Dolan, The Met & The Politics of Carnival

The question begs to be asked: What is the point of Cardinal Dolan? Whatever vocation he might once have espoused has dissolved in the acid of celebrity. He is an embarrassment to his office, and a disincentive to every serious-minded, diligent working priest in his archdiocese. Let him retire to the Hamptons, or South Beach, some glittering water hole where he can do what he is best at—glad-handing. He is an episcopal show-boater, the grinning face of a hierarchy desperate for the moment’s approval.


Timothy Cardinal Dolan, hail-fellowing George Clooney at the Met gala.

The man lends himself to one mockery after another. His attendance at the Metropolitan Museum’s 2018 extravaganza “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination” is only the latest. It disqualifies him for any role other than that of a merry-andrew. Bring in a cardinal for after-dinner entertainment. Hand him a craft beer and let him perform. Bonhomie all around.

Here, in the photo below, our shepherd pals with Donatella Versace, one of the exhibition co-chairs. Her brother Gianni founded the Versace fashion empire on clothing that invited women to dress like post-war Milanese street walkers. A decade ago, Gianni was shot execution-style by a homosexual prostitute. There was a certain symmetry at work in that. Might Dolan have noticed?


The Versace siblings in better days. (Getty Image by Ron Galella)


At the gala, Dolan’s Everyman act included sending out for a hot dog for himself. Recherché appetizers were simply not enough for our ample man of the people. He is just a regular Joe, an ordinary guy, and a Met gala is an opportunity to prove it. The New York Post explains:

His eminence sent out for hot dogs during his appearance at Monday night’s $30,000-a-head Met gala because the finger foods weren’t filling enough.

“I had to tip the waiter to go out and get me a couple of hot dogs from the cart outside the museum,” he said on his Sirius XM radio show on Tuesday, later adding he chowed down on three peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches when he got home in the evening.

“It’s one of those like where you needed magnifying glasses and tweezers,” he said of the gala’s hors d’oeuvres. “I kept trying to eat with my fork and it would fall through the prongs.”


Is he not endearing, our Timothy? So unpretentious. Here among the glitterati, he bravely exhibits tastes that are the same as those of any schlepper on the A train or the cross-town bus. Like the rest of us, he fumbles with a fork. He is New York’s go-to-guy for true communion with the masses.


Actress Lena Waithe making a statement.


The Met’s press release trumpets this burlesque event as “a dialogue between fashion and medieval art from The Met collection to examine fashion’s ongoing engagement with the devotional practices and traditions of Catholicism.”

Devotional practices. Catholic traditions. What were intellectual parvenus in the Vatican thinking when they signed on to this? Whatever did they expect? Are they such arrivistes, such suckers for recognition that they conned themselves into thinking that celebrity fashion honchos would flatter the Church?

Rihanna, one of the co-chairs of the gala.


Andrew Bolton, the curator of the Costume Institute, chirps:

In the Medieval Galleries, fashions reference the hierarchy and gendered distinctions of the Roman Catholic Church through a cast of Fellini-esque religious characters that are immediately identifiable by their dress. . . .

Most designers featured in the exhibition were raised Catholic. While many of them no longer practice, and their relationships to Catholicism vary considerably, most acknowledge its significant influence over their imaginations.


Gendered distinctions. Born Catholic but no longer practicing. The code is easy to decipher: the gay-dominated fashion world thumbs its nose at sexual prohibitions that number among those quaint Catholic traditions.  Bolton’s partner, Thom Browne, is also in the fashion industry. His designs are a carefully aimed finger in the eye to straight men. His collection of menswear parodies the male wardrobe. That’s the joke of it: no heterosexual would be caught dead in his pansy-by-intention menswear.


Thom Browne Collection
Thom Browne Collection.


“Heavenly Bodies” does not confine itself to the Costume Institute. It metastasizes throughout the Medieval Hall, the Byzantine galleries, and on to the Cloisters. In other words, Bolton and his fellow pranksters colonize every area of the Metropolitan devoted to Christian imagery. Below, a send-up of religious iconography in the Medieval wing.


The exhibition title owes itself to Andrew Greeley’s The Catholic Imagination (2001) which offered a popular riff on theologian David Tracy’s concept of “analogical imagination.” An affectionate effort to explain a sacramental way of viewing the world in its ordinariness, Fr. Greeley asserted the existence of such a thing as a Catholic psyche. He held it capable of sensing grace precisely where Bernanos’ country priest found it—everywhere.

There is neither affection nor grace in this exhibition. James Martin, S.J. called it “triumphant” and declared that Catholics in particular should see it. But that is just the sort of endorsement we expect from Fr. Martin.

When it comes to diminishing what the Catholic imagination struggles to embrace, there is always room for one more custard pie.


Andrew Bolton, Chief Curator, Costume Institute.