The following comes from a July 24 interview of Cardinal Dolan by John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter.
You were one of the cardinals who elected Francis, and presumably you had some idea of what kind of pope he would be. To what extent has it turned out the way you expected?
In some ways, it’s been exactly what I expected. One of the things we looked for was a very savvy pastor, a good man on the ground. To use the expression of [Cardinal] George Pell [of Australia], we wanted somebody with “dirty boots,” because he’s used to going through the sheep fields. We got that, and we got it in spades.
The simplicity, sincerity, humility, that ability to speak from the heart which the world is seeing now, are all things we’d heard about him. One of the cardinals said we needed somebody with the mind of Benedict and the heart of John Paul, and I think we got it. He’s been called the world’s parish priest, and I think that’s right on target.
If there’s a surprise, it’s that he’s even better at it than we had anticipated. We thought he was pretty good, and the reports we got about him in Buenos Aires were excellent, but he’s doing it all on steroids.
What would your biggest surprise be?
We also wanted someone with good managerial skills and leadership skills, and so far that hasn’t been as obvious. It’s a little bit of a surprise that he hasn’t played his hand on that front yet. However, I think that’s part of his strategy. He knows that the things we talked about a moment ago are more important because, in many ways, impression is reality. Having created this extraordinarily appealing impression — which, by the way, is very genuine — that he’s a man of simplicity, holiness and simplicity will make it easier to do other things down the line. I think that was his first goal, and he’s done it.
I would expect that after the summer lull, we’ll see some more signs of management changes. In the meantime, I think calling the eight cardinals together was brilliant. As you know, that came up in the meetings before the conclave. Many of the cardinals said the new pope would have to look at some sort of “council of wise men,” some more precise way to exercise collegiality beyond the Synod of Bishops. (By the way, the congregations said the synod needs to be reformed, too.) The idea was an ongoing exercise of collegiality that would assist the pope permanently. His “G8” with the cardinals was a good move in that direction.
Are you surprised, for instance, that it’s taken this long to make a change in the Secretary of State?
If something doesn’t happen by October I’d be surprised, but I don’t think there’s anything surprising that he wants to take his time with it. First of all, this is a man of exquisite charity, and I don’t think he wants to hurt anybody’s feelings. Second, he realizes that he needs somebody for a transition period. I mean, he’s got to have somebody who knows where all the keys are. I thought maybe it would come at the end of June or July, but it hasn’t, and so now I think it’s probably going to be the fall….
You’re a big fan of Benedict. How do you react when you see people praising Francis for being different from Benedict?
It bothers me. Personally, I love Benedict, but beyond that a lot of it just isn’t accurate. Take all this talk about how Francis has rejected the “opulence” of the Apostolic Palace. I’ve been in the pope’s apartment, and sure, that public study is very nice, but the rest of it is just functional. It’s as if Benedict is being caricatured as this more regal, monarchical kind of pope. It’s the same with the business about Francis not going to the “palatial” summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, which is actually fairly simple, too. All these comparisons bother me, both because I think they’re probably hurtful to Benedict, and I also think they’re not accurate….
Is there any way in which Francis is having a personal impact on you?
I find myself examining my own conscience … on style, on simplicity, on lots of things.
For instance, I saw the pope open his own car door, close his own door, and carry his own carry-on bag. That says something to me. I used to do those things for myself, and it’s not that I think I’m above it now, but it’s just that as archbishop of New York people are doing it for me all the time. That’s a very down-to-earth example, but I’m beginning to say that I need to watch this guy closely because he’s a good example for me.
I also find myself thinking about living arrangements, because that’s a pretty nice house I’m living in. In some ways it’s not clear what I could do about it, because it’s the historic, traditional residence of the archbishops of New York, and it’s not like we can sell it. [Note: The residence is attached to St. Patrick’s Cathedral.]
In general, I find myself thinking about some of the perks, the cushiness, we associate with being a bishop. He’s pushing me to ask whether they’re necessary, and if they might actually be counterproductive.
To read entire interview, click here.