On Friday of this week, while on retreat with twenty-five others bishops of the Atlantic region at Bethany Center, word came that Pope Benedict XVI had named new cardinals and called a consistory to install them for mid-February. There was a time and quite recently, that the naming of cardinals was a major secret, shared by the Holy Father with a few others whom he consulted, but this group was anything but a “pontifical secret” as the Italian press not only knew a week in advance the date of the consistory but had the names of most of those archbishops and bishops who would be elevated to the College of Cardinals.
Among their number are two Americans whom I admire and for whom I am happy, as well as happy for the Church. I have known Cardinal-designate Edwin O’Brien since the 1979 visit of Pope John Paul II to the United States. At that time, he was secretary to Cardinal Cooke who would be hosting the pope during his stay in New York. I have known Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan since the mid-eighties when I returned to Washington to work at the bishops’ conference and he was working at the Apostolic Delegation (only later with full diplomatic recognition first given by President Ronald Reagan would it be called the Apostolic Nunciature). At that time, working alongside of soon-to-be Cardinal Dolan were now Archbishop Dennis Schnurr, Bishop Blasé Cupich, Bishop Michael Cote, and a saintly priest named Monsignor Bernard Yarrish of the Scranton diocese who subsequently was diagnosed with MS and is today in a nursing home in Wilkes-Barre, PA. They were a wonderful group of men who made our work, then at the other end of Massachusetts Avenue, easy and easily conducted between Archbishop Pio Laghi and ourselves a delight (as did the Apostolic Delegate/Nuncio Laghi). We would recreate together on occasion but it was always hard to get on Father Dolan’s dance card as it filled up quickly with friends and acquaintances of his in and around Washington (he had studied Church history under the famous Monsignor John Tracy Ellis at Catholic University, earning a doctorate).
In my lifetime as a priest, the role of cardinal in the Church in the United States has morphed somewhat and this occurred during the early days of the papacy of John Paul II. It was often said in the years following the Council that a Cardinal could not be elected President of the Conference of Bishops. While Detroit’s John Dearden, Baltimore’s William Keeler, Chicago’s Joseph Bernardin were all presidents and cardinals, they did not become the latter until first elected the former. Until Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George four years ago, only Philadelphia’s John Cardinal Krol had been elected president while a member of the College of Cardinals. On three occasions, usually in closed session, I have heard three different archbishops ask rhetorically when baffled by an instance of cardinalatial intervention in a diocese, “what did I miss in ecclesiology about the role of cardinals in the life of my archdiocese?” Pope John Paul II early on decided that the College of Cardinals in addition to electing his successor would be an advisory council to him on important matters and, on occasion, his personal representation in a specific country at a specific time. In 1983, it was clear that he trusted and entrusted his new definition of the role of cardinals to Cardinals Law of Boston and O’Connor of New York. It was no secret that Pope Paul VI, while still alive and contemplating the meaning of episcopal collegiality and shared responsibility, was thinking seriously of inviting the duly elected presidents of episcopal conferences to vote in conclave for future popes. Cardinals working in the Holy See itself talked him out of it. He did make a number of them angry, however, when he limited their participation in papal elections to only those cardinals less than eighty years of age. That antagonism remains but the decision has also survived three popes.
But I digress (badly looking at the word count). Cardinal-designate Dolan enters the college as the sitting president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. He already represents us well, in my opinion, here in the United States where he is both clear and compassionate in articulating Church teaching. Like myself, he clearly wants more people to join the Church than be driven from it. One should not under estimate his intellect because driving that delightful sense of self-deprecating humor is a keen intellect with probably one of the best memories of the history of the Church in even more difficult times, both here in the United States and throughout the world. People like him and through him they come to like the Church better. I suspect that fifty years from now, his place in American Catholic church history will be both proud and assured. From St. Louis and a die-hard Cardinal’s fan, he is now one himself – maybe not “Stan the Man” Musial but “Tim the Man” Dolan.
Cardinal-designate O’Brien has been a wonderful archbishop for Baltimore and since all his auxiliaries were on retreat with me last week, I know they already are missing him since his appointment as Grand Master of the Knights of the Holy Sepulcher a few months ago. When his successor is installed in America’s oldest diocese, he will be full time in Rome. He will represent the true and best of the church in the United States well over there.
One final local note. Both Archbishops O’Brien and Dolan served as rectors of the North American College in Rome. Two of their students, Fathers Kenneth Malley, pastor of St. Timothy’s parish in Lutz and David Toups, pastor of Christ the King parish in Tampa plan to be present on February 18th and 19th when their two former rectors are given the red hat of cardinal by Pope Benedict in St. Peter’s. And just prior to the consistory, another superb American cardinal, Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. will be the principal speaker at our annual Catholic Foundation dinner in February 11th in Tampa at the A La Carte Pavilion. Cardinal Wuerl was also on retreat last week at the Bethany Center with me and he is looking forward to his next visit to the Bay Area from which he will fly directly to Houston to formally begin the new Anglican Ordinariate in the United States. Dolan, having previously given the talk, and Cardinal O’Brien, often a visitor here, lead me to close with “some roads may lead to Rome but all roads lead to the Diocese of St. Petersburg.”
Tags: Bethany Center, Cardinal-designate Edwin O'Brien, Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan, Cardinals, Catholic, College of Cardinals, Father David Toups, Father Kenneth Malley, Pope Benedict XVI, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, USCCB