During the past year, he has consistently, eloquently, spoken out in defense of the unborn and traditional marriage, led the American bishops and been a much-loved pastor to the ordinary faithful in one of the world’s largest and most important cities. For these reasons, we have selected Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York and President of the US bishops’ conference, to be among our “Top Ten People” of 2012.
Sometimes referred to affectionately as “the Pope of the US,” Cardinal Dolan is known first of all as a pastor. He is committed to watching over the members of his flock, the ordinary faithful seeking God’s presence and help in their lives, and answers for the many difficulties they face. Dolan is known for being always ready with a kind word and a blessing. And Americans in Rome who have known Dolan since his days as rector of the North American College in the 1990s note that, despite his rapid rise in the hierarchy of the Church, he has retained his humble simplicity and warm good humor.
But if he is a good shepherd to those entrusted to him, he is also a lion in defense of Church teaching. Dolan, living in one of the world’s greatest “media markets,” has steadily, courageously, effectively defended the Church’s teaching against many attacks. Not afraid of debating complex and controversial issues openly, he has been strikingly effective in presenting the Catholic position, and the reasons for it, when that position has been criticized and condemned.
A good example was a public letter he released at the beginning of the year after a troubling conversation he and other bishops had with top White House officials about the controversial and unprecedented new federal health insurance law, mandating that private health plans include coverage for things not in keeping with Catholic moral teaching, like sterilization, contraception and abortion-inducing drugs.
The government’s decision to pass a law containing these provisions means that thousands of religious institutions and private companies are being compelled to offer coverage for medical “services” they believe in conscience are harmful to human dignity and against the moral law. This is a clear violation of their right to freedom of conscience, guaranteed by the First Amendment to the US Constitution and by many federal laws.
“We have made it clear in no uncertain terms to the government that we are not at peace with its invasive attempt to curtail the religious freedom we cherish as Catholics and Americans,” Dolan wrote at the time. “We did not ask for this fight, but we will not run from it.”
Dolan stressed that the US bishops “will continue to accept invitations to meet with and to voice our concerns to anyone of any party — for this is hardly partisan — who is willing to correct the infringements on religious freedom that we are now under. But as we do so, we cannot rely on off-the-record promises of fixes without deadlines and without assurances of proposals that will concretely address the concerns in a manner that does not conflict with our principles and teaching.”
During 2012, Dolan also said it was “deeply saddening” that President Obama had taken a public stand in favor of a redefinition of the unique meaning of marriage. “We cannot be silent in the face of words or actions that would undermine the institution of marriage, the very cornerstone of our society,” he said. “The people of this country, especially our children, deserve better.”
At mid-year, Dolan was criticized in some quarters for accepting an invitation to offer the closing prayer at the Democratic National Convention. But he showed his courage once again on that occasion, speaking out strongly against abortion and same-sex marriage in front of a largely hostile audience.
“Help us to see that a society’s greatness is found above all in the respect it shows for the weakest and neediest among us,” Dolan prayed. “We ask your benediction on those waiting to be born, that they may be welcomed and protected. Show us anew that happiness is found only in respecting the laws of nature and of nature’s God. Empower us with your grace so that we might resist the temptation to replace the moral law with idols of our own making, or to remake those institutions you have given us for the nurturing of life and community.”
Dolan also accepted an invitation to pray at the Republican National Convention this summer: “We ask your benediction upon those yet to be born, and on those who are about to see you at the end of this life,” he prayed. “May we know the truth of your creation, respecting the laws of nature and nature’s God, and not seek to replace it with idols of our own making.”
For speaking out fearlessly on behalf of the unborn, for bearing witness to the truth even before those who disagree sharply with him, for his generosity and faithfulness as a diligent pastor, we are proud to honor His Eminence Cardinal Dolan as one of our “Top Ten” of 2012.