But now, after Benedict’s stunning announcement of his impending “renunciation” of the papacy, the notion of a made-in-the-U.S.A. pontiff seems less outlandish. The papabili-watchers are looking at Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, as a credible contender. Indeed, Las Vegas oddsmakers are giving Dolan 25-to-1 odds on becoming the first American Holy Father.

Why? First, the key players have changed. George W. Bush has been succeeded by President Obama, who has softened America’s international image. And domestically, Obama has conveniently provided the U.S. Catholic bishops a common enemy and a new moral platform, which they desperately needed: The president’s support of same-sex marriage and his health-care law’s mandate for contraception coverage solidified the episcopal suspicion that the Democrat is bad news. Obama’s supposedly deplorable attitude toward religious freedom even had the bishop of Peoria, Ill., comparing his policies to those of Stalin and Hitler.

The other new player is Dolan, who towers above his colleagues in the U.S. Catholic hierarchy both physically and telegenically, even as he has helped unify them and focus their restless energies. Nicknamed “the American pope” after his election to the presidency of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Dolan projects vigor and regular-guy charisma, making his unwavering support of Vatican orthodoxy on sexual ethics and other doctrinal matters more palatable to the broad Catholic middle.