Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Notes on a "Timquake"

Shocking as this is, folks... admittedly, it's not exactly a surprise.

Late last week, a sense of movement toward Tim Dolan -- and not exactly for the Vice-Presidency -- became palpable... and as he walked onto the Floor this morning, one well-known prelate from the "traditional" side -- who, even last night, said he remained undecided -- said he was picking the man from Gotham for the Chiefdom itself.

Asked how prevalent the sentiment was, he said, "I don't know if it'll carry the day, but I know I'm not unique in it."

Thirty minutes later, the room might've been dead quiet, but it still shook as the archbishop of New York was swept into the top post in a chain of events without precedent for the body that speaks for the nation's largest religious group -- a church that counts one in four Americans.

Even from the departing Chief, a sense of shock was palpable as he announced the result... even if it was Francis George's own presidency -- and the unmistakable sense of strong leadership that was its hallmark -- which paved the way for this morning's historic move more than any other factor.

Early this morning, in a note to the donors, your narrator described the scene around the Marriott as follows. Sure, it wasn't completely dead on, but in retrospect... well, just take a look:
[Among other things, recent days] have opened up the thoughts of some among the body, who’ve come to feel that the mechanics of a VP’s ascendancy to the presidency -- the half-century custom of the US bishops’ -- is “too automatic,” and that George’s forceful three-year term has irrevocably changed the model of what’s required in the body’s leadership.

But how will it shake out? I’ve talked with at least 50 of the guys since getting here on Saturday, and the consensus has only become increasingly murky. I asked one friend yesterday which way he was heading, and he said, “Ask me tomorrow morning -- I’ll know then.” Many others expressed similar thoughts. Most still view Kicanas’ ascent as a fait accompli, but one thing I’ve learned well in covering six of these is that you can take nothing as a given with this body -- it is more capable of surprises than you’d think, especially when it comes to something that affects every bishop as much as who’ll comprise the bench’s leadership in trying times.

That said, the election -- both of them, actually -- will boil down to a choice for each of the voters: what kind of leadership do the bishops want? A continuation of George’s thoughtful but unstinting outspokenness? Or a more moderated, low-profile approach?

If they go for the former, the prime figure who rises above the rest in the minds of the bunch is that of the archbishop of New York. So it seems, the conference’s traditional paranoia over investing electoral prominence in the already high-profile holder of a major post has dimmed considerably... but what’s more -- as one B16 appointee put it to me -- thanks to his gifts of presence and his long history forming and encouraging priests, Tim Dolan “was already an inspiration to us long before we became bishops.”

Especially given the straits of recent years, that’s a pretty powerful sentiment. And arguably, Dolan’s all-out defense of the Pope and church in the wake of the European abuse revelations earlier this year, and especially the archbishop’s full-on critique of the “anti-Catholicism” of the New York Times’ have only served to bolster it.

Meanwhile, a memorable turn came yesterday from another figure on the Slate: Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, who underscored the strength of the bench’s commitment to defeating civil movements toward same-sex marriage when he compared the current environment on the topic to the time before the Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion in the US.

In the hallways afterward, the call to arms was distinctly well-remembered -- and around here, that says something.
As one (non-bishop) friend said afterward, "Boy, did you nail that"... and for those of you've helped keep these pages afloat -- and, ergo, make this coverage possible -- well, you heard it here first.