The Catholic Thing
Genuinely Joyful Print E-mail
By Brad Miner   
Monday, 01 July 2013

At the conclave that elected Pope Francis, Timothy Cardinal Dolan was pretty much a big kid at a really big candy store.

In Praying in Rome: Reflections on the Conclave and Electing Pope Francis, his new e-essay (available for download beginning July 9), Cardinal Dolan expresses a kind of childlike wonder about the whole shebang.

His recollection begins with disbelief at the news about Benedict XVI’s resignation. Against the oft-assumed notion that the Archbishop of New York has a hotline to the Vatican, the cardinal admits the abdication was a complete surprise. Shocked though he was, within an hour he was chatting amiably about it with Matt Lauer on TODAY.

There’s credit here to Pope Benedict. It’s rare that any public figure can keep his own counsel so that such a momentous decision stuns even the “inner circle” – as the pope’s resignation appears to have done.

In any case, the cardinal’s reaction after the shock had passed was an even greater admiration for Joseph Ratzinger and his legacy. He taught us humility:

It’s not about him, or you, or me, or us. It’s about Christ. It’s about the Church. His heroic and humble decision to step down from the Chair of St. Peter is a lesson in selflessness that all of us should carry in our hearts. In the end, the pope’s decision wasn’t about anyone other than Jesus. It’s not about us at all. It’s all about Jesus.

So, off to Rome goes the kid from St. Louis by way of the Big Apple, and, although Cardinal Dolan doesn’t mention it, the Romans locked on him as their favorite among the papabili.

Cardinal Dolan describes the (literally) touching moment when, in the Clementine Hall, he and his brother cardinals bade farewell to Benedict. The cardinal asked the 86-year-old pope to continue writing books.

“To see him for the last time, to greet him and express my love and gratitude and my prayerful unity. . .the grace of God was evident.”

Then began the “politicking,” such as it was.

Let me be clear about one thing: Cardinal Dolan does not reveal any inside-the-conclave details. He cannot. Praying in Rome is a diary of sorts about what came before and after the conclave, with a few observations about processes inside the Sistine Chapel, as in this gem about the oath taking (worrying about his “childish Latin”) just before the cardinals were locked in:

I saw television cameras there, but thought “This must be just tape for the archives.” I . . . didn’t realize the whole world was watching! My priest-secretary, Fr. Jim Cruz, teased me later that I looked like a kid when I was in line, because I was gawking at the ceiling and walls of the Sistine Chapel. All the other cardinals apparently had their heads bowed, solemnly looking down. “You were looking all over the place,” he said. To which I could only reply, “Who wouldn’t?”
The benefit now is that he knows the Sistine Chapel as well as well he knows Yankee Stadium.

As I say, he describes processes: voting procedures and occasions of conversation among cardinals, but not as a sportscaster up in the Bronx might call an interleague game between the Yankees and the Cardinals. There’s no in-game play-by-play as such.

He does describe one pre-conclave encounter as he was settling into his room at the Domus Sanctae Marthae:

a gentleman came around . . . and he announced, confidently but softly, “My name is Jorge Bergoglio. I’m from Buenos Aires. And you are Timothy Dolan from New York, and I wanted to meet you.” How refreshing!  That was the first time I met him, but I sure had admired him for a long time.

When it was announced that a new pope had been chosen, TCT’s Robert Royal was in his the lobby of his hotel in Rome, where word quickly spread that it was the “Americano.” Could it be that the Roman affection for Timothy Dolan had swept up the conclave too? Cardinal Dolan would laugh that off. For him (as he says about Pope Benedict), it was never about Dolan or any other cardinal’s “prospects.” It was about being conduits for the Holy Spirit. And Cardinal Dolan is genuinely joyful about the Spirit’s choice.

