Terence Cardinal Dolan, in his pastoral letter "Making All Things New," asks: "[H]ow can we strengthen our parish life, and help more Catholic people grow in their faith?" His Eminence's answer? By closing schools and churches, selling the buildings and using the proceeds to endow "new projects like the Sheen Center, the Gianna Center for Women’s Health, and FOCUS, a university apostolate." Oh yes, he'll also endow a fund for Catholic schools but doesn't tell us what percentage of the booty it will get. "We have too many parishes!" quoth the cardinal.
Not having much knowledge of the above-mentioned projects I cannot vouchsafe their efficacy but they appear to be worthy organizations (though I note the Sheen Center, which consists of "two state of the art theater spaces, four studios, and an art gallery" is located at 18 Bleecker Street in the heart of lower Manhattan, where his Eminence especially complains there are too many parishes. Maybe Catholics who don't go to mass down there will instead go to play and gallery openings at the Center). Still and all though, I wonder, rather than create a hit list of churches and schools to be liquidated, the cardinal might consider offering these expensive claims on the diocesan fisc that make him so unhappy to traditional religious orders (the only ones that seem to be enjoying solid growth these days), theirs for the taking if they'll only take them of his episcopal hands.
Here are two reasons the cardinal will not consider my excellent (if I say so myself) suggestion. One, he would be deprived the considerable funds obtained selling church properties and great fun showering new-found largess on pet "projects." Two, and much more unattractive I'm sure, the real possibility traditional religious taking over a dying church might do something way over the top like offer traditional liturgy (N.O. or even worse, T.L.M!), decent music and other such horrors that scare the bejesus out of the cardinal and with-it, up-to-date post-Conciliar fossils who run the archdiocese. "Sure," they'll say, "reactionaries (so what if they're young!) will flock to traditional Latin masses in Chinatown and the Lower East Side and church attendance will rise, but those people will go to mass anywhere, no matter how crappy it is; they seem to have the weird notion they have to. We don't have to do anything for them.
Now this is how to strengthen parish life.
E.J. Dionne Jr. is an op-ed columnist for The Washington Post. He is the author of “Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent.”
In giving up the papacy, Pope Benedict XVI was brave and bold. He did the unexpected for the good of the Catholic Church. And when it selects a new pope next month, the College of Cardinals should be equally brave and bold. It is time to elect a nun as the next pontiff.