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The Archbishop of Charm

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The first Mass he led as a priest, 1976.  

But then he retrenched. Dolan balked at removing all known sex offenders from the ministry, according to some critics, failing to fully publicize direct admissions of guilt from clergy child rapists. And, victims charge, he even let some clerical offenders keep their jobs. (“There was a certain vociferous segment that would be unhappy with anything that we did,” Dolan says now.) He also rallied the base by steadfastly resisting calls for reform. He silenced one priest who entertained the idea of ordaining women and shut down a large group of priests who wanted to discuss making celibacy optional. By the time he left Milwaukee, his capital campaign had raised only about half of the $105 million he’d hoped, and he was forced to close more than twenty parishes.

Where Dolan made the most progress, however, was in public relations. During Milwaukee’s darkest hour, he put on a foam cheese-head during a Mass and made jokes about having to upgrade from Bud to Miller. Those who watched him closely believe it was his populist charm that impressed the Vatican enough to bring him to New York—beating out more-experienced bishops, as well as those who might have been better suited to the growing Latino population. (Dolan does not speak fluent Spanish, though he spent three weeks in an immersion class this past summer.) For as contemporary as he sometimes seems, he is also, in many ways, a throwback choice to lead New York: Irish, conservative. “Dolan is part of this hope that a return to orthodoxy—the fighting seminarian with the crew cut and the fifties values—will be what’s going to change things for the church,” says Peter Isely, midwestern director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. Yet any hard-line posture he might take is expressed so cheerfully, so gregariously, that his mere presence seems like a welcome change. “Well, I think people are just gonna love you,” YES Network announcer John Sterling said when Dolan popped by the broadcast booth on the Yankees’ opening day. “You are such a people person.” “Well, thank you!” Dolan said with a chuckle.

Dolan admits that he was intimidated by the move to New York; it helped that he didn’t have a choice. He was told he was being transferred, as if he were in the military. When he got the news, he thought back to the day he’d learned he was going to lead the Milwaukee archdiocese. “Of course, I told my mother,” Dolan says. “And she said, ‘Well, Tim, how do you feel?’ And I said, ‘Well, I’m kinda scared. I really don’t know if I’m the man for the job.’ And she said, ‘Well, apparently people that know you better than you know yourself think you are, so just be yourself. They must like what they see.’

“And I thought, ‘Wow!’ ” Dolan says, letting out a huge belly laugh. “ ‘I guess you’re right, Mom. Thanks! Give me another piece of pie!’ ”

Before he arrived, Dolan made a study of the archbishops of New York, and the “dual tug” of the job. “You might use the Latin,” he says. “Ad intra is that [which is] internal, ad extra would be that outside. Sometimes the bishop will shine in one or the other. For instance, Cardinal O’Connor and Cardinal Spellman seemed to shine on the ad extra. Cardinal Egan by his own admission shined ad intra. Cardinal Cooke seemed to be brilliant in kind of combining both.” Asked which role he’ll veer toward, Dolan demurs: “That wouldn’t be a strategic decision that I would make.”

But it’s clearly the ad extra that intrigues him. The challenge, as Dolan sees it, is how to expand the church’s appeal while protecting its principles. “How do we make something that is by its nature timeless timely?” he asks. “How do we make something that is by its nature otherworldly attractive to the world?”

What he is too diplomatic to say, perhaps, is that he has inherited an archdiocese shell-shocked by the nine-year era of his ad intra predecessor, Egan. Dolan has already benefited greatly by comparison. “I don’t want to compare, but in many ways he’s like Barack Obama,” says Father John Duffell, an Upper West Side priest long thought of as a leader of Egan’s loyal opposition. “He’s okay in his own skin. And he likes the priests, which is a big thing.” As with Obama, expectations are high. “Everyone wants everything to happen at once,” Duffell says. “There’s need for leadership on immigration, housing, poverty, injustice.”

The priests are waiting for him to address some controversial issues, among them the possibility of more parish closings. Dolan already has rebuffed former parishioners of Our Lady Queen of Angels in East Harlem, in a letter that refused to re-evaluate Egan’s decision to close the parish. Yet he seems focused on altering the way parish closings are perceived. “You obviously want to stay away from the word closing,” he says, “because that’s not your goal. It’s to assess—are we using our resources and our temporal properties to our best ability? We’re still predicated on the fifties model that a Catholic person always feels allied to a parish because it’s where he or she lives. That ain’t true anymore. They float.”


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