The Dolan Ascension

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By choosing New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan as their new president, the Catholic bishops opted to keep speaking loudly whatever the size of the stick they carry. Dolan is a glad-hander who, post-election, signaled that he’d be treading in the footsteps of his predecessor, Cardinal Francis George.

George’s valedictory address was a paean to episcopal predominance: We were right to oppose health care reform and those who presumed to speak as Catholics on the other side were just opinion-mongers (take that, sister!). The sensus fidelium is all right in its way, but we are the only ones who get to speak for the Church–L’Eglise, C’est Nous. Sure, because of the wound to Church unity brought about by the health care debate, it is devoutly to be hoped that “means can be found to restore the seamless garment of ecclesial communion.” But as for us, we’re wearing our No Apologies Jeans.

That set the stage for Dolan’s surprise victory over the more irenic Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson. As he prepares to do his Bully Pulpit thing, however, the question is whether Dolan will stand up to conservative agitation as well as liberal dissent. Thus far in his tenure in New York, he has shown himself one of those Catholic leaders who wants no enemies to his right–backtracking quickly, for example, from his support for the Park51 Muslims. It’ll be interesting to see how he handles the likes of Deal Hudson, the professional agitator who has not been afraid to go after the USCCB.

The New York Times‘ Laurie Goodstein was right to include in her story some pointed quotes from Hudson’s professorial twin, Princeton’s Robert George. If George maintains his role as Dolan’s intellectual guru, I predict that Michael Sean Winters’ relative optimism will be misplaced.