highest teaching authority in the church, an ecumenical council, issued a document on religious freedom that today by diplomatic entities is looked upon as one of the foundations of civilization’s providential protection of that first and most cherished freedom: religious freedom. So I get—I only mention that as an example of how sometimes we have learned by our mistakes. And we don’t serve anybody well if we hide those mistakes and don’t admit them. And say well sort of what Jesus said about some teachers. He said, do what they say, don’t do what they do, OK?

JENKINS: Right. Well, and one last question before we turn it over to the audience. We’re in the middle of a global pandemic, a foreign policy conundrum if there ever was one. And, as you noted, the Vatican, the church, isn’t going to send armies of that variety. But they are present in places around the planet in a way that is not true with most other global institutions. And so the Vatican has been involved in several debates involving the pandemic, most recently calling for vaccine patents to be loosened so they can be more widely distributed to the planet, something the Biden administration has since endorsed.

And I’m curious—and I apologize for the unfairly broad nature of this question given how all-encompassing the pandemic is. But what is the role of the Catholic Church moving forward as it looks like many Western nations are deeply vaccinating their people and their citizens and now trying to distribute those vaccines elsewhere where other countries might have to grapple with this pandemic for months, if not years, beyond this present point? What is the role of the Catholic Church and the Vatican, looking forward to the future of the repercussions of this pandemic?

DOLAN: A high and necessary role, a trust. You are right in saying that one of the traditional ways, one of the traditional reasons that the powers of the world look to the church, to the Holy See, for some type of guidance or help when it comes to global problems is because we do happen to have outposts in every nation of the world. The very word “catholic” means “everywhere,” OK? We’re everywhere. So the church is always on the ground. And we always got our ear to the ground about the trials and the tribulations that people are going through.

So we like to think we can bring that experience to global conversations. Again, the church’s sensitivity to the global pandemic is obvious. And it stems from what I just mentioned before, Jack, our dual responsibility of the dignity of the human person, made in God’s image and likeness, particularly when that’s threatened, and the sanctity of all human life. Now, the dignity of the human person and the sanctity of life has been extraordinarily, graphically affected by the global pandemic. So no wonder the Holy See has had something to say about it, and will continue to.

However, you used a word earlier, Jack, that usually we try to stay away from, but it might be applied here. You spoke about the clout of the Vatican. I don’t know if, we can’t claim any earthly clout. We can claim a spiritual clout. And so the greatest service that the Holy See can provide is spiritual. And I have not heard anybody deny that this has, this pandemic, yes, it’s affected the lungs. Yes, it’s affected the body. But it has also affected the soul. And that there has been a planetary, almost, rediscovery of the power of the within, the power of the soul, and the spirit, and the human person. And of course, the Holy See will speak to that.

So I look, for instance, here in the Archdiocese of New York, have the parishes, I could speak about the way the parishes, and Catholic Charities, and ArchCare have been extraordinarily robust in helping to bring about the vaccines in our pop-up food pantries and the help that we’re trying to get to the poor who are overly burdened during the crisis, in our nursing homes, in our hospitals. Yeah, I can talk about all of that. Primarily what I hope we’ve been most salutary in, is in our attention to the soul. To try to help people get focus and meaning in all of this suffering. Would you ever forget, it was almost, well, it was the end of March last year. So it was right after the global pandemic was kind of recognized by the entire world, when Pope Francis did that outdoor service in the rain in an empty St. Peter’s Square.


