U.S. News

Pope names Dolan archbishop of New York

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Benedict Monday named the archbishop of Milwaukee as the next archbishop of New York, the highest profile post in the U.S. Catholic Church.

Milwaukee Catholic Archbishop Timothy Dolan celebrates a mass with prison inmates in Waupun, Wisconsin in this November 21, 2007 file picture. Pope Benedict has named Dolan, 59, as the next archbishop of New York, the Vatican said on February 23, 2009. Picture taken November 21, 2007. REUTERS/Allen Fredrickson/Files

Timothy Dolan, 59, widely seen as affable and an extrovert, is expected to use the position to more vocally advance issues close to the U.S. Catholic Church, including poverty relief and opposition to abortion.

“He’ll be critical of the Obama administration on abortion, but he’ll be willing to work with them on other issues of justice and peace,” said Father Tom Reese, senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University.

Dolan, like other prominent U.S. Catholic leaders, faces enormous challenges including healing wounds from a sexual abuse scandal that cost the U.S. church some $2 billion in settlement payments with victims.

He replaces Cardinal Edward Egan, 76, who kept a lower profile and was more distant from the clergy, critics say, and who is retiring after nearly nine years as archbishop.

“It is the premier bully-pulpit in the American Catholic Church and I think there is pretty much universal agreement that during the Egan years, that bully-pulpit was underutilized,” said John Allen, a columnist for the National Catholic Reporter.

“By naming the biggest extrovert in the American bishops’ conference -- and that is no doubt Dolan -- there was a choice to ... make it once again the key point of reference.”

Dolan also must work to offset the continued drift of Catholics away from the Church and declining numbers of clergy.

According to a study last year by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, about 24 percent of Americans are Catholic but a further 10 percent are ex-Catholics.

“The joke is that ex-Catholics are the third largest religious group in the United States, after Catholics and Evangelicals,” said Reese.

“The issue is: how do you keep young people in the Church?”

Well-known in Vatican circles, Dolan, a St. Louis native, was long considered a front-runner for Egan’s post.

He is a former rector of the Pontifical North American College in Rome, an elite seminary which counts prominent U.S. church leaders, including Egan, among its alumni. Dolan was named archbishop of Milwaukee in 2002 by Pope John Paul II.

The archbishop of New York is traditionally a cardinal, and the pope is expected to elevate Dolan to that status.

Editing by Louise Ireland