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Affirmative Orthodoxy Print E-mail
By Brad Miner   
Monday, 16 January 2012

Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan of New York is becoming the most visible Catholic churchman in the Western Hemisphere. He is also a down-to-earth pastor – a clavicle-crushing six-foot-three teddy bear of a man whom you meet for the first time and, ten minutes later, feel you’ve known for a decade. I’ve met other archbishops and cardinals, and not one has impressed me as so thoroughly in love with the People of God as is the tenth archbishop of New York.

And this is essentially the conclusion of A People of Hope, by the National Catholic Reporter’s John L. Allen, Jr. – a book-length interview with Archbishop Dolan. Mr. Allen writes that his literary model is The Ratzinger Report (1984), but Vittorio Messori’s interview with Cardinal Ratzinger, then head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was a broadside against the “hermeneutic of rupture” after Vatican II.

Allen acknowledges that his book is more anecdotal and less doctrinal: that A People of Hope intends to be upbeat – about “what Catholicism is for rather than what it’s against,” which seems a backhanded slap at the man who is currently pope – who’ll present the red hat to Dolan next month.

Tim Dolan, as Mr. Allen insists on calling him, is nobody’s typical archbishop. He’s a serious, scholarly man, but there’s little solemnity in his manner. This rankles those (sedevacantist traditionalists, for instance) for whom a member of the episcopate ought to be all-but-unapproachable. Cardinals should be heard but not seen. (Well, maybe seen on the steps of St. Patrick’s, waving to marchers on the saint’s grand day.)

That sedevacantist delusion began during the papacy of Paul VI, not least because the Holy Father was so visible, being the first pope to travel outside Italy in a century and a half, and, with his predecessor and successors, to engage modernity by reframing Catholicism’s exposition of eternal truth.

Like Dostoyevsky’s Grand Inquisitor, who rejects Jesus when He appears in Seville because His humanity interferes with the affairs of the Church, so the chiggers of Traditionalism will nibble on some of Dolan’s off-the-cuff remarks. His self-deprecating wit may arch eyebrows among those whose pale, bony fingers will tap-tap over every word of every sentence in A People of Hope.

For instance, when asked by Allen about becoming pope, Dolan replies:

That’s so beyond anything I can imagine, that I wouldn’t even fantasize about it. I mean, heck, the day before St. Patrick’s Day it was great I was able to meet Sharon Stone. Talk about fantasies! Wow, there goes Lent! [p.28]

Traddies will swoon. Liberals in the College of Cardinals will post it in the visitors’ locker room at the next conclave, but it’s a joke, folks! Although it’s fair to say it’s not a quip you’d have heard from Cardinal Spellman.

And there are times when the archbishop’s spontaneous word choices seem a bit incautious. Allen asks: “What about a woman heading a Vatican congregation?” Dolan responds: “I would think that the prefect . . . probably needs to be in holy orders . . .” Probably? Aren’t the heads of congregations always cardinals?

In Chapter Four, which Allen inelegantly titles “Pelvic Issues,” the archbishop handles questions concerning, as a famous Vatican document puts it, The Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons with the compassion and commonsense of Catholicism’s natural-law teaching.

But, again for the nit-pickers (or is it the nits?), Archbishop Dolan speaks about accepting into a Catholic school the child of a same-sex couple, and says the child would be welcome, then adds, speaking as if to the “parents” [scare quotes in the book]: “But you do realize . . . that . . . in their catechesis, the child might learn that the kind of life you are leading might be contrary to the teaching of the Church.” Those mights will inflame certain “conservatives,” but this is the pastor at work: opening doors, not closing them; gently presenting hard truths. There’s no argument more winning than love.

Mr. Allen refers to the Dolan approach as affirmative orthodoxy, and anybody who has seen and heard – let alone met – the archbishop understands what that means. Benedict XVI certainly does, and the Holy Father also knows the occasional pitfalls of these extended interviews. (The pope has done at least four.)

