John L. Allen Jr.: Real story on Dolan and Tobin in NY? Try ‘America Past Acrimony’

(Crux) On Sunday, the New York Times carried a piece about two Catholic heavyweights in the Big Apple area: Cardinals Timothy Dolan of New York and Joseph Tobin of Newark, New Jersey. The gist was to suggest that the two are a study in contrasts, with the headline reading, “Cardinals on Opposite Sides of the Hudson Reflect Two Paths of Catholicism.”

Before getting underway, two points in the interests of full disclosure.

First, I was quoted in the piece, so I’m not approaching this as a disinterested party. Second, I’ve known both Dolan and Tobin for years, consider both personal friends as well as newsmakers, and thus cannot pretend to objectivity in that sense either.

At one level, the article is certainly onto something in asserting that Dolan and Tobin “appeal to two very different constituencies.” It’s undeniable that Tobin plays better with many liberals, and Dolan better with many (though certainly not all) conservatives. Further, their instincts sometimes lead them in opposite directions, as in a recent debate within the U.S. bishops’ conference about making an ad hoc committee on religious freedom permanent.

There are also some personal contrasts, such as the fact that Tobin is a bit more of a hands-on manager, while Dolan is someone who prioritizes mission over maintenance and is often content to leave the administrative details to others.

However, here’s what wasn’t stressed enough, at least as I saw it: Fundamentally, these two cardinals have more in common than whatever divides them, and both are temperamentally inclined to emphasize the former over the latter every day of the week and twice on Sunday.

In fact, I’d suggest that Dolan and Tobin capture in microcosm – though, honestly, not all that micro, since they’re both really big guys – a fundamental truth about the American church that often flies below radar, which is that, yes, we’ve got our differences, but rational people aren’t always inclined to see those differences as divisions. [More]