Anyone who wants to know where the U.S. Catholic Church is headed must get to know Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, according to noted Catholic journalist and author John L. Allen.
Archbishop Dolan's string of church appointments and achievements the last two years can be compared to Joe DiMaggio's 56- game hitting streak, Mr. Allen said in the introduction to his new book, due out Tuesday, A People of Hope: Archbishop Timothy Dolan in Conversation with John L. Allen.
The 61-year-old cleric from St. Louis was promoted in 2009 from the Milwaukee archdiocese to New York, the nation's premier see; in 2010, he was elected president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the same year Pope Benedict XVI named him an "Apostolic Visitor" to Ireland. In January, the Pope appointed Archbishop Dolan to a prestigious new Vatican council promoting "New Evangelization," and CBS News profiled him in a 60 Minutes program broadcast in March.
"He clearly is the new Vatican's go-to guy and the face and voice of the Catholic Church in the United States," Mr. Allen said. "I don't think there's anybody in the Catholic Church in America that is positioned to exercise more influence over where the church goes over the next couple of decades than Tim Dolan."
Those observations alone are enough to merit a book, but it was another factor, the archbishop's outgoing personality, that led Mr. Allen to write one based on interviews and conversations. "On a personal level, Tim Dolan is an extraordinarily compelling figure. I mean, he's got a fantastic sense of humor, he's incredibly media savvy, he's very much a showman, he's an out-front guy, and therefore he combines the kind of political muscle with the kind of communication charisma that makes him one of those rare figures who's worthy of this kind of treatment," Mr. Allen said.
With most bishops, he said, the problem is getting them to talk. Not in this case. "The problem with Tim Dolan is to get him to shut up," Mr. Allen said with a laugh. "You ask him one question and if you're not careful, you'll still be listening to him 40 minutes from now because he'll have one thought and he'll follow it and then something else will occur to him and then he'll tell you a joke and then he'll want to give you a cigar and a glass of scotch and before you know it, you're an hour into the conversation and you're still on item one on the checklist."
Also, the bishop "really is an exceptionally nice guy," he said. "He really does genuinely try to see the best in everybody."
That trait can be problematic for journalists trying to press him for straight answers. "He will try so hard to be fair to everybody in the conversation and to not knock heads that, at the end of the day, you're wondering, 'OK, if the chips were down what would he really do?' " Mr. Allen said.
Calling it "a slam dunk" that Archbishop Dolan will be elevated to cardinal the next time the Pope calls a consistory, Mr. Allen asked the archbishop whether he thinks he may someday be elected pope. "From the book you know that Tim will insist until he's blue in the face that there's not going to be an American pope," Mr. Allen said. "I'm frankly less sure of that now than I was 10 years ago, but he's probably still right."
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