Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki wasn’t surprised that his predecessor as archbishop of Milwaukee, Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, was elevated by Pope Benedict XVI to the rank of cardinal on Jan. 6, given that since 1902, whoever has served as archbishop of New York has always been a member of the College of Cardinals.
But Archbishop Listecki said the appointment was more than a continuation of that tradition.
“What has happened is that his leadership in New York has been affirmed and his voice, which immediately comes with that position, has been affirmed by other Catholic bishops in the United States in and through his election as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops,” he said. “They see him as a person who loves the church, is reasonable in his response, and who loves life. He has a great personality and he loves life.”
Archbishop Listecki said people are “immediately attracted” to Cardinal-designate Dolan.
“That’s an immediate gift that he had – to not only be attractive to people, wanting to get to know people and people wanting to get to know him, but also an immediate relationship where they almost consider him a friend,” he said.
‘Great face and voice’ for the church
Terming the cardinal-designate a “great face and voice” for the church, Archbishop Listecki continued, “He represents the best of our church’s pastors in the sense that he is one with his people. That is the best compliment you can pay a religious leader – that he is one with his people. People identify that he experiences what they experience.”
Auxiliary Bishop Donald J. Hying noted that when people encounter Archbishop Dolan, they are meeting someone who is “a warm, likable, down-to-earth, humble, funny human being who just happens to be the archbishop of New York.”
He likened the archbishop’s approach to people to Jesus’ ability to draw people into relationship with himself, and then proceeding to preach, heal and teach.
“You get the sense that Archbishop Dolan genuinely cares about people as people,” the bishop said.
“And once people are pulled into his genuine love and concern for them, he’s able to speak the Word of God, the word of faith.”
Bishop Hying said that the cardinal-designate might not fit everyone’s perception of the College of Cardinals as a “staid, very serious group of men.”
“Along comes Archbishop Dolan, who makes fun of himself about his weight, laughs at his own crazy jokes, puts his arms around everybody – this bigger-than-life figure,” he said. “In that sense, he’s profoundly Catholic and profoundly American. He fuses those two together. For us he has become a symbol of Catholicism in the United States.”
Challenged young at World Youth Days
Ordained to the priesthood in 1976, Cardinal-designate Dolan was secretary to the apostolic nunciature in Washington for five years before serving as rector of the Pontifical North American College in Rome – preceded in that position by the other American appointed Jan. 6 to the College of Cardinals, Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien. In 2001, then-Msgr. Dolan was ordained to the episcopate when he was appointed auxiliary bishop in his native St. Louis. One year and five days later, he was appointed archbishop of Milwaukee.
He was one of 10 U.S. bishops appointed by the Vatican to be catechetical leaders during the 2005 World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany. He reprised the role in 2011 in Madrid, telling pilgrims to admit their faith is weak and shaky.
“Something tells me that’s why we’re (at World Youth Day),” he said. “We want to be with a million other young people from around the world who love their faith and are trying to make it strong.”
In a 2007 lecture at North American College, Cardinal-designate Dolan said Catholics need solid preaching about Jesus, the cross and the church, and not “feel-good” spiritual advice that demands no sacrifice. Preaching well, he added, means challenging people’s complacency and, like Christ, occasionally “shaking things up.”
In 2007, Cardinal-designate Dolan, who will turn 62 on Feb. 6, was appointed to the board of directors of Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops’ international aid agency. He became chairman of the board by the end of that year and served in that capacity for three years. He stepped down from the post reluctantly when his election as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops required it.
He was a member of the USCCB Committee on Budget and Finance and the Subcommittee on the Church in Africa and a consultant to the Committee on International Justice and Peace.
Abuse a ‘societal problem’
As a panelist for a 2004 EWTN-sponsored “town hall” meeting, Cardinal-designate Dolan said the clergy sex abuse crisis was “a societal problem, not a Catholic problem.” At the time, he was chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Priestly Life and Ministry.
The Milwaukee Archdiocese in 2006 reached an out-of-court, $16.9 million settlement with California victims of sexual abuse committed by two priests of the archdiocese. Then-Archbishop Dolan said the payout would mean “sacrifices in operations and ministries” but going to trial could have been worse in terms of archdiocesan financial liability, “to say nothing about the bad PR.” The archdiocese filed for bankruptcy protection in 2011 due to unresolved abuse claims, the largest U.S. diocese to have done so.
Same substance, different style
Cardinal-designate Dolan was appointed to the Archdiocese of New York in 2009 to succeed Cardinal Edward M. Egan, who retired. When cardinals were previously named in October 2010, Cardinal Egan was not yet 80 years old, and Vatican custom has been to avoid having two voting-age cardinals from the same diocese. Cardinal Egan turns 80 April 2.
Shortly after becoming archbishop, Cardinal-designate Dolan suggested his style would be different, but not the substance.
“The ‘what’ won’t change, but the ‘how’ might,” he said. “Our goal is to change our lives to be in conformity with Jesus and his church and not to change the teachings of Jesus and the church to be in conformity with what we want.”
In his first pastoral letter as archbishop, Cardinal-designate Dolan called on Catholics to “keep the Lord’s day holy” and reminded them that it is in receiving the Eucharist on Sunday that they sustain their faith.
Elected president of U.S. bishops
In 2009, he was appointed the U.S. moderator of Jewish affairs for the U.S. bishops.
In a break with precedent, in 2010, Cardinal-designate Dolan won election as president of the U.S. bishops. It was the first time in the history of the bishops’ conference that a sitting vice president, Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas, who was eligible for the presidency did not win the election.
In his first presidential address, Cardinal-designate Dolan told his fellow bishops in November 2011, “Love for Jesus and his church must be the passion of our lives.”
Describing the church as a spiritual family that “to use the talk show vocabulary … has some ‘dysfunction,’“ he said the bishops’ “most pressing pastoral challenge today is to reclaim that truth, to restore the luster, the credibility, the beauty of the church.”
But he cited “chilling statistics we cannot ignore” that “fewer and fewer of our beloved people – to say nothing about those outside the household of the faith – are convinced that Jesus and his church are one.” As a result, he added, “they drift from her, get mad at the church, grow lax, join another or just give it all up. If this does not cause us pastors to shudder, I do not know what will.”
One year to the day before he was named a cardinal, the New York archbishop reiterated the pledge of his predecessors to help any pregnant woman in need.
“Through Catholic Charities, adoption services, lobbying on behalf of pregnant women, mothers and infants, support of life-giving alternatives, health care and education of youth for healthy, responsible, virtuous sexual behavior, we’ve done our best to keep that promise and these haunting statistics only prod us to keep at it,” he said.
During a December address at the University of Notre Dame, he called the dignity of the human person “a primary doctrine” of the Catholic Church, adding that it must prompt Catholics “to treat ourselves and others only with respect, love, honor and care.” That doctrine also means people must not be identified “with our urges, our flaws, our status, our possessions, our utility,” but each seen as “a child of God, his creation, modeled in his own image, destined for eternity,” he said.
In 2011, he was named a member of the new Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization. On Dec. 29, just a week before his appointment to the College of Cardinals, he was appointed by Pope Benedict to help advise the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.
Contributing to this story was Mark Pattison, Catholic News Service.