02/24/2012 10:56 am ET Updated Apr 25, 2012

Timothy Dolan: God's 'Beabull'

I love attending mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral. I last took part in a mass celebrated by a cardinal there about six years ago, but found myself having to jump clumsily off one side of the Communion line to the other, at the last minute, in order to avoid receiving it from (then, Cardinal) Edward Egan. I couldn't do it; I had just read a particularly damning report about him in the context of the Bridgeport Connecticut diocese's sex scandal.

I haven't yet attended one of Timothy Dolan's masses. I imagine I'll do so soon. Will I take Communion from him, or scoot to the other line? I don't know. I suppose I could go either way. Why? Maybe because this is New York City where it is folly to underestimate the charm of an Irish priest. Although I'd never put a nickel in his collection basket, I almost like Timothy Dolan sometimes. And that's the point.

The Dolan appointment was a shrewd one and the packaging of him is shrewder still. We keep hearing how unambitious Timothy Dolan is. Certainly he has been packaged as such. So down-to-earth is the sound bite-chirping, hot-dog chomping, New York Giants-loving Dolan that one can almost forget his long stint as rector at the Pontifical College in Rome. Sure, one more easily pictures this bishop drinking a beer at the ball game, than a $300 Bordeaux in a brocade gown beneath a gold leaf ceiling, but humble priests rarely get Vatican City gigs, and this is how politics works. Just as our last few presidents pushed off Harvard and Yale in the service of folksy appeal when the moment called for it, so does Dolan push away his experience as a Vatican City insider when he needs to be a regular guy.

Dolan's penchant for politicking is what landed him his two big jobs -- as New York's top bishop and president of the USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops). Timothy Dolan was incardinated on Saturday. This comes as no surprise -- the last four New York Archdiocese bishops wound up in the College of Cardinals -- but what is a bit surprising is how much the pomp surrounding his elevation is able to push away. Dolan's elevation is as much a campaign as it is an event of religious solemnity, and whether by design or accident -- it hardly matters which -- Dolan's promotion to "Prince" (of the Church") coincides with a presidential election the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy is in the process of losing.

Dolan is much more than a prelate. He is the pope's man in New York and Washington where his mission is twofold. His job is to toe the (hard) line while remaining affable. The Vatican's hope is that Dolan can influence secular legislation while keeping disgusted Catholics tithing in the pews. Because those two aims are at cross purposes, much blarney is needed. Dolan excels at blarney, and tends not to be publicly shrill.

Dolan's charmless predecessor, Edward Egan was alleged to have shuffled pedophile priests from parish to parish, and to have refused to provide thousands of pages of documentation relating to cases filed on behalf of victims of sex crimes perpetrated by pedophile priests in the Bridgeport, Connecticut diocese he ran. Timothy Dolan is the anti-Egan. Although hardly squeaky clean, Dolan has all of the warmth Egan lacked and bears a relatively slight taint of the church sex abuse scandal.


Read "Timothy Dolan: God's Beabull" in its entirety on Indie Theology.