Archbishop Timothy Dolan, the leader of New York City's 2.6 million Roman Catholics and president of the influential U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is no stranger to the spotlight.
An outspoken Catholic who has been a staunch defender in recent months of church positions against contraception and same-sex marriage, Dolan has own radio show, appears regularly on national television, and can be found frequently at St. Patrick's Cathedral, one of Manhattan's most popular churches.
But on Friday, he gets one of his biggest audiences yet: Pope Benedict XVI and the College of Cardinals, the powerful international body of bishops who act as the pontiff's advisers and, eventually, will choose the next pope.
Dolan, 62, has been in Rome this week for a flurry of Masses and media appearances leading up his Friday address on "new evangelization" and his elevation, along with 21 other bishops, to the College of Cardinals on Saturday in an elaborate ceremony.
Saturday's event, where Archbishop Edwin O'Brien of Baltimore will also get the "red hat," as cardinals are often called for their vestments, is typical when the pope names new cardinals. Still, church observers will closely watch Dolan for how he will use the rare opportunity to speak and answer questions at length in front of the pope.
"It's quite common for the pope to have meetings of cardinals and other bishops to discuss various issues, but the speakers are usually members of the Vatican curia -- the cardinals that live and work in Rome and the Vatican offices there," said the Rev. Thomas J. Reese of Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University. "But when somebody like Dolan is chosen to do this, it's an indication that they are very high in the esteem of the pope and the people running the Vatican."
Dolan's speech, which will be in Italian and will last about 30 minutes, stems from his membership in the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, a group the Vatican announced in mid-2010 to promote church membership and teachings in places such as the U.S. and Europe, where church officials see themselves in a battle against increasing secularization.
A copy of Dolan's speech has not been released and a spokesman said Dolan was unavailable for an interview. But in media appearances during his pilgrimage to Rome, he admitted to needing to brush up on his Italian -- he spoke the language regularly while a student and later as rector at the North American Pontifical College -- and to being nervous about having the pope in his audience.
"Of all the cardinals, Dolan will be one of the most junior, so it's a huge deal for him to be picked to do this, especially before he is even technically elevated to the college," said Rocco Palmo, a prominent Catholic journalist who runs Whispers in the Loggia, an insider blog of news on the Catholic hierarchy. "This whole week is his coming-out party of sorts."
On Saturday, Dolan will join bishops from Florence, Toronto, and Berlin among the new cardinals. With the new appointments, there will be 125 cardinals eligible to vote for a new pope and 214 total cardinals. Cardinals who are over 80 years old are not allowed to vote.
The pope is 84 and keeps the job for life. He broke his wrist vacationing in the Alps in 2009 and has suffered at least one stroke.
Dolan, ordained as a parish priest in St. Louis in 1976, held several academic positions at Catholic universities before becoming the auxiliary bishop of St. Louis in 2001. A little over a year later, he was appointed the Archbishop of Milwaukee. In 2009, he became the archbishop of New York and was elected to lead the bishops' conference in 2010. As head of New York's church, he oversees Catholic life in Manhattan, the Bronx, Staten Island and many of the city's suburbs
Dolan's elevation will give New York two living cardinals who can vote for a new pope, a rarity in the Catholic church. The other is Cardinal Edward Egan, the former archbishop of New York, who was elevated in February of 2001. Egan turns 80 in April. The move by the pope to promote Dolan broke while his predecessor remains of voting age is a break with tradition, which church observers say shows how much the pope favors New York's Catholic leader.
"He's certainly a person who is full of enormous energy. Egan was much of a behind-the-scenes player. He was never as comfortable with the big stage as Dolan is," said Christopher Bellitto, chair and associate professor of history at Kean University in Union, N.J. "Dolan has certainly been given a marquee."
UPDATE: Dolan spoke about "new evangelization" at the Vatican meeting on Friday. Below is the text of his speech.
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