Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 7, 2013

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the most famous funny man in the American hierarchy, went on “The Colbert Report” earlier this week night to trade quips with another funny guy — and another well-known Catholic — host Stephen Colbert.
Indeed, as Colbert — inhabiting his onscreen persona as a blowhard rightwing pundit — said in welcoming Dolan: “You’re the second most famous Catholic in America – after myself.”
But it was actually Dolan who got the first gag, and giggles, as he walked onto the set and ostentatiously bowed and kissed Colbert’s hand as if he were greeting the pope.
“I’ve got to get a nice big ring if you’re going to be kissing my hand!” replied Colbert, who seemed — uncharacteristically — unsure of how to play the exchange.
In fact, while Colbert was in full faux bloviating mode, he seemed to let Dolan set the pace of their chat; Colbert didn’t poke too hard on topics that could have prompted controversy.
Part of the relative deference may stem from the fact that Colbert is a serious Catholic who has taught Sunday school at his New Jersey parish. Or perhaps it was because Colbert knows Dolan personally, having appeared — out of character — at a forum on faith and humor last year at Fordham University. Or maybe Colbert was a bit out of practice: This was his first show after a two-week summer break, part of which he spent in Rome.
The Rome connection provided the source of most of the humorous banter, as the two talked about the conclave last March in which Dolan and 112 other cardinals elected Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as Pope Francis.
Francis has captivated the public’s attention with his unconventional simplicity and humble ways — and unsettled many who were used to popes issuing firm pronouncements on hot-button topics like gay rights.
Colbert played off that new dynamic, saying of Francis: “I don’t care for the guy.”
The problem? “He’s too soft. He’s too soft on sin, for me, this pope,” Colbert told the cardinal.
Case in point, he said, was Francis’ headline-making comment to reporters in July indicating he had no problem with priests who are gay. If the priests live good lives and seek God, “Who am I to judge?” Francis said.
“You are the pope to judge!” protested Colbert. “What is a declaration of sin or no sin except judgment?”
“Yeah, but we can never judge persons. We can judge actions,” Dolan replied. “Jesus told us that. So he (Francis) is repeating the timeless teaching of the Bible that we can never judge another human being.”
“But I’m a pundit,” Colbert retorted. “If I don’t judge someone I don’t get a check.”
Dolan was Colbert’s only guest on the show, and he ended the interview asking Dolan what would happen if Francis retired and Dolan were elected pope — what name would he take.
The cardinal-archbishop laughed, along with the audience, and after a long pause, said simply: “Stephen.”
It was well-timed, and Dolan got in the last laugh even as he got the first one.