Dolan as the new Spellman: “He’s an extrovert on steroids”

A look at the man who will be praying at both political conventions this year, from the Washington Post: 

Catholic bishops in 2010 badly wanted to buff the Church’s battered image. So they ditched their usual succession system and picked the jovial Tim Dolan as their president.

Their investment has paid off in spades: Democrats confirmed Tuesday that the cardinal will give the benediction at their convention in Charlotte, N.C., next week — a coveted task Dolan had already agreed to perform for the GOP on Thursday.

Reviving the authority and status of the Catholic Church has been the focus of Dolan, the most visible and influential U.S. Catholic bishop in decades. At a polarized time when many bishops are feeling embattled and laying low, the 62-year-old historian is giving “Today” co-host Matt Lauer a chatty televised tour of Rome, writing a newsy blog and making jokes about his beer drinking. Next month he will join TV comedian Stephen Colbert for an event about humor and spirituality.

“He’s an extrovert on steroids,” said John L. Allen, a prominent Catholic journalist, who earlier this year published a book on Dolan. “Left to his own devices he would talk to anyone anywhere about anything….”

…But even if Dolan is able to pull the Church back into popular culture, the days of a major Catholic power broker may be over: Catholics are perhaps too diverse and fragmented, and America too pluralistic to stomach a religious kingmaker.

According to historians, the last bishop with national influence on a par with Dolan’s was Cardinal Francis Spellman, nicknamed “The Powerhouse.” Spellman was vocal in the mid-1900s on everything from public school funding to union issues and became an emissary of President Franklin D. Roosevelt to the Middle East. Cardinal John J. O’Connor in the late 20th century was said to love the microphone but didn’t have Dolan’s prominence within the church.

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