01/06/2012 12:43 pm ET Updated Jan 06, 2012

Pope Will Promote Archbishop Timothy Dolan Of New York To College Of Cardinals

NEW YORK -- Pope Benedict XVI has announced he will name New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan to the College of Cardinals, giving one of America's most powerful Catholics an even bigger position on the world stage.

Dolan, 61, leads New York's 2.6-million member Catholic church, which includes Manhattan, the Bronx, Staten Island and many of the city's suburban counties. He is also the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Now, in an elaborate Vatican ceremony that will take place on Feb. 18, he will join 21 priests from around the globe as a new member of a powerful group of cardinals that are some of the pope's closest advisers and will choose the new pope when Benedict dies. With the new appointments, there will be 125 Cardinals eligible to vote for a new pope. Cardinals who are over 80 years old are not allowed to vote.

The announcement, made mid-day Friday in Vatican City, is the latest in the rapid ascension of Dolan up the church's ranks. Ordained as a parish priest in St. Louis in 1976, Dolan held several academic positions at Catholic universities before becoming the Auxliary 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 he was voted to lead the bishops' conference in 2010.

"Yes, I am honored, humbled, and grateful...but, let's be frank: this is not about Timothy Dolan; this is an honor from the Holy Father to the Archdiocese of New York, and to all our cherished friends and neighbors who call this great community home," Dolan said in a statement.

"It's as if Pope Benedict is putting the red hat on top of the Empire State Building, or the Statue of Liberty, or on home plate at Yankee Stadium; or on the spires of Saint Patrick's Cathedral or any of our other parish churches."

Dolan, with his playful personality and staunch defense of church positions on issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage and advocacy for the poor and immigrants, has recently become the face of the American church in the media with television specials in the last year on 60 Minutes and the Today Show.

A member of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, a group the Vatican recently announced to promote church membership and teachings, Dolan will join bishops from Florence, Toronto, and Berlin among the new Cardinals. The pope also named another American, Archbishop Edwin O'Brien, Grand Master of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre and the former archbishop of Baltimore, among those who will become Cardinals.

Dolan's appointment will give New York two living Cardinals. The other is Cardinal Edward Egan, the former Archbishop of New York, who turns 80 on April 2. By appointing Dolan a cardinal before his predecessor turned 80, Benedict broke with tradition. Church observers say the move indicates how much the pope favors New York's Catholic leader.