Newsweek features a profile of Cardinal Dolan in its latest issue. Given the subject and the timing of such an article, I wasn’t sure what to expect going in, but the essay is surprisingly decent, devoid of most of the sniping and judgment some mainstream journalists often can’t resist when covering the Catholic Church. Though the title of the piece on Newsweek‘s site invokes the cardinal’s “contraception fight with Obama” (a subject which can be read about everywhere), this is a bit misleading. It’s not so much about the mandate battle as it is a look at Dolan himself, and what sets this piece apart is the way it reminds readers of Dolan’s affable personality and fundamental joy in serving the church, even in times of struggle. It paints him as a reluctant culture warrior, albeit a strong one:
The 10th archbishop of American Catholicism’s marquee archdiocese seemed to understand that New York would embrace a prelate who loved to crack wise, welcomed a media scrum, and didn’t have to fake an interest in the Bronx Bombers (the Yankees have asked him to throw out the first pitch on opening day).
Dolan seemed a balm for a Church wounded by scandal, divided within, and growing ever more testily distant from the surrounding culture. He is deeply orthodox, but his gift as a churchman has been an ability to present the faith without stridency, to pose the Church as humanity’s loving advocate, rather than as its judge. “We suffer from the caricature of always being this nagging, naysaying, condemning, shrill voice,” he says, “when really, the Catholic Church is at its best when she calls forth what is most noble and uplifting in the human project.” His brother bishops, in desperate need of an image boost, elected Dolan president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2010—making him the face of the American Church. Rome signaled its endorsement with Dolan’s elevation to cardinal at the first opportunity, giving him a vote in the selection of the next pope, and, technically, making him papabile—a potential candidate for the throne of St. Peter. That’s an unlikely prospect, but in terms of influence and prestige, if not actual ecclesial power, Dolan already is, in effect, something like America’s pope.
But precisely because of that role, Dolan now finds himself having to play against type, leading the high-stakes fight against the Obama administration’s mandate that employers provide insurance coverage for services and products the Church finds morally objectionable—including contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs.
“American pope” line aside, it would be immensely beneficial to our discourse if more popular coverage of religion adopted this nuanced disposition, rather than coloring prelates as clueless old fogies motivated by unintelligible rage. You can read the entire essay here.