U.S. Catholic Bishops Choose New Leadership

From a Wall Street Journal story by Francis X. Rocca headlined “U.S. Catholic Bishops Choose New Leadership at Conference”:

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on Tuesday chose two conservatives to serve as national president and vice president, a move that signals strong support among the nation’s top bishops for a policy platform centered on opposition to abortion.

Archbishop Timothy Broglio, a former Vatican diplomat who oversees ministry to Catholics in the U.S. Armed Forces, was elected president with 138 out of 237 votes at the fall meeting of the bishops in Baltimore. He succeeds Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles. Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore was elected vice president by 143 votes out of 239.

Both men, who will serve for three-year terms, are considered doctrinal conservatives and have taken confrontational stands on abortion politics. This is in contrast with the more conciliatory approach favored by Pope Francis and his closest allies among the bishops.

Archbishop Broglio last year supported military personnel who claimed a religious exemption to a Covid-19 vaccine mandate because of the vaccines’ links to an abortion-derived stem-cell line, even though the Vatican and the USCCB had stated that it was morally permissible for Catholics to receive the vaccines.

Archbishop Lori, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities, recently issued a statement denouncing as “gravely wrong” President Biden’s pledge to codify a right to abortion in federal law.

All U.S. bishops oppose abortion but differ over whether it should outrank other issues. The USCCB members voted in 2019 to add a statement to their voter guide calling opposition to abortion their “pre-eminent priority,” over the objections of a vocal minority allied with Pope Francis. The pope has spoken strongly against abortion but given more weight to social and economic justice and the environment. On Wednesday, the bishops are scheduled to discuss whether to initiate a process to revise the voter guide to incorporate more of Pope Francis’ teaching.

Speaking to reporters after the vote, Archbishop Broglio denied that his election signified tension between the bishops and the pope.

“As far as I know, I’m certainly in communion with Pope Francis,” the archbishop said. “I’m not aware that this necessarily indicates some dissonance with Pope Francis.” He also said that he would be happy to meet with Mr. Biden to engage in dialogue about abortion.

Addressing the bishops on Tuesday, the pope’s envoy to the U.S., Archbishop Christophe Pierre, praised the bishops for their efforts to assist needy pregnant women, saying those efforts took on new importance following the overturning of Roe v. Wade, “in showing forth the maternal tenderness of the church for all her children, demonstrating that the priority is mercy rather than cold judgment.”

For much of 2021, USCCB internal politics were dominated by a debate over whether to deny Communion, the central rite of Catholic worship, to Catholic politicians who support abortion rights, such as President Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The Vatican opposed a national policy on the reception of Communion in such cases, cautioning that it could be divisive, and Pope Francis warned against politicizing the reception of the sacrament. In the face of that opposition, the bishops last November adopted a statement on the Eucharist that didn’t explicitly address exclusion of politicians who support abortion rights.

But in May, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco banned Communion for Mrs. Pelosi, whose home district lies in his diocese, for her support for abortion rights. The speaker has defended her support for abortion rights as a separation between her religious and political views. Archbishop Cordileone was a candidate for USCCB president on Tuesday, receiving four out of 242 votes in a field of 10 bishops on the first ballot.

Later on Tuesday, the bishops devoted some of their meeting to prayer and reflection on the issue of child protection. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Dallas Charter, a set of norms adopted by the USCCB in response to the clerical sex-abuse crisis, including a “zero tolerance” policy: permanent removal from ministry of any priest found guilty of one act of abusing a minor. The U.S. is still the only country where Catholic Church law mandates such a “one-strike” rule.

The bishops heard from Mark Joseph Williams, a victim of clerical sex abuse who is now an adviser to the Archdiocese of Newark, who spoke of “the piercing pain of sexual abuse, a pain compounded by those who do not listen to the voices of victims.”

An online petition asking the bishops to mark the anniversary with a public apology for abuse had gathered more than 1,100 signatures on Tuesday. A message to Pope Francis that was read at the beginning of Tuesday’s meeting included words of apology for clerical sex abuse. These words were later echoed by Bishop James Johnston Jr. of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on the Protection of Children and Young People.

Another proposal, by a group of priests and laypeople, calls for a program of “restorative justice” for abuse, including a national day of prayer and penance and the provision of “trauma-informed training” for church personnel.

Francis X. Rocca covers the Vatican for The Wall Street Journal. A native of Washington, D.C., he has written on a range of topics including European politics, higher education, arts and culture. Rocca is a graduate of Harvard College and holds a master’s in liberal arts from St. John’s College (Annapolis) and a doctorate in Renaissance studies from Yale University. He is the director of a documentary film, “Voices of Vatican II: Participants Recall the Council” (2015).

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