Archbishop meets local press after his election

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz met with reporters at the Chancery on Nov. 15, three days after his election as president of the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The archbishop told reporters that, because of the Internet, he thought he would be able to do a lot of the conference’s work online, and that he’d probably be away from the archdiocese only 25 percent of the time. (Record Photo by Marnie McAlister)

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz met with reporters at the Chancery on Nov. 15, three days after his election as president of the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The archbishop told reporters that, because of the Internet, he thought he would be able to do a lot of the conference’s work online, and that he’d probably be away from the archdiocese only 25 percent of the time. (Record Photo by Marnie McAllister)

By Marnie McAllister, Record Assistant Editor

While Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz’s new post as president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops will take him away from the Archdiocese of Louisville at times, he sees his new position as a good thing for the local church.

“I see it as being a mutual benefit,” he said during a meeting with the press at the Chancery Nov. 15. “We will learn from what is happening throughout the rest of the country and maybe throughout the rest of the world. We will also have a chance to share our most promising practices with others,” he told the dozen or so reporters seated before him.

The archbishop estimates he’ll spend about a quarter of his time on USCCB business. And much of his work for the conference can be accomplished in his Chancery office, he said.

“Thank God for the Internet, because already today I was able to remain very active and present here in the Archdiocese of Louisville and the city of Louisville and already (gave) an hour to the work of the conference,” he said. “I’m able to do much of the work right at my desk.”

The archbishop acknowledged that even before his election he kept a full schedule. He returned earlier this week from a previously scheduled pilgrimage and meeting in Mexico. And today, Nov. 21, he’s in Chicago for a board meeting of Catholic Extension, another responsibility that pre-dates his election.

He said during an interview last week that his new position will take him away for periodic meetings with the USCCB administration and with other bishops’ conferences, plus meetings in Rome.

“I’m not beginning by assuming that there would be a change” in his schedule, the archbishop said. “I think what will happen is I’ll keep the exact same schedule, but if I get called away, we’ll try to come up with an alternate way of doing things.”

When his schedule is interrupted, local Catholics expecting the archbishop at a liturgical
celebration, for instance, may instead encounter the archdiocese’s vicar general, Father J. Mark Spalding, or Father Jeffrey Shooner, vicar for clergy and director of the vocation office.

Father Spalding said during an interview in his office at the chancery that he, Father Shooner and the chancellor of the archdiocese, Dr. Brian B. Reynolds, will fill-in for the archbishop in a variety of ways as needed.

They have discussed and studied “whose gifts work with what situation,” Father Spalding said. “There is a certain expectation (on the archbishop’s part) that, ‘I need you all to work together so things work well for the Archdiocese of Louisville.’ The archbishop told me we are all going to take this one day at a time.”

While the added responsibility will mean more work for Father Spalding — who in addition to his duties at the chancery is also pastor of Holy Trinity Church — he said he looks forward to it.

“One of the great blessings is I have the opportunity to preside at confirmations,” Father Spalding said. “That allows me to experience the variety of parishes in the archdiocese and connect with brother priests and pastors. And that’s a good thing.”

Father Spalding said the archdiocese began preparing for the possibility of the archbishop’s presidency when he was elected vice president in 2010. The bishops traditionally elect the sitting vice president to the presidency, though they broke with that tradition in 2010. They returned to the practice with the election of Archbishop Kurtz.

During Friday’s press conference, one reporter asked the archbishop if he’d had time to reflect on the significance of his new role.

He cautioned reporters not to see the bishops’ election as a political process and noted, “I feel fairly calm and serene and I hope I continue that.”

Holding the presidency and other offices of the USCCB “is an act of service,” he said. “There’s not winners or losers. It’s an act of presenting ourselves in service to Christ and his people. As long as I keep that in mind, of serving, that’s going to be easy to do.”

To prepare for his new role, the archbishop said he planned to consult his predecessors, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, the outgoing president, and Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago.

The new role will come with opportunities to meet with Pope Francis and “build relationships” with Congress and the administration of President Barack Obama, the archbishop said.

In the midst of his new duties, the archbishop said he will continue to make time for his monthly retreat at the Abbey of Gethsemani. His next visit is scheduled for the day after Thanksgiving.

“I’ll have all of Friday and all of Saturday as a wonderful opportunity prayerfully to reflect,” he said. “That’s going to be important for me and I plan to continue that.”

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