Sunday, April 26, 2009

Milwaukee was lucky to have Dolan - text of my column in Good Friday's Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

If you were born in Milwaukee in the '70s and grew up Catholic, as I did, then the Mass had more than the usual amount of consistency during your lifetime. I was nearing 30 before the intercession to help "John Paul our Pope, (and) Rembert our Archbishop" - a routine I learned in kindergarten - no longer applied.

Logically, I should follow that line of thought with a few lines talking about how awkward it was in 2002 to accept Timothy Dolan as Milwaukee's new archbishop and about how the process of acceptance took time and patience.

I could write that, but it would turn this from a column into a work of fiction.

With no disrespect to those who have held, or will hold that position, Dolan was born for the role. Here was a guy of Midwestern stock, who seemed to embody all the positive attributes of the stereotype: He's a hard-working, down-to-earth man with a respect for tradition and a great sense of humor.

In a lot of ways, Dolan seems less like the imposing, powerful man of the cloth he is than a friendly and gregarious neighbor. If there was ever an archbishop you could imagine playing with on a tavern league softball team, Dolan is your man.

That's not to say his tenure didn't have its share of problems, many of which he inherited. He arrived in Milwaukee to a Catholic community besieged by allegations of sexual abuse, lawsuits and a growing distrust of the clergy. Questions about the role and integrity of the church were rampant, and a financial crisis loomed.

Seven years later, have all those problems been solved? No, but Dolan tackled them head-on, meeting with abuse victims, effectively closing a $3 million budget deficit in 2008 and restoring a sense of purpose and respect to the local Catholic landscape.

He has his share of detractors; no one with that much authority can avoid that burden. In his native Missouri, he was criticized as being too lenient on abusive priests, while others accused him of acting too harshly. In Milwaukee, he's correctly seen as theologically conservative. Those who view that as a negative are quick to point out his opposition to efforts to change the church's position on celibacy in the priesthood or his polite but public objection to the University of Notre Dame's decision to give President Barack Obama an honorary degree.

None of his critics have dented his popularity. My wife, a lifelong Lutheran, counts herself as a fan of the archbishop. So do most people I know, both in and out of the Catholic faith. The announcement of his impending installation as archbishop of New York was no surprise for me; I knew Milwaukee was too small to retain a rising star like Dolan for very long.

Our loss is New York's gain, and I wish him well. If the past seven years are any indication, Dolan will win New York's heart in no time.


Jeanne said...

I agree, Milwaukee was lucky to have Dolan...and I loved the column when it appeared in the Jouornal-Sentinel

Bridgett said...

He sounds like a wonderful man.

And congratulations on more of your work printed! WooHoo!


Estela said...

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Estela said...

I wish I'd had a chance to know Timothy Dolan. He sounds like a good guy. Good article.