The most powerful Roman Catholic leader in the United States had humble beginnings. Timothy Michael Dolan was born in Maplewood, Missouri in 1950. From an early age, those around him knew that he would become a priest. Through college and seminary, his power and spirituality grew. He was formally ordained in 1976. In 2009, he was made Archbishop of New York. Several months later he was elevated to cardinal. There were clear signs that the ailing Pope Benedict XVI saw him as a bright hope for the future. During the 2013 conclave, Vatican experts seriously wondered if he would be chosen to lead the Catholics of the world. The cardinal's rise is not, however, without its controversies. He was one of the Catholic leaders who dealt, harshly say some, with abusers and the abused in the church's sex scandal. He is a consummate player who doesn't shy away from picking a political battle. Christina Boyle's An American Cardinal is a book about power and the Roman Catholic church today framed by the life of a man who might someday become the first American pope.
Boyle, a British journalist and former staffer at the New York Daily News, gained unprecedented access to one of the most famous Catholics in the United States and tells his story eloquently. She presents an eminently readable and enjoyable description of Timothy Dolan, a gregarious and generous human being who can also stand his ground like a pit bull in a verbal battle. Dolan was incredibly accommodating to the author, opening all aspects of his life and ministerial career to her, even recommending some family members and old acquaintances to interview for the project. Dolan's affable nature is clearly presented, but so is his role as a company man. For Dolan, contested issues such as abortion and gay marriage are not debatable; the Church's teaching is clear. At other times, the author portrays the cardinal as humble and vulnerable, as when he discusses what it has been like to live a celibate adult life. Boyle effectively portrays a complex and intriguing human being who could one day become the first United States born pope.