The Church in New York, and indeed all of America, rejoices this morning at the announcement that Pope Benedict XVI has named Archbishop Timothy Michael Dolan to be the next Archbishop of New York.

I have never seen Archbishop Dolan that he didn’t have his arm around someone. We first met in Rome when, coincidentally enough, I was working on an article about Cardinal John O’Connor. Dolan was hosting a reception in his apartment at the North American College for Thanksgiving Day. Every American Catholic in the Eternal City seemed to be crammed into the rector’s living room. Cocktails flowed, cigars were lit, and the sense of loneliness one has when celebrating a national holiday abroad was dispersed thoroughly by Dolan’s hospitality.

The last time I saw Dolan was outside the Przybla Center at Catholic University last April as we awaited the arrival of Pope Benedict XVI. This time, Dolan had his arm around blogger extraordinaire, Rocco Palmo and there were no cocktails or cigars. But the conviviality was the same, the big winning smile and sweeping arm gestures embracing those around him in his own energetic aura.

Both times, and those in between, we spoke about our common mentor, Msgr. John Tracy Ellis. In the New York Times this morning, Ellis is called a "liberal-leaning" historian which is true only if you define liberal in certain ways. Ellis’s view of the history of the American Church always sided with those who tried to "Americanize" the Catholic Church, to bring her methods into sync with those of the Republic, to resist the urge to keep the Church in an intellectual ghetto. He was unafraid of the freedoms afforded by our Constitution and fought, with John Courtney Murray, S.J., to have them recognized by the Church. Ellis spoke to a group of students and faculty the day Father Charles Curran was suspended from Catholic University, voicing what he termed his "profound disagreement" with Curran on each and every issue where Curran differed from the magisterium of the Church but likewise defending his right to differ as a tenured professor of theology.

It will be interesting to see how Dolan’s intellectual formation in history, so different from most hierarchs who have degrees in theology or canon law, will shape his tenure. But, the more enduring contribution of Ellis to Dolan (and to me) was his love of his own priesthood. He had never been a pastor in the canonical sense of the word. But, the day my best friend died from AIDS in 1989, when some religious leaders still considered AIDS a punishment from God, Msgr. Ellis helped me grieve, and find a faithful context for my grief, the way a good priest should. His devotion to the Eucharist was as obvious as his bias in favor of Cardinal Gibbons, whose biographer he was. Ellis was a priest’s priest.

During his time in Milwaukee, Dolan has been a model of centrism. At the blog "Cheeky Pink Girl" there is a posting by a conservative critic of Dolan: "On the other hand, while Dolan is certainly stable and a nice guy all around - that’s his problem. He’s been too moderate - too nice. He hasn’t fixed everything we had hoped (or needed). He hasn’t been the lightning bolt of conservatism that he was touted to be. (Unless you believe conservativism is simply upholding basic Church teachings.) So, New York, get ready for easy-to-swallow pablum, if Dolan is indeed who you’re getting." Conversely, the victims-rights organization SNAP has been harshly critical of Dolan. When you get hounded equally by both left and right, you are doing a good job.

It has been easy to applaud most of Pope Benedict’s appointments. But, in choosing Dolan to assume the cathedra at St. Patrick’s, Benedict has made a truly great choice. Dolan will be great with the necessary, if unseemly, task of fundraising. He will be great with the media. He will help build up the morale of his clergy. Ellis once said that Cardinal O’Connor was "a lion" in the mold of the greatest of American bishops such as Gibbons, John Ireland, and John Hughes. Dolan could be another in that tradition, a bishop who is unafraid to love his flock, to defend his Church, and to preach to a culture that is desperately hungry for the Gospel. Two weeks ago, in the Gospel reading, Simon Peter said to Jesus, "Everyone is looking for you!" This is as true today as it was two thousand years ago, although many people do not even know who they are looking for, or even that they are looking at all. It is Archbishop Dolan’s task to help them look for Christ and find him. I can’t think of a finer appointment. Rejoice indeed!

