Archbishop Timothy Dolan will get a promotion in a few weeks when he travels to the Vatican to receive a red hat symbolizing his elevation to cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church. The honor means a lot to the two million Catholics in Manhattan, the Bronx, Staten Island, Brooklyn and Queens and the nearby northern suburbs. But it should mean a lot to non-Catholic New Yorkers, too. If he is blessed with good health, the 61-year-old archbishop very likely will be a fixture in St. Patrick’s Cathedral and in the city’s larger civic community until around 2025. Get used to him.
Archbishop Dolan, of course, has been on the job for nearly three years already, so it’s not as though he needs an introduction. But his new title will give him more prominence and influence—not to mention new head gear.
By all indications, the future cardinal wishes to follow in the large footsteps of his predecessor once removed, the late John Cardinal O’Connor, who cast a long shadow over New York’s civic, cultural and spiritual life before his death in 2000. Unlike Cardinal O’Connor’s successor, the reserved Edward Cardinal Egan, who retired in 2009, Archbishop Dolan is ebullient, outgoing and, it seems, eager to make friends in his new hometown.
He is steadfast in defense of Catholic teaching on abortion and gay rights, positions with which this page—and no small number of Catholics, including the state’s leading Catholic politicians—disagree. Still, like Cardinal O’Connor, Archbishop Dolan seems capable of staking out his positions without creating enemies. Cardinal O’Connor famously cultivated a warm friendship with then-Mayor Ed Koch in the 1980s, even though they disagreed profoundly on many political issues.
If Archbishop Dolan chooses to build on Cardinal O’Connor’s legacy, he surely will want to continue the latter’s commitment to Jewish-Catholic dialogue and cooperation. No Catholic prelate in New York history—perhaps even in American history—was more sympathetic to Judaism than Cardinal O’Connor. His empathy for Jews around the world and his understanding of the sin of anti-Semitism and the abomination of the Holocaust led him to be a dependable and strong friend of Israel. Jewish New Yorkers surely disagreed with Cardinal O’Connor’s social views, but many have never forgotten him.
The new cardinal has a chance to continue Cardinal O’Connor’s good works. But he also faces difficult decisions in his own community. During his tenure, Catholic schools very likely will continue to close or consolidate. New Yorkers have a stake in how that process is managed—Catholic schools have been a beacon of hope in many minority neighborhoods, but that beacon is growing dim, indeed. New York’s education officials have to imagine life with fewer, and perhaps hardly any, Catholic schools. That means thousands more students in the public schools, with correspondingly increased costs.
But that is for the future. For now, it is enough to wish the new cardinal well, knowing that he will be with us for a good long time.