By Marnie McAllister, Record Assistant Editor
With an announcement made by the Vatican Feb. 19, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz made history for the Archdiocese of Louisville. He is the first, or possibly the second, leader of the archdiocese to serve as a member of a Vatican congregation.
Pope Francis appointed the archbishop to the Congregation for Eastern Churches Feb. 19, along with a fellow U.S. prelate, Byzantine Archbishop William C. Skurla of Pittsburgh.
So what does it mean?
The congregation, also referred to as the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, assists the Eastern Catholic churches throughout the world and the Latin-rite Catholic dioceses of the Middle East.
The appointment won’t change the archbishop’s duties here in the United States, said Cecelia Price, chief communications officer for the Archdiocese of Louisville.
Father Dale Cieslik, archivist for the Archdiocese of Louisville, said Archbishop Martin John Spalding, who led the Louisville diocese from 1850 to 1864 (before it was elevated to an archdiocese and before he became Archbishop of Baltimore), might have served on a Vatican congregation. But whether or not he did was unknown as of The Record’s deadline on Feb. 19.
No other local bishop would have been named to such a position, Father Cieslik added.
Archbishop Kurtz said in an email message from Rome that the appointment is an honor. He is at the Vatican this week to visit the curial offices as part of his role as president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“I am honored that Pope Francis has appointed me to serve as a member of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches,” he wrote in his email from Rome. “Blessed John Paul II spoke of the church as breathing from two lungs — Latin and Eastern rite.”
The image, Blessed John Paul II said in 2001, envisions two parts of one organ working in harmony to make a healthy church.
The congregation for Eastern Churches was established in 1862 and was once a part of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith. It became an independent congregation in 1917.
In addition to Archbishop Kurtz’s appointment, the pope also confirmed Argentine Cardinal Leonardo Sandri as prefect and Archbishop Cyril Vasil as secretary of the congregation.
Other new members include: Coptic Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac Sidrak of Alexandria, Egypt; Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako of Baghdad; Cardinal-designate Vincent Nichols of Westminster, England; and Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne, Australia.
Pope Francis also reappointed about 20 members to another five-year term, including: Cardinals Timothy M. Dolan of New York; William J. Levada, retired prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; Edwin F. O’Brien, grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre; and Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops.
Paulist Father Ronald G. Roberson, associate director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, was named a consultant to the congregation.
Catholic News Service contributed to this story.