DOLAN: He was there, standing alone in an empty St. Peter’s Square, addressing the world. I’m told by my friends in the media that that was extraordinarily soothing and helpful to the world to use, if you might remember, the passage in the Bible about the terrible storm that happened in Galilee and with the apostles in the boat thinking they were going to sink. And they look to Jesus for help, and he was snoring. He was asleep. And he spoke very, Pope Francis, to an empty square with literally tens and tens of millions of people listening. He spoke about the temptation today is to think that God is asleep. That he’s not in charge. That he’s not taking care of us. That he’s not going to get us through this.
That, Jack, is the church at her best. That is where the church has its most clout, to use your word. Without for a moment deemphasizing the extraordinary humanitarian charitable and health-care work that the church has done, and the moral chiding sometimes that the holy father has done about the necessity of sharing the virus, the necessity of not tying it to the ability to pay, the necessity of making sure that the poor are on par with everybody else in having access to this.

JENKINS: Thank you for that. And I could ask you questions all day (laughs), but I do want to give our audience the opportunity to do so as well. So at this time I would like to invite participants to join our conversation with questions. We’ll do our best to get through as many as possible. I think I turn it over to the CFR folks for that.

OPERATOR: Thank you.

(Gives queuing instructions.)

We’ll take the first live question from Burton Visotzky at Jewish Theological Seminary. Please unmute.

VISOTZKY: Thank you. Can you all hear me?

DOLAN: You bet we can Burton.

VISOTZKY: Your eminence, it’s—

DOLAN: It’s good to have a friend and a neighbor asking the first question.

VISOTZKY: Excellent. Yes. I want to ask you a particular question in light of Pope Francis’s unprecedented outreach to the Muslim community. He visited Abu Dhabi in 2019 and his encyclical “Fratelli Tutti,” which was magnificent, was really in large measure addressed to relations with the Muslim community. That is a sea change in Catholic-Islamic relations over almost two thousand years, well, fifteen hundred years. I want to ask: How will this affect your own interfaith outreach to the Muslims in New York?

DOLAN: Yeah. Burton, thanks for the question. By the way, you did very well, “Fratelli Tutti.” You had a great Italian pronunciation. Had a little bit of a Hebrew twang to it. But you did very well, Burton. Way to go.

It’ll have an epic impact on us. It’ll have an epic impact. I’m glad you brought it up, because this is exhibit A of the church’s posture to everything. It’s much better to talk, to sit down. It’s better to embrace hands than have them in a fist. And we have to do that, especially as religious leaders. Pope Francis has been phenomenally active in this. And I would say, Burton, it’s based on both a pragmatic and a theoretical reason. The theoretical reason is simply because of the compunction of what the Islamic, the Jewish, and the Christian community believe, that trust and respect for the human person is primary in our approach to life and to other people. It’s pragmatic in that we can’t keep going on like we are. And if religion can’t show the way of getting together, how can we expect the people of the world to do it? So it’s also very pragmatic.

Pope Francis, by the way, Burton, has not been a dreamer here. He’s also been pretty blunt in reminding us on the one hand that Islam at its core is a religion of respect with a thirst for peace, but that, like the rest of us, its adherents might not always live up to that. So he has also been a little bit, what shall I say? A little bit blunt with his friends in the Islamic community to say: Please help us in reminding those radical elements that don’t live up to the noble virtues of Islam, remind them that they are at odds with what Islam teaches. In other words, he wants to, he says to his Islamic sisters and brothers: You tell us you want to be on the side of peace and reconciliation. And we firmly believe that you do. You need then to bring all of your, all of these people together in being, in condemning the examples of violence and harshness that sometimes we see within your community, like we all see within our communities, people who are not living up to it. 

So, Burton, now something tells me you will agree with me very much that here in New York we’ve got a leg up. Because I would think it’d be tough to find another city in the world where religious, interreligious amity, friendship, concord, is so practiced. New York is a laboratory for people getting along. I remember a couple of years ago we had a cardinal from the Vatican who was in the Jewish-Catholic dialogue. And he came and he was visiting a synagogue. And when he was waiting to go in for his address, he was reading the bulletin board. And he saw a notice on the bulletin board saying: Listen, everybody, as you know, the Islamic Mosque three blocks away suffered a fire recently. And they’ve had to close for repairs. In the meantime, we’ve invited them to have their Sabbath services here. Now, the cardinal from the Vatican when he was telling me that had tears in his eyes. He said: I don’t know if there’s another place in the world where you could have, where you’d find a notice like that. 

