Pope Benedict’s elevation of New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan to cardinal was expected, but has occurred especially quickly, according to experts.
New York is one of a handful of American archdioceses that are almost always led by cardinals. The list also includes Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and Baltimore or Washington, D.C. But the Dolan appointment appears to have been fast-tracked.
“It's a sign. It's a consolidation really of his clout, not just in the American church, but also at the Vatican,” said Rocco Palmo, whose blog Whispers in the Loggia is widely read among those who follow Catholic politics.
His predecessor, Edward Egan, though retired, remains a cardinal with full voting rights until he turns 80 in April. After that, Egan keeps the title but is divested of all authority.
They will only overlap for about six weeks, but Professor Terrence Tilley, Chairman of Theology at Fordham University, said it is quite unusual for a single archdiocese to have two voting cardinals simultaneously, even if briefly.
“This means he’s been put forward as quickly as possible -- it’s a small but noticeable point,” Tilley said.
Cardinals do not differ significantly from archbishops in their day-to-day duties or authority. Their chief distinction is being able to participate in a consistory, the group of active cardinals who can vote for a new pope.
Less officially, cardinals represent the inner circle of the pope’s advisers and his emissaries to a given country or region. Tilley cites the calling to Rome of the American cardinals to address the sex abuse scandal as an example of the role a group of cardinals can play for the Vatican.
“Cardinals from a country are recognized as the real leadership,” Tilley said. “So cardinals have, certainly, real honor, and that honor translates into some influence in Rome.”
Dolan, 61, was installed in his current position almost three years ago. Last year, he was elected president of the U.S. Conference of Bishops.
Tilley said there isn’t much place for him to go from his current seat, short of one of the top positions at the Vatican. Almost all of those – and the papacy – have historically been held by Europeans.
“He’s like the CEO of Boeing or General Motors or GE,” Tilley said. “It’s the top of the line of that particular career path.”