By Daniel Trotta
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A "humbled" Archbishop Timothy Dolan said on Friday his elevation to cardinal by Pope Benedict was more of an honor for New York than for himself.
One of 22 newly named cardinals from around the world, Dolan was the only one representing an archdiocese in the United States. One other American was also promoted, the former archbishop of Baltimore, Edwin O'Brien, who heads the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
Dolan's elevation means New York will have a cardinal for the first time since 2009, when Edward Cardinal Egan stepped down.
It also prompted criticism from the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), which faulted Dolan for protecting priests who were implicated in the church's child sexual abuse scandal. A church spokesman defended Dolan's record on sexual abuse as "impeccable."
Eighteen of the new cardinals including Dolan, 61, are under 80, young enough to be eligible to enter a secret conclave of cardinals that will choose the next pope after Benedict dies.
"Yes, I'm honored, humbled and grateful. But let's be frank. This is not about Timothy Dolan. This is an honor from the Holy Father to the archdiocese of New York," Dolan told a news conference after morning Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral.
"It's almost as if Pope Benedict XVI is putting the red hat of the cardinal on the top of the Empire State Building or upon the Statue of Liberty or home plate at Yankee Stadium or on the spires of this great St. Patrick's Cathedral," Dolan said.
The Archdiocese of New York, with some 2.6 million members, has been at the center of heated policy battles within the U.S. Roman Catholic community, particularly in the 1980s and '90s over the church's position on homosexuality and AIDS education.
By being named cardinal, Dolan follows his predecessors, including Edward Cardinal Egan, John Cardinal O'Connor, Terence Cardinal Cooke and Francis Cardinal Spellman, all of whom were elevated to cardinal.
Dolan was named archbishop of New York in 2009 after serving as the archbishop of Milwaukee for seven years.
The church sex abuse scandal has led at least eight archdioceses around the country -- including Milwaukee last year -- to declare bankruptcy in the face of lawsuits from accusers.
SNAP, the support group for clergy abuse victims, faults Dolan for failing to remove or denounce priests accused of being pedophiles throughout his career. Dolan instead is better known for defending priests who have been accused of abuse without proof.
Dolan told the National Catholic Reporter last year that at the start of the scandal, "the vast majority (of accusations) tragically were accurate ... I wouldn't say that anymore."
Such comments have made him a target for SNAP.
"Dolan is extremely affable, extremely media savvy, so it's much harder for people to believe this nice guy who is telling a joke is the same man who has such a bad track record on sex abuse," said Barbara Dorris, outreach director for SNAP.
A church spokesman challenged SNAP's characterization.
"Archbishop Dolan's record is impeccable in dealing with the issue of sexual abuse in Milwaukee and New York, the two archdioceses he has headed, as well as his brief time served as an auxiliary bishop in St. Louis," said Joseph Zwilling, spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York.
(Additional reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst; Editing by Greg McCune)