A guy’s guy goes recruiting

saint_patricks_cathedralI’ve been out of the loop for a day or two, so let me jump back in with a comment or two about the ongoing coverage of the new pope of the United States of America — the unofficial title that many pin on the man who wears a red hat in New York City.

It’s obvious that the leaders of the New York Times must, their roles as priests at the Alpha Newspaper atop the mainstream media food chain, work out a template for this guy. He cannot go away, so the editors must make sense of him. They must find the appropriate label, so that they know how to cover him. They have to tell people who he is.

As regular GetReligion reader Brian notes:

I’ve been trying find out more about Archbishop Dolan, but everything I read I have to play the game, “If source X says he’s Y then that probably means he’s Z.” This seems to be true not only in the mainstream media but also in Catholic news sources and blogs. Whatever Dolan is, it’s not easily quantifiable, he doesn’t seem to fit into any one of the standard labels. I’d appreciate a newsource I could trust to paint an objective picture of him without having to translate as I read.

As I suggested the other day, the Vatican tends to send men into these high-profile slots (see the throne in Washington, D.C.) who are conservative, but not confrontational. Rome knows that the New York Times is not going to go away, either. Always remember that the Vatican is in Europe and is used to a European press.

So it’s clear that Dolan is a kind of conservative, but is not toooooo frightening.

However, he is also popular with many ordinary Catholics and he has interesting academic credentials. But being popular and a kind of conservative, in the nuanced world of the Times, must mean that he is a kind of light weight. That appeared to be the theme in the opening salvo of coverage and no there is an interesting follow story that suggests that this is going to be the template for Dolan coverage, at least until he takes some action that clearly makes him a sort-of good guy or a truly bad guy.

It seems that the archbishop is a man’s man, a guy’s guy and this means that he may be able to attract more men into the priesthood. All kinds of questions loom in the background, but this is what we get in print:

The big recruiters talk about him as if he were future Hall-of-Fame material — the kind you build organizations around. They talk about his “skill set,” the leadership qualities that make the young ones double their commitments.

They speak of Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of Milwaukee, the gregarious, football-coach-size prelate whom the Vatican named … to take the helm of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York. They hope he helps attract more men to the priesthood.

“He’s a professional extrovert, a banterer, a sports fanatic,” said the Rev. Edwin H. Obermiller, director of vocations for the Congregation of Holy Cross at the University of Notre Dame. “He knows how to talk to young men.”

dolanOnce again, we are drifting into the most pressing demographic crisis that is affecting Catholicism in the West — the declining number of men willing to enter the priesthood.

It’s good that the Times piece does point toward one of the most obvious causes of the decline, which is the plummeting birth rates among American Catholics. A family with one son will rarely produce a priest. There is also a short, short reference to questions about celibacy. There are zero references to other concerns, such as the opinions on the left that almost all young seminarians are arch conservatives and the frequent claims on the right (and sometimes on the left) that about half of the new priests are gay.

Instead, we get this picture of Dolan as the old-fashioned urban Catholic who does old-fashioned Catholic guy things without breaking a sweat. There is, you see, this suggestion that a guy who is totally into football and baseball probably isn’t hooked on Broadway tunes.

Here is what that looks like when he visits a seminary in Yonkers:

… (A)fter a vespers service at St. Joseph’s chapel in which Archbishop Dolan addressed the seminarians as “the future of the priesthood I love,” many of them stood around gaping with what seemed a mixture of curiosity and awe as he held court in a scrum of television cameras and sound booms, answering questions from reporters.

The bishop laughed a lot. He spoke glowingly of the Green Bay Packers, the Mets, the Yankees, hot dogs and jelly doughnuts. At one point he shouted over reporters’ heads: “Hey, when’s opening day at Yankee Stadium?”

One seminarian, standing with his chin resting on his closed hand, smiled broadly when asked by a reporter what he thought of the new guy. “They asked us not to make comments,” he said, turning to walk down a hall to a dinner in honor of Cardinal Egan and his successor. “But I like him.”

Standing with his chin resting on his closed hand? I am trying to picture this stance and figure out what it means, in terms of body code. Any suggestions? In fact, any suggestions what in the heckfire this piece is trying to say? What’s the bottom line?

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Margaret

    I can’t resist: It sounds like the pope of New York is, well, Catholic!