We recall the flapdoodle over condoms that came out of his conversation with Peter Sewald. That’s unlikely in this case, since Mr. Allen is a liberal Catholic and the liberal media have no wish to pounce on him and may actually hope that Archbishop Dolan’s ebullient ministry is somehow an affirmation of the “spirit of Vatican II” – that’s the orthodoxy of their fantasies. If only he’d switch out the scarlet biretta for a black beret! Hope and change!

An example of a statement His Excellency (soon to be His Eminence) makes to Allen that could backfire: He says that in his assignments in St. Louis and Milwaukee, he never saw evidence that a “bishop did not take it [sex-abuse] seriously.” He mentions Rembert Weakland – that he “did take it seriously,” and of the Catholic authorities more generally that “they took it seriously.” End paragraph.

Then in the very next sentence: “Tragically, what they meant by taking it seriously now seems almost risible.” I think I hear the archbishop’s rhetorical cadences and inflections leading to that sentence, but rarely have I read such a gold-etched invitation to be quoted out of context. It’s superficially contradictory and, therefore, confusing.

When the archbishop speaks (in person), you hear (in the words of St. Benedict) with “the ear of your heart.” A stenographer’s report is not the medium for expressing the Christian dynamism of Timothy Dolan.

Here he is speaking at the New York premiere of Fr. Barron’s Catholicism:


 
Brad Miner is senior editor of The Catholic Thing and senior fellow of the Faith & Reason Institute.
 
 
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.
   

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Comments (17)Add Comment
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written by Manfred, January 16, 2012
Brad: Why are sedevacantists and traditionalists mentioned in this piece? Most trads. in my experience look upon the Church the same way Pope Benedict does. See the changes which will occur in this Year of the Faith, the 50th anniversary of the start of Vat II. There will be many blockbusters. Dolan refers to Abp Rembert Weakland on the sex-abuse issue and says: he "did take it seriously". Weakland paid his male lover Marcoux $450,000 to settle a suit that he, Weakland, had embezzled from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee while he was its abp. Has Weakland ever paid it back? Was he arrested, tried and jailed? Of course not. Since June, 2011, pseudogynous (Dr. Esolen's term) marriages have been legalized while Abp Dolan was on watch. Parents will have to deal with this pernicious influence in the schools while the leader of the Archdiocese just throws up his hands. That is all I have to know about Tim Dolan.
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written by Lee Gilbert, January 16, 2012
Since I lean somewhat to the traditionalist side naturally I wonder just how large a segment of the Church falls within the ambit of your contempt. It's ironic to read a column about such an irenic, pastoral man and be left with the thought that the column is essentially schismatic- schismatic as in scissors. Fr. John Zuhlsdorf styles Pope Benedict XVI "the Pope of Christian unity" and very probably the rise of Archbishop Dolan is due to that fact. I imagine they would both find it helpful if The Catholic Thing would at least do what it could to foster Catholic unity rather than hurling brickbats here and there within the Church. No, all is not well, but specific issues need to be addressed specifically and as charitably as possible. Stigmatizing whole segments of the Church with contemptuous nicknames and prophesying what they will likely do doesn't seem quite up to the mark for a site that purports to be a venue for serious Catholic conversation. Please withdraw or re-write the column. Thanks!
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written by James, January 16, 2012
Thumbs down on Archbishop Dolan's use of 'probably's and 'might' in relation to doctrinal issues. You don't need to be a traditionalist to assert that this is the same wishy-washy teaching-- under the guise of pastoral sensitivity--that you get from many American dioceses. This walking-on-eggshells approach --so as not to offend liberals-- is part of the crisis. It's hardly leadership, and it's far from orthodoxy.
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written by Tony Esolen, January 16, 2012
I have to say, I disagree with the Cardinal on the issue of allowing the adopted child of a homosexual couple to attend Catholic school. The moral hazard to the other children is continual, visible, and formidable. Since people these days are not inclined to think of universals or of absolute truths, they -- especially children -- will see the ordinariness of the child and conclude that the pseudogamous relationship of the "parents" is no big deal. I wouldn't want my kids near it.
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written by Titus, January 16, 2012
People do seem to have gotten rather over-concerned about Mr. Miner's article. Several comments come to mind.

