Generous Orthodoxy  

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

New York City has a cardinal again

What I am getting ready to say has nothing to do with sexual abuse, sex scandal cover-ups, or financial incompetence and/or corruption, all of them grave issues which the Roman Catholic Church has in plenty. This is about something more intangible—call it charisma, magnetism, joy, soul, inspiration. John Cardinal O’Connor (yes, I am using the old form) had these qualities in spades, and it was wonderful to be a New Yorker when he was around. His famous friendship with the Jewish mayor Ed Koch didn’t hurt, either—Koch even wrote an attractive biography of O’Connor.

Then we got Edward Cardinal Egan, a certified cover-upper and Vatican insider, who, although he managed to show up in Bill Cunningham’s Evening Hours feature in the New York Times on a regular basis, registered zero on the personality scale. His was an oppressive presence. I don’t remember him shining a single ray of light on the city in his decade as cardinal, although no doubt he got its financial house in better shape by doing something O’Connor could not bear to do—closing parish churches and schools. (Egan's most egregious recent action was to retract the apology he once made concerning the sexual abuse scandals.)

Today, even the ever-vigilant anti-Catholic (at least it seems that way to me) New York Times is back on track with New York City’s new cardinal, Timothy M. Dolan. As in days of yore when John Paul II made his first visit, the reporters seem smitten, even though Dolan's elevation in Rome this week is smack in the middle of the contraception controversy, a cause with which one can safely assume the journalists have no sympathy whatever. Read this wonderful account of his welcome to the group of reporters traveling with him:

A friend of mine who, like me, is Protestant and Reformed to the core, once asked me if I could ever be a Catholic. I said, well, if there was no other choice I would have to be, but it would be very difficult. He agreed. But it is not at all difficult to admire and appreciate—and pray for—the Roman Catholic Church sub specie aeternitatis. It will be a joy and a blessing to see Timothy Cardinal Dolan in his red hat. Let us pray that he will not mess up. He certainly is a powerful presence for Christ on the current scene.

Another friend, from one of the breakaway “Anglican” churches in the US, spoke movingly a few days ago of his wistful longing for the Anglican Communion to be like the Roman Catholic Church with its capacity to hold together in spite of painful and even fundamental divisions. There is a cost to being monolithic, of course, but for those of us who used to think of the worldwide Anglican Communion as the best alternative to the Roman church, today’s situation is heartbreaking to behold.

On a related subject, it is annoying to see the born-and-raised-Catholic Maureen Dowd, in this same issue of the Times, engaging in one of her frequent rants against her own church. She never misses an opportunity to say something snarky on the subject. I used to love her work, years ago, and wrote her a couple of fan letters, but she has become intolerable in more recent years. She seems to delight in making Catholic-bashing a favorite journalistic sport.

Here's another fun article about the new cardinal (my mother would disown me if she saw me using "fun" as an adjective!):