New York gets safe shepherd (apparently)

dolan3072602Guess what? The new leader of the Catholic Archdiocese of New York is Catholic enough to make the college of cardinals at the New York Times a bit miffed at his appointment, but flexible and corporate enough not to make the Gray Lady mad. I’m shocked, shocked, how about you?

There’s all kinds of coverage of this appointment to the top slot in the American hierarchy and most of it pivots on one crucial detail. Archbishop Timothy Dolan is a conservative, but he has not — so far — punished mainstream Democrats and progressive Republicans who openly oppose their church’s teachings on abortion, the sacrament of marriage and other hot-button cultural issues. So relax, things could be worse.

Here’s the top of a feature profile by Michael Powell in the pages of holy writ:

MILWAUKEE – For a few deeply unpleasant days, the Rev. David Cooper found himself in the crosshairs of the Roman Catholic hierarchy.

It was 2003, and the priest had opined to a reporter that women should be ordained. Faraway bishops rumbled about censure. Then he picked up the telephone and heard the baritone of Milwaukee’s archbishop, Timothy Michael Dolan. Father Cooper immediately offered to resign.

No, no, the archbishop replied, we just need to repair the damage. “He was very pastoral and caring,” Father Cooper recalled. And how was it resolved? “Oh, I agreed to recant,” he said. “He effectively silenced me.”

The kind of silencing that ends up at the top of a Times report, obviously. What we have here is a corporate Catholic response to a doctrinal issue and similar actions can be found throughout the piece. Dolan knows how to stay on the high wire between Rome and the American powers that be. He believes the right things, for Rome, but does not act on them.

Thus, the Times does not quite know what to do with him. As a result, the profile is downright strange at times. The goal, it seems, is to portray the future cardinal as a jolly lightweight. Read on:

Archbishop Dolan hails from American Catholicism’s now-dominant conservative wing, which has grown stronger and more assertive during the past decade. Under his predecessor, Rembert G. Weakland, the Milwaukee archdiocese had a national reputation as a liberal Catholic outpost, where debate about doctrine was vociferous and to be gloried in. Many Catholics predicted a theological war upon the arrival of the new bishop. This did not materialize.

Obedient soldier of Rome though many say he is, Archbishop Dolan remains more politician than ideologue. He has not joined the American bishops who barred Catholic politicians who favor abortion rights from taking holy communion. And, with a notable exception or two, he has declined to ferret out the liberals in his midst. … (He) warned, there are a few — like Daniel C. Maguire, the Catholic theologian and professor at Marquette University, in Milwaukee — who favor abortion rights and are “so radically outside church teaching that his appearance at any parish would be a grave scandal.”

You know what is going to happen after reading that paragraph, don’t you? Out of all of the possible priests and scholars to consult about Dolan’s standing in the church, who do you think is going to be the one person who gets to cast judgment on the archbishop?

You got it. It seems that Dolan is not known as:

… a particularly sophisticated theologian; his homilies are homespun, often touching on baseball and football before turning to the importance of Christ as savior. … (M)any priests say he lacks the lyricism and textual insight of a great homilist.

“He is no theologian,” said Professor Maguire, the Marquette theologian banned from speaking on archdiocesan property. “He is in keeping with church policy that theologians are to listen and obey. It turns theology into a form of magic, expertise without study.”

Notice that “many priests” believe he is a second-rate preacher. Thus, we get to hear from exactly one of them — one of the rare liberals that this very low-key conservative ruled out of bounds. A nice touch, don’t you think? Oh, and this non-theologian used to run the American seminary in Rome.

Once again, what the piece needs is diversity, a wider range of voices across the Catholic spectrum. American Catholicism includes all kinds of thinkers and activists. The Times needed to talk to more of them.

Print Friendly

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.

  • Martha

    Well, it’s been a long time since I’ve read so sniffy a put-down: quelle horreur! not only does the clodhopper advert to popular sports in his homilies, he even goes so far as to preach the necessity for a saviour, and that Christ is that same saviour! Why, next thing you know, the man will be talking about sin! Oh, hopeless, hopeless! Is there to be no progress?

    I don’t know how they stack up vis-a-vis degrees, so someone more edumacated can tell me :-)

    From the Wiki page for the Archbishop:

    “He entered St. Louis Preparatory Seminary South in Shrewsbury in 1964, and later obtained a degree in philosophy from Cardinal Glennon College. He was sent by John Cardinal Carberry to further his studies in Rome, where he attended the Pontifical North American College and the Angelicum, earning a Licentiate of Sacred Theology.