 

 

Comments

Anonymous | 2/25/2009 - 5:51pm
As a resident of the Milwaukee Archdiocese, I will miss Archbishop Dolan. Anyone carping about this appointment should be thankful it wasn't that appointee in Austria who said Hurricane Katrina was God's punishment on New Orleans, or one of the many James Dobson wannabes like Burke, Finn, Martino, Myers, et al.
Anonymous | 2/24/2009 - 2:46pm
What is unseemly about fund raising?
Anonymous | 2/23/2009 - 9:27pm
A CHANCE TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE The columnists and commentators all seem to be of the opinion that Milwaukee's Timothy M. Dolan will be a good fit for the Archdiocese of New York. Only time will tell and I wish him well as the new archbishop. There are a number of things that his predecessor Cardinal Edward M. Egan chose not to do while he was New York's Cardinal Archbishop. The most glaring of these was not publicly naming the known or credibly accused sexual predators among New York's clerical ranks. Making those names known would do a lot to demonstrate Archbishop Dolan's sympathy with victims of childhood sexual abuse and his understanding of some of the long term psychological and spiritual effects of such abuse. Cardinal Egan has had a very checkered and public history in the sexual abuse scandal and the concomitant erosion of church credibility, especially in his former position as the bishop of the Bridgeport, Connecticut Diocese.
Anonymous | 2/23/2009 - 6:25pm
Archbishop Dolan has podcasts of his weekly homily at the diocese website. I am a regular listener. He is a great bishop who will teach and defend the faith in New York. New York and the country are blessed to have such a great leader!
Anonymous | 2/23/2009 - 4:29pm
I can't "rejoice" yet to hear of another right of center bishop who delights in being a cleric and wielding a noisy staff. I'm glad he's friendly and has some bonhommie, but his record seems to be an iron fist in a velvet glove. I know we're long past the Jadot era of appointments and if you're suspect by both the left and right, I suppose you've got something going for ya'. But I still long for a cosmopolitan voice and one wthat would reflect Ellis' appreciation of dissent even if he disagreed.
Anonymous | 2/23/2009 - 10:28am
WILL IT BE JUST A CHANGE OF FACE OR AN ABOUT FACE IN NEW YORK ? TO DO LIST FOR NEW ARCHBISHOP: TRUTH, DISCLOSURE, COMPASSION - - – The National Survivor Advocates Coalition (NSACoalition) knows the Archbishop of New York is no ordinary bishop. By virtue of the prestige of New York, the heft of the Catholic population, the uniqueness of the City to the United States and the world, this is a diocese where a real difference can be made for the Church. A new opportunity has presented itself. It must not be squandered. But a new face doesn't necessarily mean change where it counts. Timothy M. Dolan can have a major influence in curing the severe case of laryngitis in the Church's moral voice. If he chooses not to, the sickness of sexual abuse in the Church could turn fatal. We urge the new Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan to choose life for his diocese and the Church by stepping forward to put the clergy sexual abuse scandal front and center on his agenda as a life issue. We urge the new Archbishop to lead as no other bishop in this United States has led in this crisis: • with absolute truth • with complete disclosure • with overwhelming care for the survivors and the families of those who committed suicide, and the families of those who were murdered. Specifically, we ask him to: • release the names and locations of all credibly accused priests • allow SNAP and Road to Recovery to advertise in the archdiocesan newspaper • initiate search and rescue of ALL potential victims and survivors • collaborate with lay organizations whose expertise has been directed towards providing pastoral care to survivors and victims We challenge this Archbishop to teach with his actions. Contact: Kristine Ward, National Survivor Advocates Coalition (NSAC)-OH (937-272-0308) Bob Hoatson, NSAC-NJ (862-368-2800) www.nsacoalition.org
Anonymous | 4/16/2009 - 1:38pm
Yes, Michael (who never answered my email) --- what is unseemly about fundraising?