Timothy M. Dolan Cardinal and Archbishop of New York

Article excerpt

America's most important Catholic took a break from his battles with the president so he could fly to Rome for a promotion.

By Michael Sean Winters

When New York Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan was made a cardinal on Feb. 18, he acquired no new ecclesiastical authority--although he is now one of the 120 men with the right to vote for the next pope. But in becoming a cardinal, the famously gregarious Dolan has finally established himself as America's most important churchman.

In 2009, Dolan was named archbishop of New York, giving him the most prominent pulpit in the media capital of the world. In 2010, his brother bishops elected him president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), the organization through which the bishops conduct their relations with the federal government. This trifecta of appointments places Dolan at the top of the Catholic world in the U.S. at a critical time for the church and its relationship to the surrounding culture.

The Catholic hierarchy is only just emerging from the child-sex-abuse scandal, which has cost it millions of dollars in settlements and a great deal of moral capital with its own flock. The demographic face of the Catholic Church is also changing rapidly. Catholicism remains the largest denomination in the country, largely because of the influx of Latino immigrants. (Dolan took an immersion course in Spanish shortly after he arrived in New York.)

As president of the USCCB, Dolan has been at the forefront of the recent battle with the White House over health-care mandates. That fight saw the conservative bishops and many prominent liberal Catholics united against the president (at least until the birth-control "accommodation" announced Feb. 10), but the polarization of the nation's political life has nonetheless seeped into the church. "Cardinal Dolan has always been able to navigate this somehow," says Stephen Schneck, professor of politics at Catholic University. "Maybe it's his historical perspective that lends him such sure-footedness. …