And so the good thing you and I have, Burton, is that we are grateful inheritors of a legacy of interreligious dialogue, and amity, and friendship that we can never take for granted, and upon which we need to build. And that now, the particular challenge is with the Islamic community. Why? Well, for one, because they’re kind of recently arrived. So they may not have been part of that heritage that we revel in. And number two, because tensions within world religions, whether it be Islamic, or Jewish, or Christian, is now such a part of the world arena. So to engage them is to an extraordinarily compelling motive for all of us involved, like you are, and like I’m honored to be, in interreligious dialogue here in New York.

JENKINS: I think we can take another question.

OPERATOR: Our next question is a written submission from Ellen Posman at Baldwin Wallace University.

I appreciate the comments about moral authority and racial justice and admitting mistakes and maintaining credibility. How do you see those issues playing out for the church’s role on the issue of gender justice throughout the world?

DOLAN: Yeah. Thank you, Ellen. That’s a very timely question. We, part of our Catholic tradition is always a distinction between who a person is and what a person might do. Who a person is, is non-negotiable for Catholics. No matter what ethnic background, no matter what race, no matter what gender identity, or sexual attraction, that person demands, deserves respect, reverence. And that’s part of Catholic teaching, OK? 

Now while the Catholic Church might say some forms of behavior we would have questions about, what is non-negotiable is the inherent dignity of the human person, no matter—so, when I go, when I visit, well, when I visit a prison I ask to see, well, thank God, in this state, it’s not true in other states where I might visit prisons, I would ask to see the person who’s on death row. There would be people who would say, they have absolutely, they’ve lost any right to ask for dignity and respect. In our book, people who believe in the Bible, that’s just not true. Every person deserves dignity and respect. We, as Catholics, always hold up that ideal when it comes to any question.

And even though, yes, we have the moral imperative to preach what we feel is a revealed truth about behavior, we also know it’s a revealed truth that the human person always, always, always deserves dignity and respect. And, you know, Ellen, and I admit that’s a difficult road to walk. And it’s one that one time we might err one side to the other. But, boy, we can never give up trying.

JENKINS: I think we can take another question.

OPERATOR: We’ll take the next live question from William O’Keefe at Catholic Relief Services.


OPERATOR: Accept the unmute prompt.

O’KEEFE: Good morning, Cardinal Dolan, and thank you so much—

DOLAN: How are you, William?

O’KEEFE: Yeah, I’m good. It’s a pleasure to see you. Thanks for all your work.

DOLAN: I just had breakfast earlier this morning with a great benefactor of Catholic Relief Services.

O’KEEFE: Well, thank you so much for doing that. We appreciate your support. You talked about the church’s work on fighting COVID, and the Vatican’s role. And I’m wondering about how you see bringing to life the holy father’s comments about trying to build back better. And to reverse some of the economic and political injustices that have been so exposed around the world. And, we at Catholic Relief Services, where I work, see this every day. I’d love to hear your reflections on what we can all do to try to advance that.

DOLAN: Thanks, William. I hope our listeners don’t think this is a staged question because of my high esteem for Catholic Relief Services and the possibility to give you a shout out here with the Council for Foreign Relations. On the, pardon me, Jack, for going off-key for a minute. But three or four days after the horrific earthquake in Haiti in January of 2010, I had the honor back then, William, as you might remember, serving as chair of the board for Catholic Relief Services. And I was able to go down there to deliver medical supplies. 

And as we landed at the airport, which was opened especially for relief airplanes like ourselves, who did I meet but the then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. And we chatted for a little while in the airport hangar before I went into Port-au-Prince. And she said to me, I’m glad you’re here. She said, I’ve been here for a couple days. And she said, the people who seem to be doing the best would be your Catholic Relief Services, because we already had three hundred people who were there all the time. They were on the ground. They lived there. They worked there. And they were able to deliver supplies. So God bless Catholic Relief Services.