    Congratulations and God bless you all! (I’m still very grateful to be Orthodox!)

  • MichaelV

    He was The Thinker-ing?

  • Joe

    I’m surprised a tidbit from the earlier piece about Dolan didn’t end up in the “he’s any Irish man’s man” story: Dolan speaks almost no Spanish in an archdiocese where one third of Catholics are Latino. This isn’t about birthrates, it’s about another Irish Catholic leader out of touch with his flock.

  • Adam Greenwood

    I think the body code here is that the newspaper is trying to imply that this young seminarian was kind of gayish.

  • http://david-jaime-jason.blogspot.com Jason

    Sounds like kind of a closed stance. Bashful admiration? Smitten (but not necessarily romantically so)? Starstruck?

  • Martha

    “Any suggestions? In fact, any suggestions what in the heckfire this piece is trying to say? What’s the bottom line?”

    Sounds like broadly what you’re saying, tmatt.

    “Oh, lookit the down-to-earth sporty guy who’s so quaintly blue-collar and mid-western American! Of course, we can’t expect any nuances or finer feelings from him, but as a company man goes, he’s not the worst. Meanwhile, if you want *intelligent* discourse upon the shape that Catholicism should take in 21st century America, we’ll get in touch with the Professor for you.”

    It does sound as if they’re painting a picture of “Not too intellectual but loyal in an approved culturally-traditional way cleric is rewarded by Vatican who hope to keep the rubes quiet by elevating ‘one of themselves’, but there are encouraging indications he will know his place and won’t make waves for his betters, since he’ll be too busy attending ball games and eating hotdogs to read the quality papers”.

  • Martha

    “Dolan speaks almost no Spanish in an archdiocese where one third of Catholics are Latino. This isn’t about birthrates, it’s about another Irish Catholic leader out of touch with his flock.”

    Joe, since Archbishop Dolan lived in Italy, I imagine he managed to somehow string together a few sentences in the local lingo. I’m sure if someone suggests it, he might even manage to learn a few words of Spanish.

    It’s a tiny bit early to be saying he’s out of touch with his flock before he even gets started, don’t you think? And what about the other two-thirds, who I am sure are not 100% English-speaking whites either?

  • Jerry N

    An earlier Times piece mentioned that Archbishop Dolan took a crash course in Spanish in Mexico during his time at Milwaukee. He said that he could manage a simple homily in that language (and he seems self-deprecating, so he may be pretty solid in Spanish).

  • Susan


    As a Catholic, I have to say that I have never heard anyone refer to the Archbishop of New York City as a kind of Pope for the American Roman Catholic Church.

    Are you able to give me some citations to Roman Catholics (outside of New Yorkers) expressing this idea? I am truly curious where it came from.

  • Jimmy Mac

    As a former Wisconsinite, every time I see ths obligatory “cheesehead” pose, I groan in despaair.

  • http://www.catholicradiointernational.com/ Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

    I have to agree with Susan on the whole “pope of America” bit. I don’t think it’s true at all. Egan certainly didn’t turn out that way. Whoever ends up ‘leading’ the bishops — or at least appearing to do so in the media (and not by mere election to being the president of the USCCB) — does so more by force of personality than by the mere place of being bishop. However, some combination of the two is probably more likely.

    But as to the NYT, no they don’t know what to do with Dolan. What they don’t realize is that he is an intellectual. He speaks three languages and reads three more. He headed the North American College which is considered the elite seminary and you don’t become rector there if you don’t have the intellectual heft to do it. Of course, the NYT probably doesn’t even understand the fact that one needs to have strong intellectual capabilities in order to lead such a school. But he is an historian of some repute, specializing in the history of the Church in the U.S. after the manner of John Tracy Ellis.

    So what the NYT doesn’t get is the fact that one can be gregarious, down Miller and even pine for Jameson’s in one’s coffee, root heartily for the Yanks or the Brewers, wear a cheesehead hat (and, yes, Jimmy Mac, I understand your groan) and still be orthodox and intellectual at the same time. Hard to wrap one’s head around that, isn’t it?

  • FW Ken

    The “bottom line”, it seems to me, is at the bottom of the article:

    “a man who has answered all these questions and who is an obviously happy person with holiness and peace inside him.”

    This is an article about priestly vocations, and yes, they settled too much for cliches and stereotypes over substance.

