Service, unity key to archbishop’s leadership

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., addresses a news conference following his election as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Nov. 12 in Baltimore. (CNS photo/Nancy Phelan Wiechec)
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., addresses a news conference following his election as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Nov. 12 in Baltimore. (CNS photo/Nancy Phelan Wiechec)

By Marnie McAllister, Record Assistant Editor

Archbishop of Louisville Joseph E. Kurtz was elected president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on the morning of Nov. 12 in Baltimore. In about the time it takes to run the Kentucky Derby, the bishops of the United States elected Archbishop Kurtz to a three-year term in the first round of voting.

The bishops selected Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston as the vice president a few minutes later. He was chosen over Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia in the third round of voting, 147 to 87.

With 125 votes, Archbishop Kurtz won the presidency by a wide margin. The nine other candidates for president received a total of 111 votes. Cardinal DiNardo received the second most votes for president with 25. The vice president was selected from the remaining nine candidates.

The archbishop and cardinal took office today, Nov. 14, at the close of the U.S. bishops’ fall general assembly.

Archbishop Kurtz served as the vice president of the conference for the last three years, while New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan served as president.

The Louisville archbishop faced a spate of media appearances after his election, but made time for an interview with his newspaper, The Record, on Wednesday morning, just before a scheduled appearance on “CBS This Morning.”

Archbishop Kurtz said during the phone interview from Baltimore he felt deeply honored that his brother bishops “would have such confidence and trust in me.”

He noted that the role of president is not a political position, but one focused on service and unity.

“There’s really two main words we need to be aware of,” he said. “The first is to serve. I’m called to serve my brother bishops and to serve the common good in the U.S. And the second one is that we’re together — that we find unity in Christ.”

He explained that part of the USCCB’s three-fold mission is to promote unity among the bishops around the world. The bishops’ conference also addresses matters of public policy in the United States and, finally, the conference serves “the voiceless and the vulnerable,” he said. “And boy do we have challenges as we look forward.”

One of the church’s major challenges, he said during a press conference Nov. 12, is to emphasize the church’s pastoral nature in response to Pope Francis’ call to “warm hearts and heal wounds.”

To be pastoral “means to be a shepherd and to see the person first and invite them into church,” he explained during the Wednesday morning phone interview. “I think that’s something the Holy Father has done for these months now.”

The archbishop noted that when he became a bishop 14 years ago, “I knew in my heart that the most important time I spent was my 12 years as a pastor. Being a pastor of a parish is perhaps the best preparation for any kind of work in leadership within our church,” he said.

He said during the Nov. 12 press conference that other challenges facing the bishops’ conference are:

  • Resisting what Pope Francis has called a culture of indifference. “How do we move from being an inward moving culture to turning out and looking at those in need?”
  • Welcoming people, especially those who are “voiceless and vulnerable.” Specifically, he mentioned immigrants, impoverished people, “pre-born” children and elderly people.
  • Ensuring a “robust expression” of religious freedom in the United States.

In a statement issued by the Archdiocese of Louisville immediately after his election, Archbishop Kurtz asked “for the prayers of all Catholics as the bishops’ conference strives to be a voice for those who are poor and vulnerable, for religious liberty, for the common good, and most importantly, for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Cardinal DiNardo will accompany him in this work, he noted. And that’s something he said he looks forward to.

“I was thrilled to know Cardinal DiNardo is vice president,” he said in the phone interview. “We are friends and already work together.”

Cardinal DiNardo was set to become chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Divine Worship at the conclusion of the assembly, but he had to vacate that seat when he was elected vice president.

Archbishop Kurtz also thanked the outgoing president, Cardinal Dolan, for “his inspiring and dedicated leadership” and for “keeping us together in very challenging times.” He made the latter statement at the end of the bishops’ morning session Nov. 12 and the 300 or so bishops present at the meeting responded by giving Cardinal Dolan a standing ovation.

Archbishop Kurtz closed the session by leading the bishops in prayer in which he especially asked for the intercession of the Blessed Mother.

He concluded his statement with a similar prayer: “Through the intercession of our Blessed Virgin Mary, whose wholehearted ‘yes’ is the inspiration for all of our efforts, may we cooperate with God’s grace, sustain our Church, and encourage all people of good will,” he said.

Following his election, the archbishop gave thanks to the people of the Archdiocese of Louisville for their prayers and messages of congratulations, especially those from priests, women religious, deacons and brothers, whom he described as his family.

He also said his election may pose some challenges for the archdiocese.

Particularly, he said, “there may be some challenges with scheduling. I thank them (the people of the archdiocese) for their patience and support in that.”

The archdiocese’s vicar general, Father J. Mark Spalding, will fill-in for the archbishop at liturgical events when Archbishop Kurtz is traveling.

On Friday, the newly-elected USCCB president will travel to Mexico City for a pilgrimage and encuentro (gathering) on the new evangelization. In December, he’ll travel to Washington, D.C., to meet the staff of the USCCB. Several administrative meetings and gatherings with other bishops’ conferences also will be added to his schedule, he said. In October 2014, he will attend the special synod on the family which Pope Francis announced recently.

Archbishop Kurtz’s election marked a return to the practice of electing a sitting vice president to the conference presidency. In 2010, the bishops broke from that tradition when they elected then-Archbishop Dolan as president.

The election of the New York prelate, named a cardinal in February 2012, marked the first time since the bishops’ conference was reorganized in 1966 following the Second Vatican Council that a sitting vice president who sought the presidency did not win the election. He defeated then-vice president Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz., on the third ballot.
Catholic News Service contributed to this story.

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