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Posted April 19, 2010

An Archbishop with Inspirational Energy Reflecting One,
Among Many, of the Best of Models of Post-Modern Priesthood

New York Archbishop Praised, Though Tests Await

By Paul Vitello
New York Times

At times during his first year as the 10th Roman Catholic archbishop of New York, Timothy M. Dolan seemed to be everywhere at once, like a presidential candidate with momentum in the early primaries.

The crush of demands to see, hear and get slapped on the back by him kept the new archbishop in moving vehicles much of the time, on his way to national conferences, television appearances and far-flung churches where parishioners stood in line for hours to shake his hand and say the same thing, often in the same words: that he — a bearish, warm-blooded, tough-talking Midwesterner — was “a breath of fresh air.”

Since his solemn inauguration ceremony one year ago Thursday, Archbishop Dolan, 60, has made no secret of his love for food and “brew” (his word). And he seems to have surrendered unconditionally to the gastronomic temptations of his freshman-year tour — from the elegant banquet tables of Manhattan to the homemade spreads laid out on folding tables by the food committees of his upstate parishes. (And he has vowed to visit each of his 405 parishes in due time.)

When the pounds began to show, he turned them into a laugh line. Patting his midsection, he told audiences, “New York has grown on me.” And when the calorie-counting Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg scolded him — bluntly advising him to lose weight because “we’d like to keep you around for a while,” in Archbishop Dolan’s telling — the prelate burst into laughter and hugged him.

“Call me Timothy,” he said.

But Archbishop Dolan has some less palatable duties ahead of him. The recession has worsened a chronic budget squeeze in the archdiocese, increased demand for its frayed web of social service programs and added urgency to a long-planned realignment of resources.

The parishes and schools of the archdiocese needed an added $30 million infusion from headquarters in fiscal 2009 to meet expenses, officials said.

Whatever else it does, the good will he sows now among the archdiocese’s 2.5 million Catholics will help stem resentments when some of those places are closed, said Msgr. Thomas J. Bergin, a former vicar of archdiocesan education. “People have warmed to him,” he said. “He will need that.”

In interviews, Catholic leaders, scholars and lay people praised the friendly, politically moderate tone that Archbishop Dolan set in his first year, while noting that he had not yet had to make the kind of tough financial and organizational choices that his predecessor, Cardinal Edward M. Egan, did. Most of Cardinal Egan’s administrators remain in their jobs, some of them continuing to work on consolidation plans begun during his time.

Unlike his predecessor, though, Archbishop Dolan has not shied away from speaking out on politically charged topics — against abortion and gay marriage initially, and in recent weeks against those who have raised questions about the Vatican’s role in the sexual abuse scandal.

His fierce defense of the Catholic hierarchy — he accused The New York Times and other news organizations of participating in a well-oiled campaign” against Pope Benedict XVI — brought cheers from some church stalwarts and criticism from others. R. Scott Appleby, a history professor at the University of Notre Dame who describes himself as a fan of the archbishop’s, called his remarks symptomatic of a “fringy apocalypticism infiltrating the rhetoric” of some bishops.

Archbishop Dolan was in Rome this week and unavailable for an interview, said Joseph Zwilling, the archdiocesan spokesman. But among both defenders and critics of the church’s Roman leadership, there is near-unanimous accord that in sending Archbishop Dolan to the media capital of the world, the Vatican did itself some good.

“In the context of all the crisis and controversy of recent church history, he is a point of light — a guy who can project the kind of affability and open-mindedness that make Catholics feel good about their church,” said John L. Allen Jr., Vatican correspondent for The National Catholic Reporter, who is at work on a book about the archbishop.

A theologically conservative leader, Archbishop Dolan has for the most part kept his public statements well within the bounds of the nuanced positions established by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Yet his political talents invariably subject him to comparisons with past lights of the church, from Cardinals John J. O’Connor and Terence J. Cooke of New York to Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, the religious-broadcasting pioneer who was one of his boyhood heroes. Archbishop Dolan’s intellect and navigational skills in the crosscurrents of religion and politics — and his unquestionable loyalty to the pope — mark him as the prelate most suited, if any are, to become the American voice of Catholic orthodoxy, some experts said.

“He has a great presence and a nuanced sense of things,” said Prof. Terrence W. Tilley, chairman of the theology department at Fordham University. “In a lot of ways, he is on another level. And he is still learning.” In the past year, the archbishop has earned the affection of many priests who bristled under the sometimes peremptory style of Cardinal Egan. Archbishop Dolan has won over many parishioners by restoring the archdiocesan pastoral council, a lay advisory group that was moribund for years.

He has become as fluent in the vernacular of the Internet (“Baloney!” he wrote in a recent post on his blog, at blog.archny.org) as in the scholarly jargon of the Ph.D.-holder (which he is).

He has maneuvered between the demands of Catholic factions to his left and right. He disappointed anti-abortion activists last year with his temperate criticism of Notre Dame’s president for inviting President Obama to speak at commencement ceremonies. (The university president, the Rev. John I. Jenkins, said in an interview that when he met Archbishop Dolan a month later, “the archbishop expressed his concern for how I was feeling, and let me know he understood my point of view.”)

On the other hand, the archbishop has yet to deliver a major sermon or speech on immigration issues — to the chagrin of advocates for Latino immigrants in New York, who make up the church’s fastest-growing population.

He has also negotiated the subtle challenge of accommodating the presence of his retired predecessor, Cardinal Egan, who often sits beside him at official functions. Cardinal Egan, who recently turned 78, urged Archbishop Dolan to appoint Msgr. Greg Mustaciuolo, the cardinal’s longtime personal secretary, to the job of archdiocesan chancellor, the influential overseer of all records and correspondence within the archdiocese. It is the only significant appointment Archbishop Dolan has made to date.

The gentle joke told about the archbishop at church headquarters in Manhattan is borrowed from one about Pope John Paul II: “Must be wonderful to spend so much time with the guy,” a visitor tells the office receptionist.

“What guy?”

In other words, Archbishop Dolan has not spent a lot of time at his desk.

“In the Catholic world, we use Latin terms to describe the two types of bishop,” Mr. Allen said. “There is the ‘ad estera,’ who is the outward-looking, evangelizing preacher. And the ‘ad intera,’ the inward-tending bishop who likes to move the levers of power.”

“Dolan is the first type — ‘ad estera,’ ” he said. “He is not someone to be consumed with the minutiae of administering.”

That was his style of management as archbishop of Milwaukee, where he served from 2002 until his appointment in New York. He was praised there for revitalizing the morale of parishioners and priests after a sexual abuse scandal during the tenure of his predecessor, Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland. But he was criticized by some, including many victims of abuse, for having largely left Archbishop Weakland’s bishop-administrators in place.

Mr. Zwilling, the spokesman for the New York archdiocese, said Archbishop Dolan’s decision to retain most of Cardinal Egan’s administrators so far reflects his predecessor’s “excellent choice of staff,” as well as the realities of being a newcomer taking charge of an ecclesiastical territory that spans Manhattan, the Bronx, Staten Island and seven upstate counties.

“He has spent the better part of the year getting to know his way around,” Mr. Zwilling said. “Up until now, a lot of what he has done inside the archdiocese has not been very visible. But that will change soon.”