Cardinal Dolan on the Record

Saturday Book Pick: John Allen probes a new cardinal on his 'affirmative orthodoxy.'

The archbishopric of New York has been held by some larger-than-life personalities. The latest incumbent, who has also taken New York and America by storm, is the gregarious Timothy Dolan.

John Allen sat down with now soon-to-be Cardinal Dolan for some extensive interviews. This book, verbatim selections from those 30-some hours of formal conversation, is the result.

John Allen is a correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, an “independent Catholic” newspaper. A certain bias flows through the book: Questions about issues like women priests take up a fair chunk of the text. Allen’s context-setting introductions that begin each chapter generally treat Church teaching and dissenters as somewhat on par.

That said, the book is still eminently fair. The bulk of it is in Cardinal Dolan’s own words, so the reader gets the archbishop’s thinking without a filter. And Allen’s critical attitude both gives Cardinal Dolan challenging questions and elicits forthright answers, absent the kind of saccharine adulation that sometimes mars these kinds of interviews.

What emerges is a Timothy Dolan who is a fundamentally hope-filled exponent of what Allen calls “affirmative orthodoxy.” By that term Allen means the Benedict XVI (and John Paul II) project of showing that Catholicism is not some sort of surly, cramped “no” to the contemporary world. It is a positive outlook on the Church in the modern world, a Church whose worldview and moral teaching is animated by a respect for human dignity.

“Somehow we have to recapture the notion that the Church isn’t primarily about running institutions or winning political debates,” the cardinal says. “It’s about reaching deep inside the human heart and stirring what’s best in it, and then boldly going out into the world and insisting that the better angels of our nature can prevail, that cynicism and ego don’t have to be the last word about the kind of culture we pass on to our children, and that the Church is an ally in every positive stirring and hopeful current in that culture. That’s a vision worth devoting one’s life to, and if that’s not affirmative orthodoxy, what is?”

Because Cardinal Dolan and the popes believe that the Church really is the ally of all that is best in and for man, they do not hesitate to reach out to those who might disagree with them, a characteristic readily apparent in the archbishop’s answers.

That’s why Allen believes Cardinal Dolan “could also turn out to be … the American prelate best able to offer a living, breathing model of what affirmative orthodoxy looks, sounds and tastes like.”

Cardinal Dolan does not remain at the level of policy or teaching, but also delves into his own spiritual life: the importance to him of prayer, the centrality of Mass, his role as a confessor and penitent. On the policy level, you might or might not agree with him, but no matter what you think, the archbishop of New York clearly wants to talk about it.

And what he says is certainly worth reading.

John M. Grondelski writes from Perth Amboy, New Jersey.


Archbishop Timothy Dolan in Conversation With John L. Allen Jr.

Image Books, 2012

228 pages, $25

To order:

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