NEW YORK (RNS) Walk the streets of Manhattan, especially around St. Patrick's Cathedral, and ask passersby about Cardinal Timothy Dolan and two things stand out: one, they know who you're talking about, and two, they like him. Often love him.
Both responses are unusual in the U.S. today: Generally, Catholic churchmen are either interchangeable faces to the public, or, if they are known, it's because of an unflattering headline.
Now Dolan's extraordinary visibility and popularity are being cited as factors that could make him the first American with a realistic shot at being elected pope when the College of Cardinals gathers in March to elect a successor to Benedict XVI.
But will any of the factors that make Dolan a contender actually help him with the 116 other cardinals huddled in the Sistine Chapel to vote for the pope? He is as orthodox as any of them, but he is also an American, which was always seen as a disqualifier. Yet he is head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and a player in church circles and secular politics. So maybe this time is different?
Here are some of the pluses and minuses on Dolan's candidacy:
PRO: He's an American. Yes, this is supposed to sink any Yankee candidate since the U.S. is a superpower that leaves a huge -- and often unpopular -- cultural, political, and military footprint around the world. "The Archbishop of the Capital of the World," the late Pope John Paul II dubbed the man who led the New York archdiocese. But as an American, Dolan is also well known to other churchmen; he travels frequently to Rome (and to other parts of the world) and he brings with him the deep pockets of the American church. U.S. Catholics are now the single largest donor to the Vatican. "For the first time, an American will get taken seriously as a possibility," said John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter.
CON: He's an American. Yes, this is still seen as a deal-breaker for the conclave voters, who overwhelmingly represent other parts of the world, namely Europe and Latin America and Africa. America already has an outsize role -- now give them the papacy, too? "Many people around the world would think the election was fixed by the CIA or bought by Wall Street," said the Rev. Tom Reese, a Jesuit priest and senior fellow at Georgetown University's Woodstock Theological Center.
PRO: Dolan is the kind of outgoing, media-friendly guy that the cardinals need after eight years of the bookish, introverted Benedict. Dolan has held his own in the humor department with the likes of Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert, and he can slap backs and swap jokes in the press room with the best of them. "My first pastoral letter's gonna be a condemnation of light beer and instant mashed potatoes," he quipped after being named to Gotham.
CON: He lacks gravitas. The same everyman exuberance that endears him to the hoi polloi can strike the stodgier College of Cardinals as sophomoric. Asked about his sense of humor, Benedict once said: "I'm not a man who constantly thinks up jokes." Compare that to Dolan on "60 Minutes" about arriving in New York: "They asked me when I got here, 'Are you Cardinals, Mets, Brewers, or Yankees?' And I said, 'When it comes to baseball, I think I can be pro-choice.'"
PRO: He has pastoral experience in a large diocese. This is huge, especially after Benedict, who was not just a scholar and theologian, but someone who spent almost his entire career in academia and the Vatican bureaucracy. Many cardinals feel the church needs a pope who has been a pastor, and who knows how to run a multimillion-dollar, multinational operation like the Vatican.
CON: Dolan is not a theologian. While he got the requisite degree in theology, Dolan's main post-graduate work was in church history, and that is the approach he brings to his writings and his ministry. That works well for the flock, but the cardinals often want a pope who has impressive theological credentials -- an intellectual who doesn't come off as an egghead. John Paul II struck that balance, but Dolan maybe not so much.
PRO: He has Roman experience in that he studied at the Pontifical North American College in Rome -- the seminary overlooking the Vatican where bishops send their best and brightest. In 1994, he was named to head the NAC, and spent six years there, learning Italian and making connections. Indeed, the Italians could be more inclined to vote for him than his fellow American cardinals, who might understandably view Dolan as soaking up too much of the spotlight already.
CON: For all that time in Rome, he never held a post in the Roman Curia, the centralized Vatican bureaucracy where careers are made (or broken). NCR's Allen said that is in part why Dolan would be on the "B or C list" of papal candidates. Besides, his Italian is only passable at this point, and to run the Vatican it pays to understand every whisper.
