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Archbishop Dolan: New face of the church?

N.Y.'s Archbishop Timothy Dolan 14:09

The past decade has been devastating for the Roman Catholic Church - seemingly endless cases of sex abuse by priests, and bishops who turned a blind eye to it. And there were 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 has also been called the "American pope," after his election to head the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

His mission - as he sees it - is to change a perception of the church that ranges from negative to irrelevant. He wants to see the old church made new: zero tolerance of wayward priests and an emphasis on what he calls the most pure and noble experience Catholicism offers.

What does "America's Pope" think?
Gay marriage? Female priests? Archbishop Timothy Dolan, the most important American Catholic today, explains the church's reasoning.

To accomplish his mission, his main weapon is that indefinable quality called charm.

Dolan is hard to miss: this burly, overweight, cherubic Irish-American charges through life like a holy bulldozer, his brow gleaming, hands reaching.

It's a laugh a minute, hugging, glad-handing and backslapping everyone from street cops to big-time donors.

He's a tireless promoter of all things Catholic, and always ready to refuel.

"Did you always have, dare I say, the gift of the gab?" correspondent Morley Safer asked.

"Yes, according to my mom, yes. You couldn't shut me up. You know, the Italians have a great saying that 'Hey, you have to make gnocchi with the dough you got.' Well, God knows I got the dough. Whatever dough God gave me, that's the gnocchi I'll make," the archbishop replied.

Gnocchi, for the uninitiated, is a high carb pasta the good pastor is more than familiar with, as is evident when the 61-year-old Dolan dons his robes to say Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral.

He takes obvious joy in the pageantry, pounding his bishop's staff as he bulldozes his way into church, beaming broadly at parishioners and politicians alike.

He's a man in love with his job.

"When did you know you wanted to be a priest?" Safer asked.

"I can't really remember a time I wasn't hypnotized by the priesthood," Dolan replied.

Asked if he ever had any doubts along the way, Dolan said, "There would be three times I could remember when I felt a particular friendship with, and attraction to, three particular girls that I think back upon fondly, that I thought, 'I wonder if a life of celibacy is mine.' And with the help of other people and with prayer, I said, 'Yeah, I think so.'"

Extra: A large flock
Extra: The sex abuse scandal
Extra: Anti-Catholic sentiment?

He was born in St. Louis, the son of an aircraft engineer. Dolan entered seminary at age 14 and destined for stardom: secretary to the papal nuncio, rector of the American seminary in Rome, and archbishop of Milwaukee, where he won over the flock when he gave a homily wearing a Green Bay Packers' Cheesehead.

Baseball, however, is a bit trickier. "They asked me when I got here, they said, 'Are you Cardinals, Mets, Brewers or Yankees?' And I said, 'When it comes to baseball I think I can be pro-choice,'" Dolan joked.

Produced by Deirdre NaphinHe lives in a small mansion connected by a tunnel to St. Patrick's, where each day he must pass his own final resting place - the crypt - a constant reminder that his path to glory leads but to the grave.

"I'm supposed to go here," he told Safer, looking at a small "available space" in the crypt. "Now although Cardinal Egan teases me that he wonders if one is gonna be enough, so I don't know what we're gonna have to, I might have to rent a space and a half."

"Isn't there something a little bit unnerving about knowing where you're gonna be buried?" Safer asked, laughing.

"I find it liberating," Dolan replied.

Dolan is shepherd to two and a half million Catholics, but it's a rapidly changing demographic, with the traditional Irish and Italians being replaced by Hispanics.

There are nearly 400 parishes that stretch from Long Island to the Catskills to New York City.

And he is constantly on call - there are budgets to be balanced, media to be managed, and future generations to embrace.

"They've heaped so much on you. Do you ever have time to really be a priest?" Safer asked.

"Yeah, I have lost my appetite. I'm not eating anymore. Et cetera," Dolan joked.

His Grace is also aware that hope and prayer does little to reduce the waistline, so he multitasks on his exercise bike, brushing up on his Spanish while getting a workout.

Dolan is not in denial about his ever-expanding girth, and certainly not about the problems facing the church.

"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," Dolan said.

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.

"They say there aren't many people to my right. That's what the critics say," Dolan joked in a meeting.

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 that of right-wing conservative," Safer remarked.

"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," Dolan said.

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

John Allen, senior correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, told Safer, "He is easily the most charismatic and high profile figure on the American Catholic stage."

Allen is writing a book about Dolan.

"What does his election tell us then?" Safer asked.

"The bishops pretty rationally understand they've got an image problem in the court of public opinion in the United States in the early 21st century. They wanted to elect their best front man. And that front man is Archbishop Tim Dolan of New York," Allen said.

Allen says the bishops hope that the sheer force of Dolan's personality can help the church move beyond the sex abuse scandals. "The sexual abuse crisis that we have lived through over the last decade is the most serious crisis ever to hit the American Catholic church. I mean that has been a cancer, in terms of the internal life of the church, that is still spreading," he said.

It's a crisis Dolan witnessed firsthand as archbishop of Milwaukee. He was sent there to replace a bishop who resigned amid his own sex scandal, and Dolan had to deal with a rash of child abuse cases. He revealed the names of 43 predatory priests and had to sell church property to pay tens of millions of dollars to victims.

"Those where some of the more difficult, wrenching, touching moments in my life. Some of them were terribly painful and did not go well. Others I remember with gratitude, crying together, praying together. Those were very powerful moments that you don't forget," Dolan recalled.

"Do you fear that aftereffects of these scandals are just gonna live on and on and on?" Safer asked.

"In some ways I don't want it to be over because this was such a crisis in the Catholic church, that in a way we don't wanna get over it too easily. This needs to haunt us," Dolan said.

Defending and celebrating the church is his life's work, and the work isn't exclusive to New York: Safer caught up with him in Rome, where he was on official business for the Vatican.

"Do you get any kind of special feeling when you're here or is it just simply a visit to world headquarters?" Safer asked.

"It's always like coming home," Dolan said.

Dolan took us to his old haunt - the North American College, the American seminary that trains the best and the brightest.

Dolan says it is 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?" Safer asked.

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

"The sum of what I'm saying is that 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," Safer said.

"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," Dolan said.

"What do you make of the church's response to the abuse scandals?" Safer asked.

"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," Dolan said.

"But to an awful lot of people, the cover-up was worse than the crime," Safer pointed out.

"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 denyin' that, Morley. That was a terrible thing that's over with," Dolan said.

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 remains a staunch supporter of Pope Benedict's handling of the abuse crisis.

And the pope clearly thinks highly of Dolan: he named him to several high profile Vatican committees.

Would Dolan himself ever want the top job?

"It's been speculated the most likely candidate for an American pope is you," Safer said.

"You've been talkin' to my mom," Dolan joked. "Unfortunately, the people that say that, Morley, also think the Mets are gonna win the World Series. So I wouldn't put too much credibility in that one."

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.

"But certain changes may be necessary. And the church seems to be blind to that idea," Safer said.

"There's no denyin' 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,'" Dolan said.

"Why is it that I feel that in your heart of hearts there are certain changes you really wish would take place?" Safer asked.

"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 wanna 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," Dolan said.

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. "Instead of being hung up on these headline issues, let's get back to where the church is at her best," he told Safer.

"But the headline issues are where people are living their lives. And an awful lot feel that the church is going down the wrong road," Safer said.

"Yeah, I guess, you got two different world views there," Dolan replied.

"And you ain't gonna change," Safer remarked.

"I'm in one world. You're in the other," Dolan replied, laughing. "I'm glad you're visitin'."

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