Archbishop Dolan: Pope Francis "a shot in the arm" for the Catholic Church

CBS News

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, addressed the troubles facing the Catholic Church during a Sunday interview on "Face the Nation," calling the recent installation of Pope Francis "a shot in the arm" for Catholics but acknowledging that the church must face some of its internal problems as it moves forward.

While he did not explicitly mention the sex scandal that has caused such drama for the Church in recent years, Dolan explained that Catholic leaders are aware of - and working to address - the church's problems.

Pope Francis, Dolan explained, "said maybe we said maybe we spend a little too much time getting hung up on all the internal problems that we've got.

"You bet we've got them, and you bet he's going to try to tend to some of them," Dolan added. "But he said we always have to look beyond."

Dolan also hailed the recent installation of Pope Francis, saying it was "one of the most exciting events of my whole life" and predicting that the new pope - the first from the Americas - would rejuvenate the Church.

"I think it means a lot," he said. "Number one, that he comes from what the Europeans still refer to as the New World, from Latin America. And it reminds us of how the church is growing, how the church is universal. How, in some ways, the church that started in Jerusalem and went to Rome, that's part of our glorious and revered history. But now the church is expanded, it's North and South America, Asia, Africa, that's where the real boom is."

It's not just the newer elements of Catholic laity who are excited about Francis, Dolan added: "I can't go anywhere in New York City where I've got people from Mexico, Dominican Republic, Columbia, Puerto Rico, who are coming up in tears saying, 'we have a Latin American Pope.'"

"It's a real shot in the arm for us as Catholics," he said.

Dolan also spoke to the diminished levels of religious identification among Americans, insisting that "America is still a very strong religious nation."

According to a new Pew poll, "about 70 percent of people would feel themselves still religiously affiliated," said Dolan. "That's good news and a lot of countries would give anything for a statistic like that."

"The somber news," he said, is "that the number of unaffiliated go up. Now that's a challenge for those of us who believe that the essence of religion is coming together, as a community, as a spiritual family."

"People have no trouble with faith," Dolan explained. "They want to believe, but belonging, that's another question. That's something we've got to look right in the eyes and do something about."

Asked by "Face the Nation" host Bob Schieffer whether the Church would temper some of its traditionalism to keep pace with recent changes in public opinion on gay rights, abortion, and other issues, Dolan rebuffed the question.

"I think what we can't tamper with what God has revealed, and you mentioned some of the issues," he said, adding that the church "can try to do better in the way we present them with more credibility and in a more compelling way."

For Catholics and others who wonder where the church goes from here, Dolan suggested the new pontiff might be showing the way, adding: "We're getting a hint from Pope Francis, because what he's trying to do, I think, in a very natural, spontaneous way, is to restore the luster to the church.

"A return to those biblical values of utter simplicity, of sincerity, of service - almost a no frills religion," Dolan said. "And that resonates with people."