First, His Excellency's phrasing and mannerisms are not the end of the earth. If His Excellency says one "might" hear that sodomy and fornication are sins, he is clearly using litotes (have we all read Virgil?): if he were actually heterodox himself he would not even have addressed the issue. If Archbishop Dolan is more familiar than some of his predecessors, he is so because the circumstances of the world and his see make it appear beneficial; we live in a very strange world.

Perhaps Mr. Miner could have weighed the benefits and costs of the Archbishop's approach without referring to perceptions. But it is not as if he actually called everyone traditionally minded or who prefers formality a sedevacantist. And that really was not the point of the article.

As for Allen's "what Catholicism is for rather than what it’s against," that's merely silly: one cannot be for the doctrine of the Trinity unless one is against Monophysitism.
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written by John Sobieski, January 16, 2012
What a bizarre piece. It is ostensibly about a pastor who "open doors," yet it slams doors in the faces of Catholics with traditional leanings. And it suggests that the Pope himself is among the cheerless, negative traddies! I'm glad Miner puts me (a cheerful traddie) on the Pope's side. But I can't help asking: what is The Catholic Thing's point? Why?
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written by Brad Miner, January 16, 2012
Just a brief comment about traditionalism. I made a point of specifying "sedevacantist."
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written by Bart, January 16, 2012
What I would dare to say to the beloved soon-to-be Cardinal is dare to dream. Dare to imagine. It's not a fantasy. We are not all radtrads or sedevacantists. We also are watching and listening and we like what we see and hear. You are a man of and for the people and after all isn't that what a pope should be.
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written by Fr. Gregory Lockwood, January 16, 2012
I've known the archbishop for many years; he uses language in a mitigating way to gain a hearing without cutting off dialogue. He's orthodox and a thoroughly decent man. People can differ concerning pastoral solutions to difficult situations (I personally would resonate to Tony Esolen's misgivings mentioned above), but I do not doubt Archbishop Dolan's love for the Church or her teachings.

I do take issue with the tone of the article, using traditional Catholics as cartoon cutout crazies examining a bishop's every move for signs of the "Spirit of Vatican II." As a priest for almost 25 years, I have seen folks from every point on the compass get off course occasionally. They all still belong to Holy Mother Church, as does the author. People who have been marginalized are easy targets.
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written by John Sobieski, January 16, 2012
"Just a brief comment about traditionalism. I made a point of specifying 'sedevacantist.'"

If 'sedevacantist' is what you really mean, then this piece badly needs editing. You use the term "sedevacantist" twice. Thereafter it's: "chiggers of traditionalism," and "traddies," suggesting the two are the same. But you don't stop there. You also mention "nit-pickers," "nits," "'conservatives' [in quotation marks]," and people who tap bony fingers.

Perhaps you might focus on substance instead of name-calling.
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written by Seanache, January 16, 2012
Fr. Lockwood has it right...Archbishop Dolan loves the Church, Her teachings, and His/his flock. He is a gifted thinker and speaker who invites and attracts conversation and understanding. I (a traditionalist) find self-righteous orthodoxy pharisaical, off-putting and dialogue ending.
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written by Wade St. Onge, January 16, 2012
Take it easy on Mr. Miner, everyone. The man admits he struggles with anger:

http://www.thecatholicthing.org/columns/2011/room-for-the-devil.html

This article indeed proves it is so.
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written by Louise, January 16, 2012
I felt very sad after reading this article. I decided to dismiss my feelings and give Mr. Miner the benefit of the doubt.

I admit that every time I see the Archbishop on television, I am left with mixed feelings, and I end up no better off than before. I often feel as if I were being patronized, patted on the head, talked down to, as if I'm not bright enough to understand a straightforward, declarative sentence. Yes, one may be warm-hearted and accepting and casual and easy-going in one's speech, and there is a time and a place for that--a parish meeting in the church hall where everyone understands the implications of the "might" and "perhaps" under discussion. There is also a time to be precise and exact in one's diction, to say nothing of exhibiting a level of seriousness, dignity, and clear thinking-- in public or published speech, for example. Demeanor may not be all, but it is a lot.

