Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan of New York is becoming the most visible Catholic churchman in the Western Hemisphere. He is also a down-to-earth pastor – a clavicle-crushing six-foot-three teddy bear of a man whom you meet for the first time and, ten minutes later, feel you’ve known for a decade. I’ve met other archbishops and cardinals, and not one has impressed me as so thoroughly in love with the People of God as is the tenth archbishop of New York.
And this is essentially the conclusion of A People of Hope, by theNational Catholic Reporter’s John L. Allen, Jr. – a book-length interview with Archbishop Dolan. Mr. Allen writes that his literary model is The Ratzinger Report (1984), but Vittorio Messori’s interview with Cardinal Ratzinger, then head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was a broadside against the “hermeneutic of rupture” after Vatican II.
Allen acknowledges that his book is more anecdotal and less doctrinal: that A People of Hope intends to be upbeat – about “what Catholicism is for rather than what it’s against,” which seems a backhanded slap at the man who is currently pope – who’ll present the red hat to Dolan next month.Tim Dolan, as Mr. Allen insists on calling him, is nobody’s typical archbishop. He’s a serious, scholarly man, but there’s little solemnity in his manner. This rankles those (sedevancantisttraditionalists, for instance) for whom a member of the episcopate ought to be all-but-unapproachable. Cardinals should be heard but not seen. (Well, maybe seen on the steps of St. Patrick’s, waving to marchers on the saint’s grand day.)
That sedevancantist delusion began during the papacy of Paul VI, not least because the Holy Father was so visible, being the first pope to travel outside Italy in a century and a half, and, with his predecessor and successors, to engage modernity by reframing Catholicism’s exposition of eternal truth.
Like Dostoyevsky’s Grand Inquisitor, who rejects Jesus when He appears in Seville because His humanity interferes with the affairs of the Church, so the chiggers of Traditionalism will nibble on some of Dolan’s off-the-cuff remarks. His self-deprecating wit may arch eyebrows among those whose pale, bony fingers will tap-tap over every word of every sentence in A People of Hope.
For instance, when asked by Allen about becoming pope, Dolan replies:That’s so beyond anything I can imagine, that I wouldn’t even fantasize about it. I mean, heck, the day before St. Patrick’s Day it was great I was able to meet Sharon Stone. Talk about fantasies! Wow, there goes Lent! [p.28]
Traddies will swoon. Liberals in the College of Cardinals will post it in the visitors’ locker room at the next conclave, but it’s a joke, folks! Although it’s fair to say it’s not a quip you’d have heard from Cardinal Spellman.
Meantime, I can recommend a great read by author Dolan: “Priests for the Third Millennium,” a collection of his talks when he was seminary rector.