Some folk got it.
Some folk don’t.
You know what I mean. You see them on screen or in a photo and your eyes immediately fix on them. They aren’t always the best looking or the most glib or even the prettiest. But they’ve got that shine that makes people look and then want to look again.
Priests, bishops, cardinals and even popes are not normally rated or valued for their star quality. It isn’t an attribute that goes into the computation of what makes for holiness, fidelity, wisdom or, even, as many stars have proven, good sense. But in these days when everybody has a camera in their pocket and even the most klutzy geekophobe can manage to upload their digital treasures to the virtual Wild West of the internet, media stardom does take on a kind of transitory illusion of relevance and even power.
Every so often, brains, depth of character and moral strength combine in someone who’s been hit by the star wand. The camera loves them, and they can actually hold your attention without a script or teleprompter.
That seems to be what America has in Cardinal Timothy Dolan. Of all the places most of us would go looking for someone with star quality, the face under a cardinal’s hat would be one of last; especially when the cardinal in question is a portly, plainspoken Irishman with unabashedly old-fashioned ideas about faith, morals and modern life.
But star quality is one of those things you can’t explain. You know it when you see it, but you don’t really know why it’s there. It’s a kind of magnetism that draws and fascinates people. Even those who have it are often unaware of it and, if they do know they’ve got it, don’t know where it comes from.
Cardinal Dolan has been a blessing to the Catholic Church in America precisely because he can explain the Church’s position to the many millions on the other side of the camera. We’ve had others with this gift, but they have crashed and burned under the warping power of public adulation.
It appears that Cardinal Dolan doesn’t try to flay the emotional hide off people he disagrees with. He isn’t glib with quickie phrases that entertain the self-righteous while they cut the defenseless to the bone. There is nothing mean or mean-spirited or snide in the things he says. He stands for the church and doesn’t back down. But he also doesn’t try to destroy those who oppose him in this.
It shouldn’t be a surprise to learn that people in Italy are just as charmed by Cardinal Dolan as many Americans. There’s something about a good-hearted man who’s willing to tell the truth instead of run away from it that is refreshing in this world.
Based on things I’ve read in several places, Cardinal Dolan’s American brashness (and compared to most of the rest of the world, we are all brash, my fellow Americans, believe me) doesn’t offend. It captivates. That in itself is amazing.
There’s no denying it. The Cardinal has a kind of clerical star power, and he appears to have it without the lies, phoniness and outright heresies of many of the few other priests who have star power, too.
God love him.
I’m proud of him.
A New York Times article describing Cardinal Dolan’s situation says in part:
VATICAN CITY —
Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, the archbishop of New York, has become an object of fascination in Rome for the fluency of his juggling act: he is simultaneously head of the United States’ most prominent Roman Catholic diocese and president of its national conference of bishops, tapped by the Vatican for numerous prestigious assignments and by network television anchors for their most prized interview spots.
In the weeks since Pope Benedict XVI announced his intention to retire, the possibility that Cardinal Dolan could succeed him has been largely dismissed on the theory that his biggest strengths — outsize personality, Everyman affect, relentless public cheer — mark him as distinctively American in a way that makes it unlikely he would be chosen by his colleagues.
But in recent days, his joyful and telegenic orthodoxy is getting new attention in Rome; on Thursday, a prominent Vatican reporter, Sandro Magister, highlighted his qualifications, calling him “the consummate candidate, who represents the impulse in the direction of purification.”
Cardinal Dolan has colorfully dismissed speculation that he could be pope, saying that he expects, and is eager, to return to New York. Nonetheless, this papal interregnum has become an important period for him, presenting an opportunity for him to use mass media to reach Catholics in his vast and diverse archdiocese, and to elevate his stature as he faces battles with President Obama over health insurance regulations and with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York over a proposed liberalization of the state’s abortion laws.
He shows an easy demeanor; he is unfailingly positive, even when asked difficult questions. But even he is quick to say that he represents a new style, not a new point of view, for Catholic bishops. In an interview here, before the cardinals decided to stop speaking to reporters, he described the church’s teachings as a gift to be treasured, but said, “Let’s perhaps work on a way to wrap it in a more attractive way.” (Read the rest here.)