New York gets safe shepherd (apparently)

dolan3072602Guess what? The new leader of the Catholic Archdiocese of New York is Catholic enough to make the college of cardinals at the New York Times a bit miffed at his appointment, but flexible and corporate enough not to make the Gray Lady mad. I'm shocked, shocked, how about you? There's all kinds of coverage of this appointment to the top slot in the American hierarchy and most of it pivots on one crucial detail. Archbishop Timothy Dolan is a conservative, but he has not -- so far -- punished mainstream Democrats and progressive Republicans who openly oppose their church's teachings on abortion, the sacrament of marriage and other hot-button cultural issues. So relax, things could be worse.

Here's the top of a feature profile by Michael Powell in the pages of holy writ:

MILWAUKEE -- For a few deeply unpleasant days, the Rev. David Cooper found himself in the crosshairs of the Roman Catholic hierarchy.

It was 2003, and the priest had opined to a reporter that women should be ordained. Faraway bishops rumbled about censure. Then he picked up the telephone and heard the baritone of Milwaukee's archbishop, Timothy Michael Dolan. Father Cooper immediately offered to resign.

No, no, the archbishop replied, we just need to repair the damage. "He was very pastoral and caring," Father Cooper recalled. And how was it resolved? "Oh, I agreed to recant," he said. "He effectively silenced me."

The kind of silencing that ends up at the top of a Times report, obviously. What we have here is a corporate Catholic response to a doctrinal issue and similar actions can be found throughout the piece. Dolan knows how to stay on the high wire between Rome and the American powers that be. He believes the right things, for Rome, but does not act on them.

Thus, the Times does not quite know what to do with him. As a result, the profile is downright strange at times. The goal, it seems, is to portray the future cardinal as a jolly lightweight. Read on:

Archbishop Dolan hails from American Catholicism's now-dominant conservative wing, which has grown stronger and more assertive during the past decade. Under his predecessor, Rembert G. Weakland, the Milwaukee archdiocese had a national reputation as a liberal Catholic outpost, where debate about doctrine was vociferous and to be gloried in. Many Catholics predicted a theological war upon the arrival of the new bishop. This did not materialize.

Obedient soldier of Rome though many say he is, Archbishop Dolan remains more politician than ideologue. He has not joined the American bishops who barred Catholic politicians who favor abortion rights from taking holy communion. And, with a notable exception or two, he has declined to ferret out the liberals in his midst. ... (He) warned, there are a few -- like Daniel C. Maguire, the Catholic theologian and professor at Marquette University, in Milwaukee -- who favor abortion rights and are "so radically outside church teaching that his appearance at any parish would be a grave scandal."

You know what is going to happen after reading that paragraph, don't you? Out of all of the possible priests and scholars to consult about Dolan's standing in the church, who do you think is going to be the one person who gets to cast judgment on the archbishop?

You got it. It seems that Dolan is not known as:

... a particularly sophisticated theologian; his homilies are homespun, often touching on baseball and football before turning to the importance of Christ as savior. ... (M)any priests say he lacks the lyricism and textual insight of a great homilist.

"He is no theologian," said Professor Maguire, the Marquette theologian banned from speaking on archdiocesan property. "He is in keeping with church policy that theologians are to listen and obey. It turns theology into a form of magic, expertise without study."

Notice that "many priests" believe he is a second-rate preacher. Thus, we get to hear from exactly one of them -- one of the rare liberals that this very low-key conservative ruled out of bounds. A nice touch, don't you think? Oh, and this non-theologian used to run the American seminary in Rome.

Once again, what the piece needs is diversity, a wider range of voices across the Catholic spectrum. American Catholicism includes all kinds of thinkers and activists. The Times needed to talk to more of them.

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