At [the] Mass of Installation on March 19, I was sitting next to the Archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn. The cardinal was in tears throughout the homily, and during it he turned to me and whispered, “Listen to him. Listen to him.” At the end, when we stood up for the Creed, he said to me, “Tim, he speaks like Jesus.” I said, “Chris, I think that’s his job description!”

As to what the Franciscan papacy portends for the future, Cardinal Dolan does not speculate, beyond that initial conviction he and Schönborn share. As others closer to Papa Bergoglio have observed, his “gestures” are fundamentally Christian – a sort of Catechism in action. “Francis is, in effect, ushering ancient parables into the twenty-first century,” Dolan concludes. “None of this is new. It’s just that these images, and these teachings, may have slipped our minds.”

Praying in Rome: Reflections on the Conclave and Electing Pope Francis contains some of the self-deprecating humor we’ve come to expect from America’s most visible Catholic leader, as when he recalls his brother’s quip that attending the conclave “would be even more awesome than meeting Clint Eastwood the summer before at one of the political conventions.” (The conclave had a better outcome though.) Or when, noting that, though this was his first conclave, he’d dined with many cardinals before and would do so again: “Let’s face it, I had never passed up an invitation to a dinner in my life . . .”

All this is just Cardinal Dolan’s own, utterly charming version of humility.

Brad Miner is senior editor of The Catholic Thing, senior fellow of the Faith & Reason Institute, and a board member of Aid to the Church In Need USA. He is the author of six books and is a former Literary Editor of National Review. The Compleat Gentleman, read by Christopher Lane, is available on audio.
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.


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Comments (15)Add Comment
written by Deacon Ed Peitler, July 01, 2013
The personal reflections about the Conclave are all very interesting. But more interesting would be the percentage of Catholics registered in Dolan's NY Archdiocese who came into the Church as adults this past year. It would give a good indication of the fruits of evangelization efforts in the good Cardinal's archdiocese.
written by Jack,CT, July 01, 2013
You scrarch the service on the
wonderful personality of a future
I pray he never loses that child like
written by Meyrat, July 01, 2013
There are times when I admire Cardinal Dolan's position of solidarity with the church, but there are other times when I think he preaches a milquetoast Catholicism that does little for anyone but bolsters his own ego--particularly when he is cracking jokes with corrupt politicians who have little to no interest in repenting. I'm not sure these reflections will do much more to change this perception.

By contrast, both Benedict and now Francis have butted heads with world leaders who would gladly like to water the Church into irrelevance. I think history will vindicate the efforts of Benedict who had to cope with the fallout of the church scandals along with the many liturgical abuses to arise from a misinterpretation of Vatican II. In the face of these two problems, he restored some dignity to the church through his steady prudent leadership while reestablishing the Truth of the gospel through his writings--future Catholic leaders should consider him as a potential doctor of the church.

Francis will lead by example and bring the church back to its disciplined beginnings. He won't coddle the richer diocese nor will he ignore the impoverished ones. Hopefully, he'll build on Benedict's work of restoring relevance to Catholicism. Besides his humble demeanor, his refreshingly direct take on evil and its pervasive influence in the world seems to suggest that. I think he understands that what the modern world craves most right now is clarity and definition.
written by Fr. Bramwell, July 01, 2013
Hi Brad, interesting column. I like American sentimentality but I am so fearful for the future of the Church here that I would not get lost in it. If he is the most public face of Catholicism then we have a major problem. There has to be a way of generating a public presence that reassures the Catholic in the pew and that gives the government pause. On both counts I don't see evidence for that. Disunity in the US Church is right where it was thirty years ago. Similarly for the lack of education of the man or woman in the pew. The incumbents are totally to blame for this. They are lucky that there is a church in which they can hold a position.
written by Sue, July 01, 2013
Charm or smarm? Where's the harm?
written by WSquared, July 01, 2013
Re humility. While Cardinal Dolan's comments are correct, and it was humble of Benedict to step down, I rather get the impression that enough people only see that latter action as demonstrative of his humility.