Casual speech can do a lot of damage by creating unwarranted expectations as well as misunderstandings. A good interviewer would have insisted on knowing what the "might" and "perhaps" meant--exactly. (Does anyone remember the presidential campaign of 2008 when Mr. Obama's words could be taken to mean whatever a listener wanted them to mean? How is that any different from the Archbishop's "might" and "perhaps"?)

I fell in love with Cardinal Ratzinger on reading the first paragraph of the first book of his that I read. Here is a man who speaks with gentleness--as well as gentility--, precisely, cogently, profoundly, and he never violates the first rule taught in English Comp. 101: "Never confuse your reader." Do they teach English Comp. 101 anymore (or even a remedial class in seminary?

I also agree wholeheartedly with Dr. Esolen.

To Bart who wrote: "You are a man of and for the people and after all isn't that what a pope should be." How disappointed I was when someone who had just listened to a homily by our new bishop some years ago. She said, "He is a man of the people." "On no," thought I, I was hoping that he would be a man of God."
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written by Manfred, January 16, 2012
Louise is absolutely correct. The Catholic laity is being set upon on all sides and we are at WAR with the secular society which surrounds us. We need STRONG GENERALS-the A-TEAM if you will, to lead and protect us. Instead what do we get? A feckless, imprecise bishop who utterly failed in his first major contest, to stop pseudogamous marriage from becoming State law. I called this one back in July, i.e., the deal was to receive State funding for Catholic schools, the NY bishops would look the other way on "same-sex marriage". I know Abp Dolan loves the Church, he is a great guy, he is personally pious, he kisses babies, he smiles at dogs; but he is just another mediocrity wearing a miter which the laity is forced to wait for to either die or retire. How long do you think a board of directors would tolerate a CEO of this caliber?
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written by Bart, January 16, 2012
To Louise
who wrote : "On no," thought I, I was hoping that he would be a man of God."

As if a man of God and a man of and for the people are mutually exclusive. I believe Jesus was very much a man of and for the people, but hey maybe i'm wrong.


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written by Thinkling, January 16, 2012
This is an interesting piece, I can sympathize with some of the other commenters here, eg Tony Esolen's concerns, although acknowledge this is in the end a prudential situation.

Fr. Lockwood's impressions mirror those of friends of mine with ties to the Archbishop: rumors of his heterodoxy are greatly exaggerated (cf Morley Safer's televised piece a few months back). I too found it somewhat odd that Mr. Miner focused so much on traditional Catholic response although think there is merit in pursuing it (the tone and caricature arguments are fair game though). If we strip the controversial imagery, the typical response of *some* trads is a perfect example of why Msgr Pope (Archdiocese of Washington) recently compared being a bishop to "herding cats".

A quibble of my own. Allen has been describing Pope Benedict with the moniker "affirmative orthodoxy" since only months or even weeks after the beginning of his papacy. I strongly disagree that Allen's line "what Catholicism is for rather than what it’s against” is meant as a shot at the pope. I strongly suspect that the Holy Father is greatly impressed with the Archbishop's affirmative orthodoxy (eg, Feb 18), and sees him as a great example of how he sees the Church to be, and cannot see how Allen doesn't see the same.

Another minor point. Given that most of Allen's book is Dolan's own words, Allen's own contribution is quite limited. And in my view it suffers because of it. Allen usually does a good job of pointing out that while Church issues can be viewed through the lens of secular Left vs Right thought, that is inadequate to really understand how the CHurch fits into things. But in this book, he is far to simplified and gives the impression of Dolan-conservative-vs-ADNY-liberal without the usual contextualization.
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written by Louise, January 17, 2012
To Bart:
"As if a man of God and a man of and for the people are mutually exclusive"

Of course a many of God and of the people are not mutually exclusive. I would have added that comment I I hadn't already written so much.

It was the emphasis and the first impression that I was referring to. Without searching my Concordance, I seem to remember that, in the Gospels, the first reaction to our Lord's speaking was always (loosely speaking), "Who is this man that he speaks with the authority of God?"

If our new bishop had been described first as a "man of God," I would have been assured that his concern for his people would be rightly ordered, anchored in the Faith.

A "man of God" is always a man of the people. A "man of the people" may be simply a politician.

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