He's taken on the White House over ObamaCare's birth control mandate, jokingly kissed Stephen Colbert's ring, blessed both 2012 political conventions, dismissed some former popes as "lemons," and tackled the fallout of a predecessor's sex abuse scandal. He is frank and charismatic yet thoughtful, called a "happy warrior" for the Catholic Church in some circles, the "bear-hug bishop" in others. He is 63-year-old New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, appointed just last year by Pope Benedict, and he represents the United States' first—albeit pretty unlikely—shot at seeing an American elected pope.
As the AP runs through the list of men who might be the next pontiff, it turns to Dolan, who was tapped by Benedict to give a speech in Rome last year to other church leaders. Dolan came out of that as something of a clerical rock star, and Italian media took note. But Dolan faces long odds: No American has ever served as pope, and church higher-ups are squirmy about the prospect of a pontiff who hails from a superpower. And while most popes speak myriad languages, Dolan speaks only a little Italian and Spanish, and no Latin. And his brash style that plays so well on US soil may prove a liability in Rome. "Cardinal Dolan has a knack for getting people to feel relaxed and to laugh and to expect the unexpected, but that is not what the church needs right now," says one scholar. Over at the Washington Post, meanwhile, the paper posits that such characteristics might in fact be just what the church needs. In addition to Dolan, it singles out Boston Cardinal Cardinal Sean O’Malley as another contender for the papacy. (Read more Timothy Dolan stories.)