NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Roman Catholic Church installed Timothy Dolan as Archbishop of New York on Wednesday, filling the highest profile post in the U.S. Catholic Church with an Irish American extrovert likely to speak his mind.
Asked how he would handle controversial issues such as same-sex marriage, the former archbishop of Milwaukee said he would have plenty to say, but not on his first day in the job.
Dolan said he did not like the term “bully pulpit,” which has been used to describe his job, but “I won’t shy away from the fact that ... the pulpit of the Archbishop of New York does have perhaps an enhanced prominence.”
The 59-year-old St. Louis native, who joked with reporters at his first news conference, is expected to advance issues like poverty relief and opposition to abortion.
During a homily at an elaborate Mass of Installation at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, he was applauded when he talked about the sanctity of human life, including “the tiny baby in the womb.”
Dolan, like other Catholic leaders, faces enormous challenges including healing wounds from a sexual abuse scandal that cost the U.S. Church some $2 billion in settlement payments with victims.
He said the Church had made “tremendous progress” in dealing with abusive priests and taking measures to stop future abuse, and promised to support efforts to help victims.
“We have got to resist the temptation to say ‘OK, good, that’s behind us.’ We’ve got a lot of credibility to regain, we’ve got a lot of trust to regain.”
In his homily, Dolan said the Church needed to address realistically “the wounds inflicted by the horrible scandal and sin and crime” of sexual abuse by priests.
A support group called Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests criticized Dolan for “dodging questions ... about reforming New York’s predator-friendly child sex abuse laws.”
Dolan replaces Cardinal Edward Egan, who is retiring after nearly nine years as archbishop.
Dolan said there would be no change in substance but his style might differ. His priorities include reversing the drift of Catholics away from the Church, addressing declining attendance at mass and the dearth of young men choosing the priesthood.
According to a study last year by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, about 24 percent of Americans are Catholic and a further 10 percent ex-Catholics. That percentage is roughly unchanged since 1965 thanks to an influx of Hispanics, but many dioceses struggle to find priests.
Nowhere is the change felt more than in the Northeast, traditionally home to many Irish and Italian Americans.
The New York Times said last month that Latinos account for at least half the Catholics in New York, yet Dolan was the 10th consecutive Irish-American to be installed in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, named after the patron saint of Ireland.
Dolan said the church had an important role in helping new and undocumented immigrants, by providing legal services and spiritual support. He made a point of addressing his Hispanic parishioners in Spanish during his homily.
The archbishop of New York is traditionally a cardinal, and the pope is expected to elevate Dolan to that status.
Editing by Alan Elsner and Michelle Nichols