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?”
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.