Surprise Cardinal: Father Avery Dulles

Convert Became a Strong Defender of Papacy

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NEW YORK, JAN. 22, 2001 (
After the news of his nomination as cardinal by John Paul II, Father Avery Dulles wondered how to balance his modest black-garbed life as a Jesuit scholar with the red-decked ceremony of his new role as cardinal.

Father Dulles, 82, was one of the surprises of the 37 new cardinals that John Paul II will create in a consistory Feb. 21.

The son of former U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, and a distinguished Catholic theologian, has had to cope with many challenges in his long life, including giving witness at a time of agnosticism. He is the first U.S. theologian to be named cardinal directly, without having had pastoral responsibility.

«To be named cardinal is not only an honor, but also in many ways a challenge,» Father Dulles said Sunday during a press conference in Manhattan, which was quoted in The New York Times. «At my relatively advanced age, I will have the task of trying to learn how to look and act cardinalatial. I am very much accustomed to my informal and rather plebian manners.»

The Laurence J. McGinley professor of religion and society at Fordham University in the Bronx since 1988, Father Dulles called his appointment «mostly honorary,» since he is two years too old to vote in a conclave for a new pope.

Father Dulles said he would continue to write, teach and read, while awaiting the ceremony to create the new cardinals. He is the author of 21 books and 650 articles and essays, the majority being theological.

The Jesuit has also taught at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.; Woodstock College in Maryland; and 15 other schools as a visiting professor. He holds 21 honorary doctorates and many education and theology awards.

Robert D. McFadden, in a signed article today in The New York Times, wrote that Father Dulles has used much of his energy as professor to explain the post-Vatican II reforms and the mission of the papacy, which he has always defended. He has been a voice communicating the thought of the Church in a country where many Catholics, including priests, have questioned the Pontiff´s position on topics like abortion, birth control, priestly celibacy, and the ordination of women, among others.

Father Dulles is a convert to Catholicism. His father was Presbyterian, and his grandfather a liberal Presbyterian theologian. In his youth Avery Dulles was party to much of the intrigue connected with members of his family. His uncle, Allen Dulles, directed espionage operations during the Second World War and was later head of the Central Intelligence Agency. In addition to his father, other forebears rose to the top of the diplomatic ladder.

Avery Dulles was born in Auburn, New York, on Aug. 24, 1918, the son of John Dulles and Janet Pomeroy Avery. As a boy, he studied in schools in New York, Switzerland and England, which were not strictly Presbyterian. «I never was much of a Protestant,» he remarked Sunday. By the time he entered Harvard University in 1936, he was a self-professed agnostic. He converted to Catholicism in 1940.

He acknowledged that his conversion had shocked his family and friends, but he called it «the best decision I ever made.» He said his father gradually came to respect Catholics, especially as he met them officially.

After graduating from Harvard in 1940, Avery attended Harvard Law School for a year and a half before joining the Naval Reserve as an intelligence officer. In 1945 he won the Croix de Guerre for his liaison work with the French navy. In 1946 he joined the Jesuits and began training for the priesthood. He was ordained in 1956 by Cardinal Francis Spellman of New York.

His books include «Models of the Church,» (Doubleday, 1974), a theological best seller; «A Church to Believe In: Discipleship and the Dynamics of Freedom,» (Crossroads, 1982), on American Catholic theological concerns; and «The Reshaping of Catholicism,» (Harper & Row, 1987), on Vatican II.

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