The Conclave of Cardinals will meet in March to choose the next pope. The media reports will be full of speculation of who’s going to get the nod as the successor of St. Peter, our link with Christ Himself. A lot of Catholics have their preferences as to which of the current cardinals they hope gets the nod. I don’t have a favorite as to who I want to see selected, but I know there’s one cardinal I don’t want to see in Rome—and that’s Timothy Dolan out of New York.
Let me begin by saying that’s my admiration for Cardinal Dolan, rather than anything negative that motivates this strongest hope of mine for the conclave. And it goes well beyond his current role as the de facto face of the Catholic Church in America.
I lived in Milwaukee and was finding my way back to the Church in the late 1990s. This was the heady days of the Archbishop Rembert Weakland’s reign of terror—when anything resembling orthodoxy was being suppressed, liturgies were more about showmanship than reverence and dissent was the order of the day. Stumbling through the Church at this particular point in history was frankly chaotic and when you have no clue where you’re going—as this then late twentysomething did not–it’s even crazier.
I moved from parish to parish trying to figure it out, starting with one that was submerged in leftist dissent, traveling through Marian apparitions extremism and mixing in the radical traditionalist cults. It was enough to leave one with a headache and nothing resembling the peace that embrace of the Catholic Church is meant to bring.
As for myself, I found peace by escaping to Pittsburgh where the Church was stable and found refuge with an outstanding priest and nun, the type you will never see on television—and nor should you, because they’re too busy doing work that actually matters. But the Catholic Church in Milwaukee was another matter.
When Archbishop Weakland finally resigned in 2002 after a scandal, it was Timothy Dolan who was tapped to succeed him. Then-Bishop Dolan was in St. Louis and just prior to his official arrival in Milwaukee, he came to town to celebrate Mass at the city’s annual Irish festival, held on Lake Michigan the third weekend of August. This is the largest Irish festival in the country and the amphitheatre was packed, and Dolan gave an electric homily. More important, he slowly but surely brought stability back to the Catholic Church of Milwaukee. It made him a worthy choice for the cardinal’s hat when the opportunity in New York presented itself.
Today, Cardinal Dolan provides the same sense of stability to the Church in the United States that he brought Milwaukee eleven years ago. We live in a time when the current presidential administration has made no bones about its attempt to encroach on religious liberty, leaving one only to wonder how far they—and the ideology that backs them—will go in an effort to force everyone to conform to a secular left-wing agenda.
It would be very easy in these times to give in to fear and anger, or to go to the other extreme and find a false peace through compromise of fundamental principles of faith—i.e., that we shouldn’t have to buy your birth control pills for you.
Cardinal Dolan is a leader who has found the right balance. He’s never given an inch on principle and been a consistent voice. Yet he still engages political opponents—including the president himself—with humor, grace and goodwill. It’s a balance that’s extraordinarily difficult to achieve, but Dolan has managed it. It makes him a shepherd worth following in these rocky times. And it’s why I hope he stays right where he’s at—and for the record, I’d be shocked if he doesn’t. The Third World has bided its time and earned the chance to give us the next pope. Let Cardinal Dolan lead the way in the United States.
Dan Flaherty is the author of Fulcrum, an Irish Catholic novel set in postwar Boston with a traditional Democratic mayoral campaign at its heart, and he is the editor-in-chief of TheSportsNotebook.com