But one other way Benedict taught us humility was while he was still Pope, and while he was still Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger: he never pretended to be anything or anyone he wasn't, but trusted that whatever he had and was, God could and would use. That's a good lesson to learn in a culture that would always have us try to be something and someone we aren't. Certainly for the Church in the United States. Jesus may have become one of us in becoming man, but He never stopped being truly Himself, either, in that He was still divine.
written by Manfred, July 01, 2013
@Fr.Bramwell: Thank you for a very accurate assessment of the Church and its leaders in the U.S. today.
@Brad: The very last thing the U.S. Church needs is "a big kid in a big candy store". Unfortunately for all American Catholics, that is exactly what Cdl. Dolan, the president of the United States Council of Catholic Bishops, is.
written by Chris in Maryland, July 01, 2013
Per the general reflections on Pope Benedict, I agree that he was humble. He was also a very brave man of the Church, and willing to be wounded by her, and she wounded him indeed.

One palpable difference between Benedict, as an intellectual man, and his critics, across the spectrum, is that he had courage of his convictions, and respect for those who disagreed with him, and he engaged controversial topics with lucidity, charity and unfailing devotion to The Church.

In return, his critics in Europe and America treated Benedict most abusively. In typical AMCHURCH fashion, he was repeatedly and openly dismissed and undermined by 2 of the 3 parishes I make recourse to for Sunday Mass. This Sunday I noted the 2nd reading from Galatians - which Pope Benedict was compelled to cite in his remarkable letter to all Bishops during the storm of vitriol spewing from the SSPX controversy.

So as a further tribute to Benedict, beyond humility, he was courageous, intelligent and candid, unlike the Cdl. Kaspers and the Bishop Fellays of The Church. May God preserve and protect Pope Benedict, and raise up more Catholic men and women like him.
written by Emina Melonic, July 01, 2013
I like your review, Brad. I love Dolan's energy - it is wisdom and innocence. I think that in many ways that wisdom and a sense of wonder is a true American character. Sure, Americans can be sometimes overly optimistic, but I think in Dolan's case, he has a perfect marriage of joy and reality. Humor is a big part of being holy, if you ask me.
written by Chris in Maryland, July 01, 2013
One correction to my last paragraph - I shouldn't have asserted that the Kaspers and Fellays are not intelligent...I haven't much evidence about the intelligence of the 2 men I used as examples. It's the hearts, not their heads, that I find lacking.
written by Christophe, July 01, 2013
What would have been a more interesting book: "Eating with Barak: What I Said (and Didn't Say) to the President at the AL Smith Dinner."
written by Dennis Larkin, July 01, 2013
The good cardinal does not seem to me to be capable of seriousness, in this very serious time we live in.
written by Seanachie, July 01, 2013
What all Popes need and deserve, from my view, is the genuine respect, support, and appreciation of their flock. The world-wide public interest and attention given to Benedict's unselfish resignation and Francis' humble ascension speaks well of the papacy and the global esteem in which it is held. Had Cardinal Dolan been elected, the same would no doubt be true. What a pope (really any cleric) does not need is sanctimonious sniping from popinjays within the flock.
written by Maggie-Louise, July 01, 2013
I wonder what Cardinal Dolan will joke about with Pres. Obama when he is the guest of honor at the Al Smith dinner in the year when he moves to deny the Church tax-exempt status because she refuses to conform to his mandate that the Church must celebrate homosexual unions or else. I am sad to admit that I believe he will still be the guest of honor.
written by Fr. Bramwell, July 04, 2013
Seanachie makes a point that needs to be answered. The comments are serious and that can be judged by the fact that the episcopacy is not an honorary position. Nor is it hereditary. Furthermore Vatican II lays out things that bishops are meant to do. So we are not on unexamined ground here. There is an objective measure against which one can judge a particular incumbent. Doing that cannot be labelled "sniping".

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