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The Deacon's Bench

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The New York Times — hardly the best friend of the city’s Archbishop — takes a long look at the man now occupying The Chair at St. Patrick’s, on the occasion of Timothy Dolan’s one-year anniversary:

Among both defenders and critics of the church’s Roman leadership, there is near-unanimous accord that in sending Archbishop Dolan to the media capital of the world, the Vatican did itself some good.

“In the context of all the crisis and controversy of recent church history, he is a point of light — a guy who can project the kind of affability and open-mindedness that make Catholics feel good about their church,” said John L. Allen Jr., Vatican correspondent for The National Catholic Reporter, who is at work on a book about the archbishop.

A theologically conservative leader, Archbishop Dolan has for the most part kept his public statements well within the bounds of the nuanced positions established by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Yet his political talents invariably subject him to comparisons with past lights of the church, from Cardinals John J. O’Connor and Terence J. Cooke of New York to Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, the religious-broadcasting pioneer who was one of his boyhood heroes. Archbishop Dolan’s intellect and navigational skills in the crosscurrents of religion and politics — and his unquestionable loyalty to the pope — mark him as the prelate most suited, if any are, to become the American voice of Catholic orthodoxy, some experts said.

“He has a great presence and a nuanced sense of things,” said Prof. Terrence W. Tilley, chairman of the theology department at Fordham University. “In a lot of ways, he is on another level. And he is still learning.”

In the past year, the archbishop has earned the affection of many priests who bristled under the sometimes peremptory style of Cardinal Egan. Archbishop Dolan has won over many parishioners by restoring the archdiocesan pastoral council, a lay advisory group that was moribund for years.

He has become as fluent in the vernacular of the Internet (“Baloney!” he wrote in a recent post on his blog, at blog.archny.org) as in the scholarly jargon of the Ph.D.-holder (which he is).

He has maneuvered between the demands of Catholic factions to his left and right. He disappointed anti-abortion activists last year with his temperate criticism of Notre Dame’s president for inviting President Obama to speak at commencement ceremonies. (The university president, the Rev. John I. Jenkins, said in an interview that when he met Archbishop Dolan a month later, “the archbishop expressed his concern for how I was feeling, and let me know he understood my point of view.”)

On the other hand, the archbishop has yet to deliver a major sermon or speech on immigration issues — to the chagrin of advocates for Latino immigrants in New York, who make up the church’s fastest-growing population.

He has also negotiated the subtle challenge of accommodating the presence of his retired predecessor, Cardinal Egan, who often sits beside him at official functions. Cardinal Egan, who recently turned 78, urged Archbishop Dolan to appoint Msgr. Greg Mustaciuolo, the cardinal’s longtime personal secretary, to the job of archdiocesan chancellor, the influential overseer of all records and correspondence within the archdiocese. It is the only significant appointment Archbishop Dolan has made to date.

The gentle joke told about the archbishop at church headquarters in Manhattan is borrowed from one about Pope John Paul II: “Must be wonderful to spend so much time with the guy,” a visitor tells the office receptionist.

“What guy?”

In other words, Archbishop Dolan has not spent a lot of time at his desk.

Find out where he is spending it — and much more — at the link.

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