Pope Benedict’s appointment of Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy Dolan to succeed Edward Egan as Archbishop of New York comes as no surprise; the only surprise, perhaps, was that there was so much waiting, so much teasing about who it would be. The line on Dolan is that he’s got the old Irish bonhomie, and I’m happy to lend my testimony to that. Last May, I gave a talk on religion and the upcoming election at a meeting of the Catholic-Jewish Consultation, a group of Jewish and Catholic leaders that has been getting together semi-annually for many years. At the break, Dolan came over and sat down to chew the fat, in the course of which he professed astonishment upon hearing that the presiding prelate in my own archdiocese has a policy of not talking with the secular media under any circumstances. That, plus the fact that he’s an historian by training, earns him props in my own little book.
Dolan’s presence at that meeting was taken as a signal by the Jews that he was slated to assume retired Baltimore archbishop Cardinal William Keeler’s mantle as what’s called the Episcopal Moderator for Catholic-Jewish Relations–and that this was a signal that he was truly on the road to St. Patrick’s. Whether or not he sports the Moderator’s official title (Keeler took over the job from Brooklyn Bishop Francis Mugavero in 1988), the archbishop of New York is often called to serve as the Vatican’s ambassador to the Jews. And in the wake of the SSPX scandal, the Vatican needs a really good ambassador in that quarter. While Dolan has not, so far as I can tell, made his voice heard on Archbishop Williamson etc., he’s no doubt been talking behind the scenes.
Meanwhile, he’s out in the current Commonweal with an article on…no, not abortion, but global poverty, in his capacity as chairman of Catholic Relief Services. Unlike most of the bishops you run into, this is a guy who knows how to do the thing. A liberal? Of course not. But not one of those (Raymond) Burkean conservatives who sees his public office as simply raging against the forces of pro-choice darkness.