I will be praying for Cardinal Dolan…

I'll be praying for Cardinal Dolan Andrew Medichini/AP/Press Association Images

A friend has pointed me towards the “Adopt-a-Cardinal” scheme, the brainchild of Jugend (Youth) 2000. If you go to and provide your details you are almost immediately allotted a cardinal to pray for during this coming Conclave. When I last checked the website this morning I saw that 443,845 people have joined this prayerful initiative so far and it is growing all the time. In case people have the wrong impression and think it means that you are praying for your particular “adopted” cardinal to become Pope, I assure you it doesn’t; you are praying for him to be given the grace and the wisdom he needs to discern the right man for this awesome position. I make this clarification because I have been given Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York to pray for.

Personally – and this won’t influence my prayers that “the Holy Spirit may guide, protect and enlighten our Cardinals when they determine the next successor of St Peter”, as the wording has it – I am rather conflicted about Cardinal Dolan. This is partly because I first heard about him on Michael Voris’s last year. Voris is not a man to pull his punches about anyone – and he has been severely critical of Cardinal Dolan for seeming to hobnob socially with those who are hostile to Church teaching, in particular President Obama. Obama is, among other things, a keen supporter of a woman’s right to abortion and not a supporter of traditional marriage. In this he is no different from many other Western leaders. The question that Voris raises and which I have been thinking about subsequently is, how far should a prominent member of the Catholic hierarchy go in terms of gestures of public courtesy towards a secular leader with whom his Church is at odds on fundamental moral issues?

Voris was particularly critical of Cardinal Dolan’s decision to dine alongside President Obama at a famous, annual, charity fund-raising dinner organised by the Church at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in Manhattan on 18 October 2012. He thought it gave grave scandal to the faithful to see the Cardinal wining and dining with the enemy. Cardinal Dolan responded to these criticisms by acknowledging the possibility of scandal, but adding, “I’m encouraged by the example of Jesus who was blistered by his critics for dining with …sinners.”

I thought about this. It’s true that Jesus did dine with tax collectors and prostitutes – obvious sinners in the Jewish world of his day. But he did not dine with Herod or Pontius Pilate, who would correspond in status and importance to President Obama today. Jesus identified himself with the poor and the outcast, not with the rich and the powerful. Voris made the point that Cardinals Egan and O’Connor of New York had pointedly not invited prominent political candidates to this charity event because of their known support for abortion. I also thought of Mother Teresa who, when she met President Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary at a grand public occasion, took the opportunity to speak out strongly in support of life – thereby causing the couple acute embarrassment. In other words, she used the opportunity to give public witness to her faith.

I also have an uneasy sense that a prince of the Church should not be quite as popular as Cardinal Dolan seems to be. When he was a cardinal, John Paul II was loathed by the Communists. As a cardinal, Benedict XVI was cordially detested by liberal Catholics; not for nothing was he nicknamed the “Panzer” Cardinal. Jesus warned his followers that if they bore witness to him they would be “hated by all men on account of my name”. Yet no-one it seems, apart from Michael Voris, has a bad word to say about Cardinal Dolan. Indeed, just reading the feature on him in the Herald last week by Fr Dwight Longenecker increases my uneasiness. Fr Longenecker is an American so it is natural that he would push for a papabili fellow American. But still: “genial, red-faced, people-loving”; “a large and exuberant style”; “nobody dislikes him”; “affability and quick intelligence”; “relaxed and jolly”; “expansive bonhomie and exuberance” and so on, are some of his descriptions.

My last thought, as I continue to pray for my adopted Cardinal during the conclave that begins tomorrow, is that when it is over one man from the Sacred College will be given a white cassock to wear for the rest of his life. The others, those who are not helping to run the Church in Rome, will return home to govern their dioceses. I suggest that when they go about their public business they do as the Pope does on foreign visits: always dine at home (in the Holy Father’s case this meant the local nunciature) and only meet secular leaders at spiritual and ecumenical events.