A People of Hope

I like Archbishop Dolan. In my short time being Catholic, he has been on my radar screen more than once. I included him in my “excellent shepherds” post last November.

For those who do not know who he is, the Most Reverend Timothy Michael Dolan has been the Archbishop of New York since 2009. He was previously the Archbishop of Milwaukee, inheriting (and healing) a very troubled archdiocese from Rembert Weakland in 2002. Last year this time (November 2010), breaking with tradition, he was elected as the President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

There are about 400 bishops in the US, of which maybe a dozen or two will have significant impact outside of their dioceses in the next decade. Archbishop Dolan is one of them. John Allen’s new book A People of Hope (published today), gives us a keen sense on who he is.

For the most part, the book is a series of interviews so most of the words are Dolan’s own. The discussion is wide ranging, covering everything from hot-button issues to personal philosophies. From it, you get a really good sense of what makes Dolan “tick.”

Allen uses the phrase “affirmative-orthodoxy” to describe Dolan’s approach. It fits well. Put simply, instead of focusing on rules or “no,” Dolan prefers to focus on the positive, uplifting, affirming “yes” of Catholic teaching. The orthodox part describes Dolan’s upfront faithfulness to the true teaching of the Church, our doctrine, Magisterium and Holy Father. Dolan does not shy away from the press and will respond to their attacks (as he did Maureen Dowd at the New York Times).

A good illustration of affirmative-orthodoxy in practice is Archbishop Dolan’s approach to those with same sex attraction. Allen asked “What is the Church actually saying to homosexuals?”

First of all, we’re saying that it’s absurd to identify yourself with your sexual urges. When somebody comes to me, as people often do, and says, “I must tell you, I am a homosexual,” or “I am gay,” I say, “Well, thanks for your confidence. Nice to meet your, sit down, you’re welcome here, but as a matter of fact, no you’re not. You happen to be John Jones, who is a child of God and redeemed by the blood of his only begotten Son, destined to spend eternity with him. When God looks at you, he sees a work of art. That’s who you are. You happen to be sexually attracted to men, but that doesn’t define who your are.”

One thing that comes through quite clearly is that Archbishop Dolan is a nice guy. He genuinely cares about everybody and certainly does not see people who disagree with him as an enemy. He is the kind of guy you just want to enjoy a hot dog and beer with – which he enjoys too. He is liked by many and doesn’t create rabid detractors which is quite a feat for a solidly orthodox guy. These traits make him a particularly effective PR front-man for the Church in the US (you may have seen his extended interview in March on 60 Minutes).

Author Allen does not explicitly state his personal leanings, but it is apparent that it is from the liberal / progressive direction. In some chapters the tone of his comments or questions can be a distraction. He is none-the-less thorough and the answers are all Dolan.

Structurally, the book is 228 pages plus a 27 page introduction. It is divided into sections and chapters as follows:

  • Who Dolan Is: The Dolan Story
  • Challenges Facing the Church: The Sexual-Abuse Crisis, Women in the Church, Pelvic Issues, Faith and Politics, Authority and Dissent
  • Catholic Faith and Life: Affirmative Orthodoxy, Beyond Purple Ecclesiology, Tribalism and Its Discontents, Prayer and the Sacraments, Why Be Catholic, Hope

I recommend this book for Catholics interested in the institutional Church in the US. John Allen skillfully interviews Archbishop Dolan, taking us on a comprehensive tour of his leadership style and promise.


Full Disclosure: This book was provided to me at no charge by Image Books, A Division of Random House, Inc. in exchange for this review. They seek only my honest, real opinion and that is what I give!

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