By Cristopher White, National Correspondent
NEW YORK — There’s been no shortage of issues on which New York’s governor and cardinal have clashed, but in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic they find themselves united – with the cardinal hoping this crisis leads to newfound respect for the value of all human life.
As the spread of the coronavirus continues to wreak havoc across the globe, New York has emerged as the epicenter in the United States and during his daily press briefings, Governor Andrew Cuomo has rejected what he’s called a false choice between public health and the economy, saying “you cannot put a value on a human life.”
“I admire his leadership and coming from me that’s somewhat unique because Lord knows I have been very critical of him on other issues,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan told The Tablet via phone this week.
“We might find a rediscovered sense of respect for life and that every life matters,” he added.
He then cited a recent news segment he’d watched this past week on pregnant women and newborn children and how they’re faring in light of the current health crisis.
“I’m thinking, wow, it’s like we’re rediscovering the tenderness, the frailness of life and everybody’s pitching in to help life where it’s most vulnerable and maybe, just maybe there’s going to be a, a revived a sense of respect for all human life,” Cardinal Dolan said. “I sure hope so.”
Although Cardinal Dolan has exchanged sharp words with Cuomo in the past – most notably last year when the Catholic governor signed into law new legislation that dramatically expanded abortion access in the state – the Cardinal Dolan said that in this current moment, he is in admiration of his leadership and is more than pleased that state officials have sought to partner with the Church in providing for vulnerable individuals.
Cardinal Dolan, who cancelled all Masses in New York beginning March 14, also weighed in those skeptical of the decision to do so, saying such critics are “few and far between.”
“Overwhelmingly, people are saying, ‘we miss the mass, we need confession, but we understand the decision,’” Cardinal Dolan told The Tablet, saying that he took his lead from Pope Francis who “early on,” he said, made it clear that “we have a moral compunction to provide the sacraments, but we have a high moral duty to protect the common good and preserve the health of our people.”
Cardinal Dolan – who is known for still handwriting his speeches, often on index cards – said that the current pandemic is forcing everyone to get innovative. He said that he’s been especially proud of his priests for learning to live stream Masses, adding Masses in new languages, and finding new ways of being in touch with parishioners.
He recalled a recent conversation with a priest who commented that “we usually pray that a sheep will not be without a shepherd, but now we’re shepherds but without sheep.”
Although he is not able to celebrate public Masses, Cardinal Dolan said that he still wants the Church in New York to have a visible presence, so last weekend he paid a visit to three shrines within the archdiocese, as well as Abraham House in the Bronx, which is providing takeaway meals to those in need of food.
He said that he wanted to visit a place of service to show that while “prayer is our priority, it’s not the only thing we’re doing” – adding that both corporal and spiritual works of mercy are needed.
Cardinal Dolan said that he was inspired to make those visits after seeing the stunning photos of Pope Francis in the center of Rome, walking along empty streets to go pray at two churches for an end of the plague.
“I thought, Dolan, you get out there and go too,” he recalled.
While acknowledging that the past few weeks have been difficult – and that’s a trend that is likely to continue – Cardinal Dolan said that he wants to emphasize that the Church stands in solidarity with the sick, the suffering, and the healthcare workers who are on the frontlines, along with finding ways to be present to all of the flock who are trying to navigate uncertain times.
“The Church is rising to the occasion,” Cardinal Dolan said. “God can bring good out of evil, life out of death, and it’s working.”