Cardinal Dolan on the Ethical Questions of Our Time & Generation (Full Text of the Interview)
Ethics and Society
Ochs: Thank you once again for having us. We would like to get started with our first question. You have had a great deal of interaction and dialogue with young people, and college students, particularly Fordham students. You’ve been to our university many times since you’ve been installed as Archbishop of New York. What values—ethical values, religious values, societal values perhaps—do you believe are most important for those in our generation to hold and put into practice?
Ochs: When you talk about the culture of extreme individualism, and you also mention the mindset that people have to be served, how do those two things reconcile with each other? If one is an individual and wants to be removed from the world, how do you reconcile that with entitlement?
Menconi: We hear from Pope Francis about duty and about obligation and responsibility toward vulnerable populations, toward the elderly, toward the poor, both in our communities and on a global scale. Oftentimes moral principles are portrayed by what we must not do rather than, instead, what we are obliged to do. What unique responsibilities do young people have today, particularly in regard to social justice, and how do these correspond with the rich history of Catholic moral thought?
Ochs: That goes really nicely into our next question. Because some in our generation, as you probably know, might have a negative impression of the Catholic Church. Pope Francis has mentioned an overemphasis on certain polarizing moral issues. Some in college, Catholics and non-Catholics, might feel excluded, perhaps that their lifestyles and choices are at odds with the Church’s teachings, especially those of sexual ethics. What advice would you give to young people whose ability to fully hear the Church’s expansive Gospel message of love, justice, and charity is injured by their disagreement on very specific moral teachings?
Ochs: I recall that in a recent interview, you refer to the Holy Father, Pope Francis, as a shrewd leader.
Ochs: Before we move to the next questions, I would like to ask you a quick follow-up on this. You mention that some might view the Church as a sort-of rotary club. What effect do you think the Second Vatican Council had on the public’s perception of the Church’s constancy—for both Catholics and non-Catholics? Do you think that the impression of the Church as seen as an unchanging bulwark moving through history is now a little different because of the reforms of Vatican II, as perhaps an unforeseen consequence?
Menconi: For the next question, oftentimes, students during their young adult years might feel pressured to identify with a political party and blindly adopt all of its viewpoints without examining them in relation to one’s own ethical principles. What dangers do you see with this approach? Are there issues that the young Catholic, or the young college student, must be sensitive to, that are conventionally associated with both the American ‘left’ and ‘right?’
Ochs: This next question pertains to research ethics. The ethical treatment of human subjects and animals in scientific research has recently become a more prominent source of debate in both academic and theological communities. Many scientists and medical professionals often impose a utilitarian cost/benefit analysis in the name of scientific advancement. Do you think that Catholic theology takes into account, or assigns, moral value to human and non-human organisms when considering their involvement in research, particularly when the research involves potential harm to the participants? If so, what measures or values are employed?
Ochs: What about animals?
Menconi: Society today often stigmatizes young women who become pregnant, regardless of whether the pregnancy was intentional or unintentional. In the current education system in the United States and around the world—even in Catholic institutions—resources for undergraduate and graduate parents in universities are limited and sometimes non-existent. Is this absence of supportive infrastructure for young parents in educational institutions contradictory to the ‘consistent ethic of life’ and respect for the dignity of the human person? What can be done in light of this reality?
Ochs: One final question, Your Eminence. Many students at Fordham University, and many college students across the country, will go into the sciences—especially medicine. Many will go into law and public policy. These same students, particularly at Fordham, were marked during their undergraduate years with informed moral principles, whether they are from the Catholic faith, another religion, or a secular normative tradition. You have spoken extensively on the right to practice one’s own faith in the public sphere, and healthcare is one of the largest areas of this public domain. How can we as a society, with multiple understandings of the good, protect individuals’ principles in the healthcare environment, without infringing on the autonomy of others?