I've been out of the loop for a day or two, so let me jump back in with a comment or two about the ongoing coverage of the new pope of the United States of America -- the unofficial title that many pin on the man who wears a red hat in New York City. It's obvious that the leaders of the New York Times must, their roles as priests at the Alpha Newspaper atop the mainstream media food chain, work out a template for this guy. He cannot go away, so the editors must make sense of him. They must find the appropriate label, so that they know how to cover him. They have to tell people who he is.
As regular GetReligion reader Brian notes:
I've been trying find out more about Archbishop Dolan, but everything I read I have to play the game, "If source X says he's Y then that probably means he's Z." This seems to be true not only in the mainstream media but also in Catholic news sources and blogs. Whatever Dolan is, it's not easily quantifiable, he doesn't seem to fit into any one of the standard labels. I'd appreciate a newsource I could trust to paint an objective picture of him without having to translate as I read.
As I suggested the other day, the Vatican tends to send men into these high-profile slots (see the throne in Washington, D.C.) who are conservative, but not confrontational. Rome knows that the New York Times is not going to go away, either. Always remember that the Vatican is in Europe and is used to a European press.
So it's clear that Dolan is a kind of conservative, but is not toooooo frightening.
However, he is also popular with many ordinary Catholics and he has interesting academic credentials. But being popular and a kind of conservative, in the nuanced world of the Times, must mean that he is a kind of light weight. That appeared to be the theme in the opening salvo of coverage and no there is an interesting follow story that suggests that this is going to be the template for Dolan coverage, at least until he takes some action that clearly makes him a sort-of good guy or a truly bad guy.
It seems that the archbishop is a man's man, a guy's guy and this means that he may be able to attract more men into the priesthood. All kinds of questions loom in the background, but this is what we get in print:
The big recruiters talk about him as if he were future Hall-of-Fame material -- the kind you build organizations around. They talk about his "skill set," the leadership qualities that make the young ones double their commitments.
They speak of Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of Milwaukee, the gregarious, football-coach-size prelate whom the Vatican named ... to take the helm of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York. They hope he helps attract more men to the priesthood.
"He's a professional extrovert, a banterer, a sports fanatic," said the Rev. Edwin H. Obermiller, director of vocations for the Congregation of Holy Cross at the University of Notre Dame. "He knows how to talk to young men."
Once again, we are drifting into the most pressing demographic crisis that is affecting Catholicism in the West -- the declining number of men willing to enter the priesthood.
It's good that the Times piece does point toward one of the most obvious causes of the decline, which is the plummeting birth rates among American Catholics. A family with one son will rarely produce a priest. There is also a short, short reference to questions about celibacy. There are zero references to other concerns, such as the opinions on the left that almost all young seminarians are arch conservatives and the frequent claims on the right (and sometimes on the left) that about half of the new priests are gay.
Instead, we get this picture of Dolan as the old-fashioned urban Catholic who does old-fashioned Catholic guy things without breaking a sweat. There is, you see, this suggestion that a guy who is totally into football and baseball probably isn't hooked on Broadway tunes.
Here is what that looks like when he visits a seminary in Yonkers:
... (A)fter a vespers service at St. Joseph's chapel in which Archbishop Dolan addressed the seminarians as "the future of the priesthood I love," many of them stood around gaping with what seemed a mixture of curiosity and awe as he held court in a scrum of television cameras and sound booms, answering questions from reporters.
The bishop laughed a lot. He spoke glowingly of the Green Bay Packers, the Mets, the Yankees, hot dogs and jelly doughnuts. At one point he shouted over reporters' heads: "Hey, when's opening day at Yankee Stadium?"
One seminarian, standing with his chin resting on his closed hand, smiled broadly when asked by a reporter what he thought of the new guy. "They asked us not to make comments," he said, turning to walk down a hall to a dinner in honor of Cardinal Egan and his successor. "But I like him."
Standing with his chin resting on his closed hand? I am trying to picture this stance and figure out what it means, in terms of body code. Any suggestions? In fact, any suggestions what in the heckfire this piece is trying to say? What's the bottom line?