Challenges for the Church: Cardinal Dolan outlines key issues facing the next pope Print
Written by Mary C. Uhler   
Thursday, Mar. 07, 2013 -- 12:00 AM

There are many challenges facing the Catholic Church today, challenges which the new pope will have to address.

What are the most important challenges? If we only go by secular media reports, the key issues would seem to be the sexual abuse scandal, ordination of women, and same-sex marriage. These are some of the so-called “hot button” issues, but are they the major challenges facing the Church?

‘Hot button’ issues

Clergy sexual abuse is something that the new pope will continue to address. However, many in the Church have worked hard to apologize for the sins of a few members and have invested much effort into ensuring that this does not happen again.The new pontiff will have to remain vigilant and take a tough stand against abusers.

We should point out that many of the cases of sexual abuse — and cover-ups — happened in the past. Now the Church has safe environment programs to protect children. Some people say that the Catholic Church is safer for children than many other segments of society.

As for the ordination of women or same-sex marriage, the Catholic Church will not be changing its teaching in those areas. Catholic teaching is based on theology and Church tradition and is not open to the vicissitudes of public opinion, contrary to what the secular media may think.

Cardinal points to three challenges

So what are the real challenges facing the Church? Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York discussed what he sees as three major challenges confronting the new pope in an interview with Catholic News Service (a video of this interview is posted at

I think Cardinal Dolan has hit the nail on the head with his discussion of these challenges:

1. The problem of Church and faith. Cardinal Dolan points out that many people have no problem with faith in God or Jesus Christ. What they do have is a problem with the Church. He notes that this is not just a Catholic problem, but one that is facing other denominations. For us Catholics, the cardinal said this is a pointed challenge, because “we as Catholics believe Jesus and his Church are one. It’s a package deal.” To recover the relationship between personal belief in Jesus and membership in the Church is a “major pastoral challenge,” said Cardinal Dolan.

2. Problem with vocations. Cardinal Dolan said the Church vocations problem is not just with the priesthood and religious life. It’s mostly a problem with marriage and family. “We have a vocation shortage to the Sacrament of Marriage,” asserted the cardinal. Catholics are marrying at the same low rate as the rest of society and are divorcing at close to the same rate. What the cardinal didn’t mention is that vocations to the priesthood and religious life are often linked to a strong family life. They go hand-in-hand.

3. The problem of religious freedom. The Church must be “robust” in its defense of religious freedom throughout the world, said Cardinal Dolan.  Besides overt persecution, Cardinal Dolan pointed out that there is an “insidious kind of harassment” happening today in which religion and faith in the Church are “being reduced to a personal hobby” and the ability to give public witness to the faith is being threatened. We know that he might have been referring to the HHS mandate and other attempts to curtail freedom of conscience.

Praying with the cardinals

Cardinal Dolan and the other cardinals will be discussing these challenges — and others — facing the Church as they meet to select the  Church’s new leader. On Twitter, Cardinal Dolan has invited people to begin their daily prayers the same way he has while he’s been in Rome: “‘Lord, it is good to be here with you.’ Every morning I open my prayer with those words uttered by St. Peter. I invite you to do the same.”

Let us join with Cardinal Dolan and all the cardinals in prayer that they choose a pope who will face these challenges with faith, courage, wisdom, and strength. Let us pray that the new pope will unite the Catholic Church and draw people throughout the world to the Church Christ founded.