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Timothy Dolan in St. Peter's Chair?

03/13/2013 02:25 pm 14:25:20 | Updated May 13, 2013

Could New York's cardinal wind up as the next pope? As a Catholic who has been watching Dolan closely over the past few years, I suppose I would not be entirely surprised by such move -- a strategy for hauling American Catholics back into good grace -- so to speak. That Dolan so colossally blundered in his two-fold assignment to police "Sin City" and use his influence as the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to defeat same-sex marriage won't hurt him in the conclave; nor will his failure to prevail in limiting the reproductive rights of both his sheep (so to speak) and non-Catholics hurt his chances in Rome. Certainly the cardinal who sued POTUS during his campaign for re-election can hardly be accused of not trying.

Dolan's transgressions against victims of sex crimes perpetrated by priests won't count against the cardinal either. If the emeritus pope was "God's Rottweiler," then Dolan could be seen as "God's Beabull" (a cross between a beagle and a bulldog). Dolan has excelled at obedience, which the last two pontificates saw as paramount, taking precedence over all other virtues.

Dolan was deposed in connection with his handling of abuse cases in Milwaukee a week before heading to Rome to take part in the conclave. Later that week, the more flagrant accused sex abuse abettor, former Cardinal Roger Mahony, was deposed in connection with 26 counts of sexual abuse of minors. Unfortunately Mahony, a priest who looked the other way when priests under his charge were raping children, will vote for the next pontiff.

No one knows, but if papacy has been in the cards for Dolan all along, it would be folly to imagine that his inability to muscle Catholics into electing Mitt Romney and loss of ground in the Vatican's expensive war (on which millions of Knights of Columbus dollars have been spent) on equal marriage might foreclose on his chance to be elevated. He can still be seen, by his "brother cardinals" as a latter-day David fighting the Goliath of secularism and godlessness. Such losses as that which had the communion-receiving governor of Dolan's own state militating to legalize same-sex marriage might play well in Rome, rendering the N.Y. Cardinal's lost battle for the honor of church under seige all the more holy.

Timothy Dolan served as Archbishop of the Diocese of Milwaukee before coming to New York on a mission to rein in New York's and United States' wayward Catholics. Dolan's predecessor, Edward Egan, having served in Bridgeport, Connecticut -- one of the first dioceses in which the scope of the problem of pedophile priests came to light -- was was mired in sex abuse scandal. Egan's successor was chosen to serve in New York, because was Egan's opposite. Egan was remote and charmless. Dolan was charming and had not actually appeared to shuffle any pervert priests from parish to parish. Egan was accused of mishandling of child sexual abuse cases in Bridgeport, and was dogged by rumours that he was gay and that he kept silent about abuse in order to avoid being outed.

Relatively speaking, Dolan was squeaky clean. Dolan did not bear the kind of taint his predecessor or Bernard Law or Roger Mahony bore -- which isn't saying much. To be sure, Dolan is not remote, and he is not without charm.

But the fish does, as they say, rot from the head down, and between 1981 and 2013, it fell to the pontiff and the prefect for the Confederation of the Faith (formerly "The Inquisition") to handle every credible sex abuse charge involving a Roman Catholic cleric in every diocese in the world. Dolan took over a diocese that was particularly lousy with pedophile priests and had to make repairs while still maintaining the silence. (Watch the film "Mea Maxima Culpa" to learn more.) While acting as shepherd of Milwaukee Catholics, Timothy Dolan moved money around to prevent it from being used to pay damages in sex crime cases against his diocese. He also authorized the use of experts (attorneys and private detectives) to smear a plaintiff who had earlier sought pastoral support from Dolan. In Milwaukee, while going after victims/survivors of sexual abuse, Dolan made $20,000 payments to sexually abusive priests; he paid them to disappear. Dolan has failed to make clear whether these pedophiles were turned over to the authorities before the checks cleared.None of this will hurt his chances in the conclave for it all goes to obedience, obedience being paramount; Dolan's not being fluent in Italian is likely to be more of a liability.

Dolan threw a tantrum in response to the Health and Human Services Mandate in the course of which histrionics he threatened to 'defund' Catholic agencies that serve the indigent. He blatantly but unofficially campaigned for Mitt Romney, stopping just short of technically violating "the letter" of tax law while flouting its spirit. In at least one of Dolan's parishes, pastors campaigned for Romney outright. In at least one case, explicit instructions for voting in the presidential election were disseminated through the parish's weekly bulletin.) Under Dolan's watch, in New York State, his own practicing Catholic governor ushered same-sex marriage into law.

Despite engaging in such risky maneuvers as actually filing suit against an incumbent presidential candidate, Dolan failed to stop same-sex marriage from gaining ground in the United States. He tried to turn the war on "Obama Care" into a religious freedom issue but his ballyhooed Fourth of July (2012) "Fortnight for Freedom" crusade to defeat the Health Care mandate was a dud. Dolan may have blown his ruddy hail-fellow-well-met, luck-of-the-Irish hot-dog-eating, Golly-what-me-pope? cover, but that is what a burly Irishman does when his God is under attack. The cardinal's conniptions might read like the ravings of a kid on the supermarket line demanding a candy bar, or the righteous indignation of Jesus flipping over the moneylenders' tables in the temple.

Dolan may wear a dress, but he acts like a man. He eats hotdogs, drinks beer and loses his damned temper. God's Beabull's failures in the United States could work in his favor in the context of the secret He-man woman haters' conclave. Dolan's "brother cardinals" may feel that his relative youth and common touch are just what is needed to bring Americans, and by association Western Europe back into active support and participation in the church.

Timothy Dolan failed to defeat President Obama. He dropped the ball on stopping same-sex marriage from passing into law in his in his own state. He failed to defeat an American president in the matter of the health care mandate, and he failed to rein in a number of prominent Catholic leaders as well as the vast majority of American Roman Catholics.

It is not likely, but I think it is remotely possible that the Irish pol in a mitre from New York might have a shot to replace the having-scurried-off-the-sinking-ship, Ratzinger. It would certainly be a bold move -- and interesting to see.

My money's still on Cardinal Peter Turkson a pope from Ghana a nation on a continent in which the Vatican is still widely seen as having moral authority.

Pope Dolan in the papal zucchetto and fisherman's ring when the habemus papam sfuma goes up? Why the hell not?