Archbishop Timothy Dolan spoke Monday night about issues ranging from the role of the Catholic Church in public life to outreach efforts in local Islamic communities.
In his address at Wilson Commons, 1400 W. Sonata Dr., Dolan said it is his job as archbishop to persuade, challenge, encourage and then trust the Catholic laypeople to carry the church's values with them in society.
Dolan said a current goal Pope Benedict XVI shares with his predecessor, John Paul II, who died last spring, is to initiate dialogue with Islamic communities in order to create awareness about the culture.
In fact, he said, bishops recently rewrote the Program of Priestly Formation to require "that all future priests should be trained in understanding Islam."
Dolan used the example of a hurricane being seen as a punishment for some action to call comments by various religious leaders in recent months "regrettable." He said sometimes religion is abused to promote division and amnesty and "that's not religion."
A problem that Milwaukee is facing, according to Dolan, is in Catholic education — in areas where there were once three Catholic schools, there is now one.
Changing demographics are to blame, Dolan said.
"There used to be thousands of kids where and when the parishes were built, but now these kids are adults and they've moved on," he said.
He stressed that solutions are being sought.
"I don't want to pull out the rug on neighborhoods that are struggling," Dolan said. "They still need their churches, schools and parishes."
He said that without the school choice voucher program there couldn't be Catholic schools in Milwaukee.
Dolan said he hopes that people who have the good of our children in mind "say this program is working. We need to keep it working and we trust our elected political leaders are going to do it."
On the south side of Milwaukee, Dolan noted there is now is a predominately Hispanic population where the Polish neighborhoods used to be. According to Dolan, there are many Hispanic children who "would like to attend one of our (Archdiocese of Milwaukee) schools but can't afford it."
He said he's "optimistic" that the school voucher program could help solve this issue and that of declining enrollment.
"Our enrollment goes up," Dolan said, "and (students') parents are happy that they're in a good school."
He said he thinks the city could make this happen.
"One thing I really appreciate in the Milwaukee area is the get-things-done attitude," Dolan said.
Although Dolan can express his hopes for the direction of the school voucher program he said he must "be delicate about political engagement."
He said if he involves himself in partisan politics you inevitably alienate one side or another.
"I am a bridge-builder," Dolan said. "Not a wall-builder."
He said there has been question of the Catholic Church in the United States being a "gray church," meaning a church principally made up of elderly people.
Dolan referred to the effort of the church to keep and draw a younger generation.
"Sometimes we elders think the church has to get more lax to attract this generation," he said. "But when I talk to parents and they tell me their college student has left the Catholic Church it's not that they are going Unitarian — they are going fundamentalist."
He said this implied that the generation looking outside the church is actually looking for more direction and structure, for fundamentalists consider sacred scripture the authentic word of God.
"We need to remind (the younger generation) of their call from God," Dolan said. "That's what young people crave."