PRO and CON: Dolan has a track record on dealing with sex abuse, and it is as contested as that of any churchman who has headed a diocese at any point in the last 30 years. That's why the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests singled out Dolan as one of three cardinals they do not want to see become pope. The thing is, criticism from SNAP is like a badge of honor to the cardinals, many of whom could well have worse track records than Dolan.
WILD CARD: Dolan is the Chris Christie of the College of Cardinals, a plus-size prelate who likes to make jokes about his weight and penchant for pasta. But is that what tradition demands this time? Vatican wags note that the cardinals seem to alternate from thin pope to fat pope. (You can look it up: Pius IX to Leo XIII to Pius X, so it goes.) The question is whether Benedict qualifies as an ectomorph or an endomorph.
The bottom line? The Irish online betting site, Paddy Power, had Dolan at a 40-1 shot this week -- the middle of the pack, which seems about right. And on the "Today" show on Monday, host Matt Lauer asked Dolan if he could vote for himself in the conclave.
"No," Dolan answered. "Crazy people cannot enter the conclave."
(Tim Townsend of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch contributed to this report).
BEFORE YOU GO
02/12/2013 10:45 PM EST
Pope's Brother Says Benedict XVI Won't Return Home
REGENSBURG, Germany — Pope Benedict XVI is planning to stay out of the public eye following his retirement at the end of the month but may stand ready to advise his successor if asked, his brother said Tuesday after talking with the pontiff.
Speaking to reporters at his home in the southern German city of Regensburg, Monsignor Georg Ratzinger, who was ordained on the same day in 1951 as his brother Joseph, said he didn't expect Benedict's continued presence in the Vatican to intimidate the next pope.
Continue reading here.
02/12/2013 9:46 PM EST
The Latest Betting Line On The Next Pope
Keith Thomson writes in a blog post:
Much is at stake with the selection of Pope Benedict XVI's successor, including a lot of money. Paddy Power, Europe's largest bookmaker, has already taken more than £100,000 in bets, and expects to see multi-million-pound action closer to next month's conclave at the Sistine Chapel.
While Las Vegas casinos refuse to accept such bets for reasons of "taste," Paddy Power is one of several major international bookmakers currently offering papal markets, not only on who will be the next pope, but what papal name he'll choose, his country of origin, and the length of the papal conclave, among others.
Continue reading here.
02/12/2013 6:09 PM EST
Topless Feminists Hail Pope Benedict's Resignation
A group of topless activists scandalized visitors at Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral on Tuesday by disrobing in public to celebrate Pope Benedict XVI's resignation.
The small group of women, all affiliated with radical feminist group FEMEN, flashed their breasts and banged on bells in the cathedral, shouting slogans such as, "Bye Bye Benedict" and "No more homophobe," according to the Agence France-Presse.
Continue reading here.
02/12/2013 6:06 PM EST
With Pope Benedict's Resignation, Gay Rights Advocates Hope For Change
HuffPost's Lila Shapiro reports:
Jeannine Gramick, a Roman Catholic nun and co-founder of a U.S. ministry for gay and lesbian Catholics, met Pope Benedict XVI only once, by chance, on a plane flying from Baltimore to Rome in the late-'90s. Because of her work with the lesbian and gay community, Gramick had by then been under investigation by the Vatican for more than two decades.
The encounter was serendipitous, Gramick recalled Monday after hearing news of Benedict's resignation. Gramick and leaders at her ministry had been worried that she would be excommunicated. She was traveling with the head of her order to Munich, via Rome, to pray that she would keep her place in the church. When she boarded the plane, she saw Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who later became pope, sitting with two empty seats beside him. She mustered her courage and sat next to him. "When he found out who I was, he just smiled and said 'Oh, I've known about you for 20 years,'" she said.
Continue reading here.
02/12/2013 5:52 PM EST
Nuns Pray Inside St. Peter's Basilica
Nuns pray inside St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013. With a few words in Latin, Pope Benedict XVI did what no pope has done in more than half a millennium, stunning the world by announcing his resignation Monday and leaving the already troubled Catholic Church to replace the leader of its 1 billion followers by Easter. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
02/12/2013 5:24 PM EST
Vatican Plans Big Send-Off For Pope Benedict XVI
VATICAN CITY, Feb 12 (Reuters) - Cardinals around the world began informal contacts to discuss who should next lead the Church through a period of major crisis and the Vatican said it planned a big send-off for Pope Benedict before he becomes the first pontiff in centuries to resign.
