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The American Church’s most prominent prelate has given his first extended news media interview since his election as President of the U.S. bishops:

In an expansive interview in the front parlor of his residence on Madison Avenue — the only news interview he has granted since he spoke to a Catholic television station after last Tuesday’s election — Archbishop Dolan discussed his surprise at his election, whether the bishops will push for repeal of the health care overhaul and what Pope Benedict XVI said about condoms.

“The Pope didn’t say, ‘Oh good, you should use a condom,’ ” Archbishop Dolan said, referring to a controversial comment the pope made in a book that is being released worldwide on Tuesday.

In the book, the pope said that a male prostitute who used a condom to prevent the spread of AIDS might be taking a first step toward moral responsibility. Some Catholic analysts claimed that the pope was floating a possible exception in the church’s ban on birth control. But Archbishop Dolan said the church could not simply change its doctrine.

“You get the impression that the Holy See or the pope is like Congress and every once in a while says, ‘Oh, let’s change this law,’ ” he said. “We can’t.”

He was most animated on the topic of disaffected Catholics. Archbishop Dolan leaned forward as he cited recent studies finding that only half of young Catholics marry in the church, and that weekly Mass attendance has dropped to about 35 percent of Catholics from a peak of 78 percent in the 1960s.

He said he was chagrined when he saw a long line of people last Sunday on Fifth Avenue. “I’m talking two blocks, a line of people waiting to get into …” he said, pausing for suspense. “Abercrombie and Fitch. And I thought, wow, there’s no line of people waiting to get into St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and the treasure in there is of eternal value. What can I do to help our great people appreciate that tradition?”

He also turned his attention to what people are hearing in the pulpit, and the news that he’s declared next year the “Year of the Mass”:

He said he had heard complaints from Catholic laypeople on his pastoral council that although they love their priests, the quality of their preaching is poor. Archbishop Dolan said he hoped to reinvigorate Mass attendance by declaring 2011 the “Year of the Mass.”

The Mass will be changed significantly at this time next year when, for only the third time in history, the church adopts its new Roman missal — the text that contains the prayers for the Mass. The text has been fought over for years, and many priests in English-speaking countries have protested that the final translation is formal and awkward. But Archbishop Dolan said he was happy with it.

“I think there’s a renewed awe, a sense of reverence, a greater fidelity to the ancient texts,” he said.

Read the whole thing.

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