The highly mediagenic archbishop of New York, Timothy Cardinal Dolan, visited a mosque on Staten Island and encouraged the worshipers there to hold on to their faith. (A report on his visit and his remarks can be found here.) He compared the situation of Muslims in America today to that of Catholics 150 years ago: trying to preserve an ancient faith while adapting it to take account of the benefits of a modern pluralist democracy. The Catholics have been a great success story in this regard: Who would have thought, in the Know-Nothing era of the 1850s, that a century and a half later, it would be Catholics who would be the most prominent advocates of religious liberty? (Remember last year’s “Fortnight for Freedom”?) Or that six of the nine Supreme Court justices would be Catholic, and yet no serious person would be advocating a Catholic government under the control of the Vatican? There are, to be sure, some dissident voices within Catholicism. Just yesterday I saw on a Traditionalist Catholic website the headline “Religious liberty contradicts tradition.” Which is no doubt correct, but that was one tradition that richly needed rubbishing: good riddance. And the voices that still advocate for it are a tiny minority of Catholics.
So, good for Cardinal Dolan for his encouragement to our Muslim brothers and sisters, to persevere on this path. Just about every headline about Muslims these days is discouraging — one crazy statement after another, countless acts of brutal violence. We have to fight tirelessly against the bad guys — not just to protect our country, but because it’s an important way to encourage the good guys. And when it comes to the latter, there’s also another way we can pursue, reaching out to Muslims in friendship, as Dolan is doing.
Coincidentally or not, today is the 50th anniversary of the election of Pope Paul VI. He doesn’t have many fans these days: Many conservatives think he was a liberal who seriously screwed up the Church, and many liberals dismiss him as a wimp who lacked the courage of his convictions (or, as the Italians put it, he was “Amleto”). But his pontificate was extremely consequential: His liturgical reforms were not just the cause of great upheaval within Catholicism but also highly influential throughout the Protestant world. And it was he, not his much more beloved predecessor John XXIII, who gave the great impetus to the modern ecumenical movement.