Wednesday, March 14, 2012

"Lifting Up Our Voices": On "Our Political Witness," Dolan's Happy "Via Media"

Even more than usual, when New York's new cardinal speaks these days, one can't help but watch... and not just because, as ever, what ensues tends to be popcorn-worthy.

Much as that helps, such are the stakes that Tim Dolan's entertainment value is the least important part of the draw. Because in ways his predecessors could only dream about -- and, oftentimes, did -- all of three years into his residency at 452 Madison, American Catholicism's Man of the Hour enjoys the most ironclad claim to the vaunted "dual mandate" ever known by a prelate on these shores.

As a result of Rome's confidence to be given what's arguably the country's highest-profile church post, then have said standing reinforced in dramatic fashion by his confreres' choice of him to head their national body -- all of it now augmented even more by an earlier-than-expected red hat -- when the 62 year-old Gothamite turns to tackle the issues of the day, what emerges is the policy of the Stateside church. Period.

Of course, that's not to say there aren't quibbles with one or another part of the line -- and just among his bishops at that. But between his keen ability to muster consensus among a polarized body and, in particular, a public voice that's shown an uncanny ability to loom large even in the media capital of the world, midway through his three-year term at the conference's helm, any attempts at outgunning the "American Pope" from either flank have quickly proven futile. (To cite just one under-the-radar example, note the sudden vaporizing of serious talk on the once hot-button question of denying the Eucharist to public officials who buck church teaching in their posts, a movement Dolan sided heavily against in an interview shortly before his election as USCCB President.)

The element of his biography doesn't usually get the attention it deserves, but it's worth recalling that, far from the traditional training-ground of Stateside red-hats (namely, canon law), the cardinal-chief's advanced study came in American Catholic history -- a field that lends itself well more to grasping the faith's lived, complicated, often conflicted and challenged existence on these shores.

In that light, as the USCCB's Administrative Committee goes into the final day of its Lenten Meeting in Washington with the ongoing tumult over the Obama administration's contraceptive mandate hanging over its deliberations -- and reports circulating that a potential "recalibration" of the church's strategy might just be afoot -- perhaps it's providential that Dolan's first major policy speech since returning home from last month's Consistory has just emerged.

Earlier this month, the new cardinal gave the keynote talk at the annual public-square prep given by Long Island's diocese of Rockville Centre, always held in advance of the traditional Policy Day in Albany (shot above), which draws the Empire State's prelates, clergy and laity to advocate the church's emphases to their Governor and Legislature.

With this year's tensions considerably higher over the HHS fight, the state's recent sanctioning of same-sex marriage, and a host of other priorities spanning abortion rights, the civil statute of limitations on sex-abuse cases and reform of farm-labor laws, Dolan offered up a comprehensive primer on Catholic social teaching and witness in the public square that, given his ever-rising place in the wider mix, would seem to apply well beyond the Big Apple's edge.

With thanks to our friends at Telecare for filming it, here's fullvid of the cardinal's 50 minute talk -- sock-throwing, shout-outs, substance and all:

On a closing note, lest anyone see all this as some sort of sycophantic ad intra hubbub -- which, ostensibly, would include Andrew Cuomo's declaration of these days as Cardinal Dolan Week in New York State -- in the above talk, the Eminent Tim mentioned that he had been asked to throw out Opening Day's First Pitch for the Yankees.

It doesn't take a baseball nut to know how, red hat or otherwise, that's anything but a lightly-given accolade.

And if the moment brings A-Rod taking yet another strike, well, all the better.

PHOTOS: Reuters(1); AP(2)