By Mick Krever, CNN
Cardinal Timothy Dolan is on many Vatican-watchers' short-lists as a papal contender, but he isn’t having any of it.
“I said people who say that might be drinking too much grappa or smoking marijuana,” he coyly told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in an in-depth interview on Thursday. “I'm flattered that people think that, but I wouldn't bet the house payment on it.”
Cardinal Dolan spoke with Amanpour on the day that Benedict XVI – now pope emeritus – lifted off from Vatican City in a helicopter and left the papacy forever.
To choose his replacement, 115 cardinals, Dolan among them, will soon enter into a conclave.
It is the first time that Cardinal Dolan will vote for a Holy Father; Pope Benedict XVI elevated him to the College of Cardinals just last year.
Thursday afternoon, that group of scarlet-gowned men bid their final respect to the outgoing pope.
“It was very touching,” Cardinal Dolan said of his 15-second encounter with the pontiff. “And I don't mind admitting that it was kind of somber; it was kind of sad. I love him.”
It was especially flattering, Cardinal Dolan told Amanpour, that the pope remembered him, and his trip to New York.
“I started to introduce myself and he said, ‘Oh, I know who you are,’” Cardinal Dolan recounted. “I like that, when the boss knows your name.”
In choosing a new boss, Cardinal Dolan admitted he was “a rookie,” but said he would be looking for one characteristic above all.
“I mean it when you say you look for a man who reminds you of Jesus,” he said. “When we see [the pope], we're immediately elevated to the things beyond, the eternal truth and to the man who described himself as the truth, Jesus Christ.”
That is the “supernatural” characteristic, he said, but like any voter in any election, there are some “natural” characteristics he is looking for in his next boss.
Any cardinal who wishes to be pope, Cardinal Dolan said, must be a good pastor, be well-versed in Catholic tradition, be aware of the “diverse needs” of Catholics around the world, and have good managerial skills.
Being a polyglot would not hurt, either.
“You need somebody who can get by in at least English, Italian and preferably some other languages, too,” he said.
Cardinal Dolan did not hold out much hope for progressive Catholics who hope to see vast change in the Church.
“For a pope, the mission statement is to conserve, in the best sense of the word,” Cardinal Dolan said. “That doesn't mean that he might not change the way it's presented. But to tamper with the immutable teachings of the church, he wouldn't see that as his role.”
So, for example, Cardinal Dolan did not anticipate a future pope who would allow priests to marry.
“I can't get my haircut without my barber asking me about married priests,” he said, “but I don't think it's going to happen.”
Whichever cardinal is chosen by his colleagues to become pope will inherit a Church with serious problems.
“We've had turmoil in the church since the beginning,” Cardinal Dolan said.
What is important, he said, is that people understand that abuse is not the result of Church teaching, but rather of a failure to follow that teaching.
He admitted that the Church has not always been a model citizen in dealing with the crisis, and that what happened in the past has “constantly got to be before our eyes.”
But “there are certain groups that are never going to be happy” with the Vatican’s response, he said.
“We could go back decades and decades and decades of this nauseating abuse,” Cardinal Dolan said. “Or we can say ‘mea culpa’ for that, we have learned from it, and now thanks be to God there is a rigor and a renewal and a responsibility in the Church that is laudable and exemplary.”