Today's announcement by the Vatican that Archbishop Timothy Dolan (left) of Milwaukee will be the next archbishop of New York is prompting quite a bit of commentary, much of it reflecting on Dolan's people skills, which are said to be considerably stronger than those of the man he will replace, Cardinal Edward M. Egan (right).
A few observations from Boston. First, here's a comment from Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley:
"We join our prayers and best wishes to the millions of Catholics who rejoice at the news that Archbishop Timothy Dolan has been named the new chief shepherd of the Archdiocese of New York. He brings substantial experience, a winning personality and keen talent to this very important post in the life of the Church. May the Lord bless Archbishop Dolan with much wisdom, good health and great joy in his service of God's people."
Secondly, I had a phone conversation this afternoon with Scot Landry, the chief development officer for the Archdiocese of Boston, who spent a year as a seminarian at the North American College when Dolan was the rector there. Here's what Landry told me about Dolan:
"I considered him a tremendous rector -- his rector's conferences were some of the best expositions of the Catholic Church, and why we ought to be proud to be Catholic. I loved him as rector because he was so gregarious -- he made every seminarian feel at home and welcome in the seminary. He is so down-to-earth, at the same time being one of the American church's best intellectuals. His dad was a bartender, and he's tremendously at ease with people -- he's got that gift of gab in him, whether he's talking with someone with three PhD's or a fifth-grade education. He’ll let you be yourself in his presence. That role, of archbishop of New York, can intimidate people, but he’s somebody everybody will like.
He’s going to be great with priests. There have been a lot of struggles in New York, and there isn’t a better guy to help improve priestly morale. Dolan’s brother is a radio talk show host in Milwaukee, and his sister is a correspondent on Fox TV, so he’s been raised around the media, and he’s comfortable with it. It's great for the church that we have somebody as comfortable with the media as Tim Dolan.
Egan's strengths were that he's got an IQ off the charts, and when it came to tough fiscal decisions, he had the skill to solve those questions, and the constitution to be able to follow them through. But he hadn't served much time in seminaries or parish settings prior to being bishop. Egan, fairly or unfairly, was sometimes called distant or removed from his priests. I don’t think anybody has ever said that about Tim Dolan. Sometimes the church appoints someone to key roles to balance what their predecessor didn’t do as well. What Dolan will do is make the church accessible and down to earth, and I assume Dolan will do a lot of outreach to clergy and seminarians. He did a tremendous amount of good being one of the lead representatives of the American church in Rome, and I think he’ll bring the same sort of leadership to his role as archbishop of New York.''
However, the Boston-based BishopAccountability.org offers a note of caution, declaring:
"In replacing the reputedly arrogant Egan with the affable Dolan, the Vatican is repeating the strategy it used in Boston, where the famously remote Bernard Law was replaced with the seemingly humble and approachable Sean O’Malley. A word of caution: In the post-2002 US Catholic Church, we have seen that a likeable bishop can withhold information more effectively than an arrogant one. After the crisis broke in January 2002, the haughtiness of Law and Egan aroused suspicion and provoked rebellion by priests and laity. To quiet the opposition when he replaced Law, Cardinal O’Malley wore a brown robe and sandals, moved from an opulent mansion to an urban rectory, and started a blog. His strategy is working. Through the shrewd use of symbols and superficial gestures of openness, he has soothed the external forces that challenged Law. Like O’Malley’s humble demeanor, Dolan’s friendliness may subdue and charm the people and institutions that rightfully should hold him accountable."(Photo above, by Seth Wenig of AP, shows Dolan and Egan celebrating Mass together in New York today.)