You ask a good question, William. I mentioned earlier to Jack that this COVID crisis has triggered an internal, an introspection among everybody, who have had to kind of look deep down within for reason, for focus, for a sense of purpose. It’s been a time of trial, and suffering, and isolation. And those occasions usually trigger an internal reckoning. And I see that among a lot of our people. But that’s not just individually, personally. I also see an occasion for a communal, a national, a planetary examination of conscience. There’s a rediscovered sense of the brittleness of human life and of our health. We were kind of on a high for a while thinking, oh my God, we have one cure after another. And the scientists have everything under control. Scientists, by the way, would be the first to be humble and say no, we’re working hard at it but we don’t have everything under control.

But COVID has taught us about our frailty, about our fragility. I see it here in the city. I see it here in the state. I see it here in the nation. And I see it abroad. Everybody now is beginning to ask themselves how we as a people, part of this village that we call the human race and the planet that we call Earth, how this kind of newly rediscovered fragility can give rise to a more poignant sense of solicitude for the poor and vulnerable of the world. The inequities that may have caused the virus to spread much more aggressively in minorities, in underprivileged areas where healthcare is not available. This, I trust, and I’m not surprised; I’m very proud of him, that Pope Francis would be one of the leading voices in this, is, I trust, leading to a cosmopolitan examination of conscience about what we can learn from all of this.

JENKINS: So I think we have time for one more question.

OPERATOR:  The final question is a written submission from Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons at the Center for American Progress.

Climate envoy John Kerry just met with Pope Francis at the Vatican. What areas of overlap do you see between the Biden administration’s priorities and Catholic social teaching where you can partner?

DOLAN: Even more than just on climate change, but that’s the one that you particularly mentioned. And I wasn’t surprised at all to see that the holy father received John Kerry, and that both gave glowing statements. Pope Francis has been an early advocate of a crescendo of sensitivity to the fragility of the planet. By the way, so has the Greek Orthodox, Bartholomew, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch in Constantinople, or as you all call it, Istanbul, all right? He also has been an early prophet of climate. And Pope Francis has become one of the leading advocates. So that he would find a mutuality of concern with the administration does not surprise me at all.

The Holy See is always eager to cooperate with world leaders. They don’t agree on everything, OK? I can remember when Pope Paul VI, I was a student in Rome, a seminarian, when Pope Paul VI met with Idi Amin. Now they didn’t have much in common, folks, but Pope Paul said, look, if I can try to talk some sense into this guy, if I can try to bring out some of the good that I believe is deep down within, I’m going to give it a shot, because we don’t have much to lose. So the church is always ready to meet with leaders, even when we know that we’ll agree with them and disagree with them.

I say that, I presume there’s going to be areas of tension between the church and the Biden administration, as there has been with every president, OK? The Holy See usually looks on the bright side and says, hey, let’s make hay while the sun shines. Or, to use the Italian expression, you got to make gnocchi with the dough you got, OK? So let’s find some areas where we can work on, and then maybe we can bring about a conversation of heart on the areas where we disagree. That’s pretty much true with all world leaders. So I’m not surprised at all to see Pope Francis and Secretary Kerry sit down and make some progress on climate, on the sensitivity towards the crisis of the environment. And I would anticipate there would probably be some agreements where, some areas where there might be some disagreements.

JENKINS: Got it. Well, I think that is all the time we have.

DOLAN: Aw, shucks.

JENKINS: (Laughs) I want to thank Cardinal Dolan for being a part of this conversation and the Council on Foreign Relations for hosting it. This has been a wide-ranging discussion. I’m sure we have many more questions. But thank you again, all of you who watched, for joining us on this Wednesday.

DOLAN: Thanks for letting me in, folks. Thank you.


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