    For a different take on vocations among American Catholics:


    Add me to the list of those scratching our heads over the “pope of America” business. Yes, there have been forceful and powerful men in that particular bishopric, but, as noted above, it’s a combination of the man and the post, neither alone. Egan hasn’t been the lion O’Connor was, although he cleaned up a lot of the fiscal mess, re-organized the diocese to catch up with demographic movements, and otherwise kept a lower profile than his predecessors. He is also, apparently, the first one to leave the job on his feet rather than in a coffin, which might say something worth exploring.

    This was a better article than the previous one. Sure, they are circling the guy, probing for weaknesses and/or peculiarities. But that’s what they do, in the absence (so far) of a major scandal to exploit.

  • http://thomasgwyndunbar.wordpress.com/ thomas

    Dolan’s “Priests for the Third Millennium” is my very favorite modern book on spiritual formation, not just for priests and, for that matter not just for Catholic. Journalists who want to know more about Dolan would find it useful, too. Chapter titles are:

    1. Faith
    2. Hope
    3. Love
    4. Humility
    5. Fidelity
    6. Obedience
    7. Courtesy
    8. Integrity
    9. Prudence
    10. Penance
    11. Human Formation
    12. Stewardship of the Spirit
    13. Patience
    14. Simplicity of Life
    15. Joy
    16. The Eucharist in the Life of the Priest
    17. Priestly Identity
    18. Sacrament of Penance
    19. The Liturgy of the Hours
    20. Parish Priesthood
    21. Priestly Zeal
    22. Preaching
    23. Celibacy and Chastity
    24. Devotion to Our Lady

    Chapters 1-15 form Part One: Living the Christian Life and chapters 16-24 form Part Two: Living the Priestly Life.

  • cheryl

    The whole thing has that bizarre “Catholics in the Mist” tone I have come to expect from the New York Times.

    The writer seems baffled by the notion that a gregarious “regular guy,” who has a proven ability to lead while maintaing the common touch, also has genuine intellectual bonafides and (gasp!) supports what the Church teaches on all the hot button issues. (which of course makes him rigidly “conservative.” But wait! He doesn’t seem rigid! He seems like regular guy!) Apparently it’s a real head-scratcher for this writer.

    To me, it seems like common sense that a smart, likable, persuasive “guy’s guy” just might be very effective in persuading other smart, straight Catholic men to the priesthood. But that whole notion flies in the face of prevailing cultural (not to mention Times) dogma that men who choose the celibate life of priesthood are suspect on some level…whether gay or straight, they’re repressed! Everyone knows that! And besides, women should be able to be priests too! Etc. Hence the odd tone of the article.

    As for the smiling, thoughtful seminarian with the closed fist? I have no idea what that means.

    By the way, the Times corrected the preceding article to note that Dolan is fluent in Italian but not Spanish, although he speaks some Spanish and has said Mass in Spanish. He’s just not “fluent” in Spanish.

    The bottom line is that a “regular guy”

  • julia

    the new pope of the United States of America — the unofficial title that many pin on the man who wears a red hat in New York City.

    Actually, this is off the mark. There is no Catholic Primate of the US. In any case, NYC is now the 2nd largest Catholic diocese, not the first. And the influence of the Archbishop of NYC depends on the man who holds the office.

    I don’t think Egan has been very influential. Dolan may be different. He had a great reputation in St Louis and then in Milwaukee.

  • Dan

    “Rome knows that the New York Times is not going to go away, either.”

    How would Rome know that? Some who know a whole lot more than the Vatican about the newspaper business doubt whether the New York Times will last another 20 years. Rome has outlasted the Roman Empire, the Jacobins and the Soviet empire. It will also outlast the New York Times (and the Church knows it). If the New York Times is capable of dictating to the Church, I’m wondering why it is limiting itself to the Church’s choice for the Archbishop of New York; why does the New York Times put up with Denver’s Archbishop Chaput or Scranton’s Bishop Martino?

  • http://www.catholicradiointernational.com/ Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

    Actually, Julia, there is a primate in the U.S. and that title belongs to the Archbishop of Baltimore, the first diocesan see in the country, which is why it is also a cardinatial see. However, unlike other countries where the holder of the primatial see holds sway among his brethren, this is a little-observed fact and the Archbishop of Baltimore has no more influence over what happens in the U.S. episcopacy than does the Bishop of, say, Baker, Ore.