New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, who will become a cardinal this weekend, said on Thursday that part of his new job will be to convince the Vatican that his city is not a modern-day version of the Biblical Sodom and Gomorrah.
"New York seems to have an innate interest and respect for religion and I'm going to bring that up because I don't like that caricature that New York is some neo-Sodom and Gomorrah" he told reporters after celebrating Mass in Rome's Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica.
Dolan was referring to the two cities which according to the Old Testament were destroyed by God because their people were sinful and wicked.
Dolan, who also holds the powerful post of president of the U.S. Bishops Conference, will be made a cardinal by Pope Benedict on Saturday at a solemn Vatican ceremony known as a consistory.
After that, he and 17 other new cardinals under the age of 80 will be eligible to enter a secret conclave to elect the next leader of the world's some 1.3 billion Roman Catholics after Benedict's death.
One Friday, Dolan, who once served as rector of the North American College, a seminary in Rome for American men studying for the priesthood, will give a keynote address to the pope and cardinals on the theme of the New Evangelisation.
That is the term the Vatican has given to the effort to shore up the Church in modern secular societies, such as those in the United States and Western Europe.
He said the Vatican was interested in hearing what Dolan called "a take on evangelisation from the American perspective" because the United States are seen as "the essence" of a secular state and culture.
"I'm here as archbishop after three years to let you know that, yup, there are instances of secularism and materialism and paganism in New York as there are everywhere and as there is in the human heart but I have found the New York community to be very religious and innately respectful of religion, interested in religion," he said.
Cardinals, the red-hatted "princes of the Church," are the pope's closest aides and will one day choose his successor.
Eighteen of the new cardinals will be eligible to enter a secret conclave to elect the next pope from among their own ranks. Of those, 12 are Europeans, bringing the number of "cardinal electors" from the continent to 67 out of 125.
The pope is a conservative on matters of faith and sexual morals such as birth control, homosexuality and the ban on women priests. Each time he names cardinals he puts his stamp on Roman Catholicism's future by choosing men who share his views.
Dolan is among the most prominent of the new cardinals. Others are John Tong Hon, archbishop of Hong Kong, and Rainer Maria Woelki, archbishop of Berlin in the pope's native Germany.
Others are from Italy, Portugal, Spain, Brazil, India, Canada, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Romania, Belgium, and Malta.
They include the archbishops of Toronto, Prague, Utrecht, and Florence. The head of the Siro-Malabar Catholic rite in India will also become a cardinal.
Another new American cardinal is Edwin O'Brien, head of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, a group that is a major funder of the church in the Holy Land. (Writing by Philip Pullella)
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