Pope Elevates New York Archbishop to Cardinal

By Annysa Johnson
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
January 7, 2012

MILWAUKEE — Friday's announcement that New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan will be elevated to cardinal in February reflects his growing prominence in the American Catholic Church, and near meteoric rise since leaving the Archdiocese of Milwaukee in 2009.

Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is one of just two U.S. prelates on a list of 22 new cardinals announced by Pope Benedict XVI after a special Epiphany Mass closing the Church's Christmas celebrations.

The cardinals serve as the pope's key advisers and elect his successor.

The elevation of the 61-year-old prelate, though not unexpected, follows a number of significant appointments over the last three years, and solidifies his place as the nation's most influential bishop.

"It clearly reaffirms the fact that Dolan is the most important Catholic bishop in the United States," said the Rev. Thomas Reese, senior fellow at Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University.

"When he speaks people are going to listen, whether that's on issues related to the internal life of the church or justice and other political issues," he said.

The news of Dolan's elevation drew generally positive responses from Milwaukee-area Catholics, many of whom saw the cardinal-elect as a deeply spiritual and positive leader at a difficult time in the local church. The Archdiocese of Milwaukee issued congratulatory statements from three of its four bishops, including Archbishop Jerome Listecki, who was not available to comment Friday.

The New York-based travel agency that books religious pilgrimages was already fielding calls from Milwaukee-area Catholics eager to accompany Dolan on his trip to Rome in February. (Milwaukee's bishops and pilgrims, who will be in Rome a week earlier for a previously scheduled trip, are looking at extending their stay.) And Catholics in the pews voiced their support for the prelate.

"I was very happy, delighted," said Matt Linn, a Milwaukee attorney who co-chaired the Faith in Our Future Campaign at St. Robert Parish in Shorewood, part of the $105 million capital campaign launched by Dolan during his tenure as archbishop.

"He is so pastoral, so loving, so full of joy," said Linn, whose late father was twice visited by Dolan near the end of his life - once, though no one had asked, to administer the sacrament of the anointing of the sick, or last rites.

"He's the right answer to so many of the needs and questions we have as Catholics," Linn said.

Newly ordained Bishop Donald Hying, whom Dolan tapped to head the archdiocese's St. Francis de Sales Seminary, called the appointment a blessing for the church and Milwaukee's Catholic community.

"He represents the joyful and affirmative faith of the Roman Catholic Church in our country," Hying said. "To see him elevated to that level ... he's deserving, and we are certainly praying for him and cheering him on."

Dolan's detractors also weighed in. The advocacy group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests issued a statement criticizing Dolan's record on the church's sex abuse crisis and suggested he took steps to shield millions of dollars in church funds to keep them from being used to pay victims in the Milwaukee Archdiocese's ensuing bankruptcy.

Dolan has derided the allegation, first raised in a bankruptcy hearing last year, as "groundless gossip."

"Our disappointment is that he didn't stay here to complete the job he said he was going to do, and the lack of transparency," said Peter Isely, SNAP's Midwest director.

A St. Louis native, Dolan came to Milwaukee in 2002, succeeding Archbishop Rembert Weakland, who retired abruptly after admitting he paid $450,000 to silence a man with whom he'd had a sexual relationship years earlier. It was a particularly low point in the life of the local church, which was already demoralized by years of clergy sex abuse revelations and allegations of cover-up.

During his tenure in Milwaukee, Dolan was credited with addressing the sex abuse scandal - though critics say he did not go far enough - reinvigorating the archdiocese's seminary and launching the Faith in Our Future campaign to bolster Catholic schools and religious education.

He was tapped to succeed Cardinal Edward Egan as Archbishop of New York in 2009, the first in a number of posts that would raise his profile in the U.S. and global church.

Dolan's peers elected him president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in an unexpected upset in 2010. And Benedict has appointed him to key posts internationally, including participation in a Vatican-sponsored review of the clergy sex abuse crisis in Ireland and a global evangelization initiative on which he is the lone U.S. bishop.

Benedict broke with tradition in elevating Dolan now, before his predecessor turns 80; Egan will reach that milestone in April.

Considered a strong papal loyalist, Dolan's esteem with the pontiff stems from many of the same traits that made him popular in Milwaukee, said John Allen, a veteran Vatican reporter and author of "A People of Hope: Archbishop Timothy Dolan in Conversation with John L. Allen Jr."

"He is seen as the premier evangelist in the English-speaking world. And he has a unique capacity to project a kind of positive message and faith of the church in the public arena," Allen said. "Put those things together, and it explains why Benedict XVI is so fond of this guy."


Any original material on these pages is copyright 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.