At a Tuesday news conference on how the pope plans to spend the next two weeks before he steps out of the limelight, the Vatican also disclosed that the 85-year-old Benedict has been wearing a pacemaker since before he was elected pope in 2005.
Continue reading here.
02/12/2013 5:10 PM EST
Cardinal Seán O'Malley, OFM, Cap: Pope Benedict Was Committed To Ensure Abuse Would Not Be Repeated
Yesterday morning the Church and the world learned that Pope Benedict XVI, following an extended period of prayer and reflection, discerned that he would resign the papacy at the end of this month. This news certainly came as a great surprise to all of us. It would be reasonable to consider that the Holy Father's advancing age and the responsibilities of being the leader for more than one billion Catholics, including the demands of extensive international travel, played a central role in his decision. We join the universal Church in offering prayerful gratitude for the Holy Father's faith, courage and his leadership as the successor of Peter.
At this time it is appropriate for the Church and all people of good faith to reflect on Pope Benedict's legacy and achievements. He brought unique capabilities to the papacy as a highly qualified scholar and teacher, and as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in service to Blessed John Paul II. His fidelity to maintaining the truth and clarity of the Catholic faith, to cultivating ecumenical and interfaith dialogue and in reaching out to inspire the next generation of Catholics have been great gifts to us all.
During the course of the past eight years Pope Benedict embraced the papacy with the heart of a kind and caring shepherd, always holding the spiritual and pastoral care of the people of God to be the highest priority. The Holy Father also generously used his superior intellectual gifts, well established through his reputation as a renowned scholar, to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the teachings of the Church with people from all walks of life throughout the world. He guided the Church through unprecedented challenges, always finding strength in Jesus' promise to be with us always, and led a world-wide renewal of evangelization that will influence the Catholicism for generations to come.
The Archdiocese of Boston in particular has been greatly blessed by Pope Benedict's care and concern.In all of my conversations with him he has always asked me to assure this local Church of his prayers and encouragement. I will always hold the Holy Father's 2008 meeting with survivors of clergy sexual abuse, and our presentation of the Book of Names of living and deceased survivors, as one of the most powerful experiences of my life and priesthood.
His overwhelming sorrow that such heinous crimes were perpetrated on the survivors and his heartfelt expression of love and concern were deeply moving, as was his absolute commitment that the abuse never be repeated and that the Church maintain her vigilance to do everything possible to insure the safety of children.
While there will be much speculation in the days and weeks ahead regarding who will follow the Holy Father to the Chair of Peter, at this moment we are called to reflect on Pope Benedict's leadership; offering prayers of gratitude for this servant of Christ who so dearly loves all of God's people. At this extraordinary moment in the life of the Church, we pray for the wisdom and grace of the Holy Spirit and the strength given by our Lord, who, assures us that he will be with us always.
02/12/2013 4:58 PM EST
Cardindal Francis Arinze: 'We Know You Have Done This For The Love Of The Church'
Cardinal Francis Arinze, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for Divine Worship, releases a statement:
02/12/2013 3:17 PM EST
The Monastery Where The Pope Is Expected To Live After He Resigns
A view of the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery, right, next to the Tower of San Giovanni, inside the Vatican State where Pope Benedict XVI is expected to live after he resigns, on Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013. For months, construction crews have been renovating a four-story building attached to a monastery on the northern edge of the Vatican gardens where nuns would live for a few years at a time in cloister. Only a handful of Vatican officials knew it would one day be Pope Benedict XVI's retirement home. On Tuesday, construction materials littered the front lawn of the house and plastic tubing snaked down from the top floor to a dump truck as the restoration deadline became ever more critical following Benedict's stunning announcement that he would resign Feb. 28 and live his remaining days in prayer. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
02/12/2013 3:15 PM EST
FEMEN Protest Against Pope Benedict XVI
Activists of the Women's Movement FEMEN, protest against the Pope Benedict XVI who announced his resignation yesterday, in Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)