    Dolan was ordained by Archbishop Edward O’Meara on June 19, 1976. He then served as an associate pastor at Immacolata Parish in Richmond Heights until 1979, whence he began his doctoral studies at the Catholic University of America with a concentration on the history of the Church in America; his Thesis centered on Archbishop Edwin O’Hara. Dolan did pastoral work following his return to Missouri from 1983 to 1987, during which time he collaborated with Archbishop John May in reforming the archdiocesan seminary.

    He was then named secretary of the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington, D.C. In 1992, Dolan was appointed Vice-Rector of his alma mater of Kenrick-Glennon Seminary, where he also served as spiritual director and taught Church history. He was also an professor of theology at St. Louis University. Two years later, in 1994, Dolan became Rector of the Pontifical North American College in Rome. He remained in this office until June 2001, and during his tenure he published a book entitled ‘Priests for the Third Millennium’.”

    No Wiki page for the professor, helas! But from the Marquette University site:

    “Dr. Daniel Maguire
    Daniel Maguire (S.T.D., Gregorian University, Rome, 1969), [Systematics/Ethics], specializes in religious ethics focusing upon issues of social justice and medical and ecological ethics.

    He is the author of eleven books and the editor of three anthologies. Recent books: Sacred Rights: The Case for Contraception and Abortion in World Religions, (Oxford University Press, 2003); and Sacred Energies: When the World’s Religions Sit Down to Talk about the Future of Human Life and the Plight of this Planet, (Fortress Press, 2000). He is also the author of some 200 articles in professional journals and magazines, including Theological Studies, Cross Currents, Atlantic, The New York Times, Crisis: Journal of the NAACP, and Ms. Magazine.

    Teaching Fields: Theological Ethics, Social Ethics, Cross-Cultural Ethics”

    He’s also the President of an organisation called the Religious Consultation on Population, Reproductive Health & Ethics (which, naturally enough, thinks he’s the divil an’ all when it comes to using his great powers for good):

    “Daniel C. Maguire is a Professor of Moral Theological Ethics at Marquette University, a Catholic, Jesuit Institution and President of the Religious Consultation on Population, Reproductive Health and Ethics. Dr. Maguire has a degree in Sacred Theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, one of the world’s major Catholic universities. He is the author of Sacred Choices: The Right to Contraception and Abortion in Ten World Religions, Fortress Press, 2001.

    Dr. Maguire has written over 150 articles printed in publications such as The New York Times, Atlantic, USA Today, The Crisis: Journal of the NAACP, etc. The articles include “Different but Equal: A Moral Assessment of the Woman’s Liberation”, “The Psychotherapist as Moralist”, “The Freedom to Die”, “Sex and Ethical Methodology”, “The New Look of Death” and “Affirmative Action at Bay”.

    Of his many honors, he was listed by Ms. Magazine as one of the “40 male heroes of the past decade, men who took chances and made a difference”, 1982. His book, The Moral Choice, won “Best Scholarly Book of the Year, 1978. The University of Notre Dame named Maguire one of the ten best teachers, 1983-1984.”

    The Angelicum is “The Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, commonly known as the Angelicum, is the Dominican university of Rome and one of the major pontifical universities of the City. Staffed and administered by members of the Order of Preachers, it serves as a locus for the Dominican theological tradition among the Roman pontifical universities.”

    The Gregorian is “Pontifical Gregorian University (Italian: Pontificia Università Gregoriana) (also known as the Gregorianum) is a pontifical university located in Rome, Italy. Heir of the Roman College founded by St Ignatius of Loyola over 450 years ago, the Gregorian University was the first Jesuit University. Containing faculties and institutes of various disciplines of the humanities, the Gregorian has one of the largest theology departments in the world, with over 1600 students from over 130 countries.”

    Looks like it’s that old Jesuit-Dominican feud all over again ;-)

  • Martha

    Um, I dunno about you, but if I were a Learned Professor-type vaunting my superior intellect and all-round highbrow classiness when shaking my head in sorrow over the shortcomings of a less big-brained ecclesiastic, I don’t think I’d list amongst my “many honours” an accolade from Ms. Magazine.

    Just sayin’, is all :-)

  • Jerry

    Commenting on the comment not the article, I basically agree with your analysis but I think you went off the tracks with this sentence. The sentence inspired my sarcastic side and caused me to wonder what you really meant to say because I don’t believe you wrote what you meant:

    He believes the right things, for Rome, but does not act on them.

