As the controversy over the planned building of a mosque and Islamic center near Ground Zero in New York City grows increasingly heated, Archbishop Timothy Dolan urged the different factions to carry on a “respectful discussion” and offered to mediate between those who support the plans and those who oppose them.
The New York archbishop made his remarks in a brief and impromptu news conference on Aug. 18 at Covenant House, a Catholic facility in Manhattan for homeless youth.
“My major prayer is that what has turned into somewhat of a divisive issue might develop into an occasion of very civil, rational, loving, respectful discussion,” he stressed.
Archbishop Dolan then praised both New York Mayor Bloomberg and Gov. David Paterson for their contributions to the debate, though both are on different sides of the issue.
"Mayor Bloomberg articulated in a particularly of eloquent way the principles of religious freedom and the hospitality on which this great country and this wonderful community is based," the archbishop said.
Bloomberg supports the plans for the mosque and Islamic center, and according to ABC News, has said it would be a "sad day" if the project is canceled. Governor Paterson, however, has offered to hold discussions with the imam and mosque developers in order to find another suitable location.
“I think the governor’s initiative is welcome," Archbishop Dolan said. "Both of what they (he and Mayor Bloomberg) are trying to do is bring people together to look into this problem.”
The prelate then cited the example of Pope John Paul II, who advised a group of sisters in 1993 to move from their convent at the former Auschwitz death camp after protests from Jewish leaders.
“He’s the one who said, ‘Let’s keep the idea, and maybe move the address,’ ” the archbishop said. “It worked there; might work here.”
“Those who wonder about the wisdom of the situation of the mosque, near such a wounded site, ask what I think are some legitimate questions that I think deserve attention,” he added.
When asked if he would play a part in the ongoing discussions over the planned mosque and Islamic center, Archbishop Dolan replied, “I'd be honored to ... If I can be a part, say but the word.”
“In kind of a backdoor way, I think we already are (a part of the discussion) in the archdiocese,” he added, in “more of a quiet, behind the scenes way – a lot of our pastors in that area and a lot of other religious leaders are part already of the conversation that needs to keep going on.”