Past-president of the USCCB
At a lunch break during one of the U.S. bishops’ semiannual general meetings a while back, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York spied an old friend in the hotel lobby. The cardinal greeted him warmly, and after they’d chatted a bit the friend said, “You seem to be enjoying all this.” His gesture took in not just the lobby filled with bustling bishops, staff people and journalists, but the whole world of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which Cardinal Dolan then headed as president. “You bet I enjoy it,” the cardinal answered cheerfully. Reaching into his breast pocket, he produced a large cigar and said, “And now I’m going to enjoy this.” And with a jaunty wave he headed for the front door to light up and puff outside before the meeting resumed.
It was a typical encounter with Cardinal Dolan — outgoing, politically engaged and not hesitant to admit a liking for small pleasures of life like a good cigar. Especially during his three-year presidency of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, this combination helped make him one of the best-known and, with few exceptions, well-liked religious figures in America.
There is little doubt the cardinal’s three years heading the bishops’ conference will be remembered for the potentially momentous decision to take on the administration of President Barack Obama over the “HHS Mandate.” The mandate is the Health and Human Services Department’s rule — part of the implementation of Obamacare — requiring employers to override any conscientious objections they may have and provide workers with health coverage that includes abortifacient drugs, contraceptives and sterilization. Cardinal Dolan led the bishops’ conference in fighting this policy as an infringement on religious liberty.
“We are united in our resolve to continue to defend our right to live by our faith,” he said Sept. 17. He also was much in the news in March as one of the electors in the conclave which chose Pope Francis to succeed Pope Benedict XVI. It’s unlikely that, with his term as USCCB president finished, Cardinal Dolan will fade into obscurity. His temperament and talents make it probable that he will go on making ample use of the bully pulpit of New York to preach the Gospel — and now and then crack a joke or two — for the edification of a national audience.
Russell Shaw is an OSV contributing editor.