    I had not realized that a true Catholic would of course pursue a later day holy Inquisition to root out heretics from their midst. I guess getting the priest to recant was the act of a corporate, political figure instead of a proper, holy fire-breathing cleric, and so, does not count as acting on the Church’s doctrine.

  • FW Ken

    I really feel like cursing, but you’ll just spike the comment!

    Let’s pass over the snooty contrasts of Rome vs. America that are simply ignorant.

    Let’s pass over homespun hick image they try to play up.

    Let’s pass over the mindless… I can’t finish…

    Let’s NOT pass over Rembert Weakland, who bequeathed all those child abuse cases to his successor. But Weakland was a liberal, an enlightened elite – a Bright.

    Don’t get me wrong, I don’t begrudge him his seminarian boyfriend, who was, after all, of age and a blackmailing rotter. I do begrudge Weakland abusing parents who complained about abusive priests. I do begrudge his protecting abusive priests. And you know, it’s not like the New York Times didn’t know about him.

    For a different take, I recommend Rocco. I know, he’s not “the mainstream media”, and he’s a little breathless at time, but this picture tells a lot about what needs to be known about the difference between Egan and Dolan and there are several pieces looking at Dolan from different angles.

    Perhaps next time newspaper folk want to complain about how blogger’s are cutting into their business, they might consider this sort of contrast: the Mighty Times and the internet blogger.

  • dalea

    A collage is something created from many different parts. Seeing one made out of Cardinals would be really interesting. ;)

  • dalea

    What is missing here is the long list of problems in the Diocese that will await the new Archbishop. Most articles of this type, IMHE, go on and on with examples of traps and pitfalls. Don’t seem to be here.

    One sincere question. The Catholic Church in NYC must be a very large organization. What qualifies someone to be in charge of administering something of that scale? Or would the administration be done by someone else? Just wondering.

  • Jerry

    I happened to run into this different take on the appointment:

    Here’s what Landry told me about Dolan:

    “I considered him a tremendous rector — his rector’s conferences were some of the best expositions of the Catholic Church, and why we ought to be proud to be Catholic. I loved him as rector because he was so gregarious — he made every seminarian feel at home and welcome in the seminary. He is so down-to-earth, at the same time being one of the American church’s best intellectuals. His dad was a bartender, and he’s tremendously at ease with people — he’s got that gift of gab in him, whether he’s talking with someone with three PhD’s or a fifth-grade education. He’ll let you be yourself in his presence. That role, of archbishop of New York, can intimidate people, but he’s somebody everybody will like.

  • tmatt

    Collage … What a funny typo. Fixed.


    No, I wrote what I meant to write. I guess I take the links between doctrine, confession and Holy Communion rather seriously and Rome, as in the Vatican, has tried to say the same thing. Yet, if Dolan wasn’t a safe, corporate kind of shepherd, I guess it would not have been safe to send him to NYC and the Times.

    This was my whole point. Imagine the Times response if Rome had sent a man to The City who wanted to enforce doctrines on confession and Holy Communion. Imagine.

  • Brian Walden

    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.

  • Jerry

    I guess I take the links between doctrine, confession and Holy Communion rather seriously and Rome, as in the Vatican, has tried to say the same thing. Yet, if Dolan wasn’t a safe, corporate kind of shepherd, I guess it would not have been safe to send him to NYC and the Times.

    Terry, everything I’ve read about him says that he takes those links seriously as well. The quote you cited even said that which is why I did not believe you were serious.

    But it seems you do indeed think that an abrasive and confrontational way of action is the only one true and proper means of implementing that doctrine rather than a different style. That different style might even be more effective in the long run. I certainly don’t know enough to prejudge.

    Thus, from what I can see, you’re in effect either accusing the Pope of compromising his own principles or being out of touch with the decision.

  • Dan

    If the Times is on the Vatican’s radar screen at all — which I highly doubt — it is at most a speck that irritates like a gnat.

  • Julia

    The Greg vs. the Angelicum is very old news.

    Even more relevant is Louvain vs. anything in Rome.

  • Julia

    I’m from the St Louis area – and I wonder – where did you get that weird photo of Dolan? He’s a pretty squared away guy and he looks like an idiot in that photo.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    I read the TIMES article when it first came out and all I could think while reading it is that only morons must still consider the NY TIMES as the “newspaper of record.” No wonder that even the “Grey Lady” is beginning to show the white palor of death financially.

  • PJ

    I’m from Milwaukee. Dolan is the real deal. He is a pastor, not a politician. Reporters are having a hard time pigeon-holing him because of this.