Dolan and Spiritual Fatherhood Print
Written by Sherry   
Tuesday, 24 February 2009 07:47
Warning:  Mini-rant ahead.  (I incorporated some of my comments below and did some editing to more exactly communicate what I intended to say.)

"Ebulliant optomist"

That's how the New York Times described the new Archbishop of New York, Timothy Dolan.   Warm.  Joyful.  Dare I say it? Extroverted. Take at look at the lead photograph.  When was the last time you saw a bishop in mid-belly laugh?  In front of the media of the world? (Actually I saw Cardinal George do something very like that after he knew but just before it was announced that he had cancer.  But it was in private.  )

The fascinating thing is that all over St. Blog's - across the spectrum, on the right and the left, people seemed shaken into something like hopefullness by the match of this man and this position.

I know I am.

I've never met Archbishop Dolan but I've met enough of a very different kind of bishop.  And watched their excruciatingly painful interactions with their clergy and staff over the years.    I'm not saying that these struggling bishops make up the majority by any means, but neither are they unique or extraordinarily rare tragic figures.

Some had destroyed their relationship with their priests within weeks of taking up residence by doing things so interpersonally stupid that it beggars the imagination.  Doing stuff that would almost certainly sever the relationship with one of us if he were merely an ordinary man.   Stuff that destroys trust.  Stuff that is completely pointless and unnecessary.  Like humiliating pastors in front of their congregations, for instance.  A textbook way to set the right tone for the future.

The irony is that some of these men are the bishops that Catholics around St. Blog's tend to lionize for drawing lines in the sand.  If they had witnessed what I have witnessed, they would realize that some of their heros are impotent shells because they have thrown away the trust and affection of their people.   Even that of the most theologically orthodox, the ones most willing to cut the Bishop slack out of respect for his office.

It is most painful to watch when you sense that the Bishop is a decent man and a true disciple but also an emotionally under-developed man who literally doesn't know how to relate to others.  A basically good man who should never, ever, have been put in such a relentlessly public position, no matter what his theological or administrative qualifications.

Grace does build upon nature. Even the grace of office. Spiritual fatherhood is a real relationship. Not a concept.  Not a diagram.  Not a strategic position in a cold culture war.

I don't think Archbishop Dolan is unique. But he is hardly a dime-a-dozen and I do think his interpersonal style makes a wonderfully refreshing norm. And I can think of several dioceses off hand whose leaders and people would get down on their knees and thank God if they thought that a few Dolan clones were in the pipeline.

I know that in a communion of 1.2 billion people, we have men who have both the theological and relational moxie to be good bishops.

That is why I am so thrilled by the wonderful work done the Institute for Priestly Formation in Omaha (and have blogged about it here). IPF focuses entirely as aspects of seminarian formation that is sometimes get less attention: a lived love relationship with God, human formation, the integration of spiritual and emotional health, and understanding the priesthood as a true, highly relational fatherhood. I’m delighted that 1/3 of the seminarians in the US are participating in IPF programs.

And because it is my hope that in the next generation of bishops, what I described above *will* be extraordinarily rare.

Thank God for Archbishop Dolan.    May he be the first of many more warm, holy, and appropriately gifted bishops in our midst.  St. Frances de Sales, pray for Archbishop Dolan.  And for us.