Dolan New USCCB Prez – UPDATED

For American Catholics who pay attention, today’s big news is the surprise election of Archbishop Timothy Dolan as President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Dolan counts himself among the surprised
(Photo: CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

Personally, I think this is a terrific selection. Dolan is a very pastoral, humble and joyful presence. He is faithful, but for the most part he does not come down like a hammer (his parlays with the NY Times notwithstanding).

Our bishops are charged to teach the faith in season and out, rather than to conform to times and trends, and to care for the flock like good shepherds – neither allowing the sheep to roam into danger, nor corralling them too tightly. In a church that is under stress I think Dolan’s intelligence and steadfastness, his strong leadership skills, his respect for (and among) his peers and his ability to get beyond the pulpit–to preach Christ Crucified in a clear and uncomplicated way–will be a tremendous boon to both bishops and the faithful, as we endure difficult times together.

His term will be for three years. Sr. Mary Ann Walsh had briefly profiled the possible prexies, and among their number Tucson’s Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas had been presumed to succeed outgoing president Cardinal Francis George:

For the first time in the history of the US bishops, a vice-president standing for the presidency has been denied the top post, losing a stunning election to the archbishop of New York. [. . .] Overturning a half-century of tradition for the bench, the result represents a seismic shift for the leadership of the nation’s largest religious body, and a mandate for a continuance of the outspoken, high-profile leadership shown by Cardinal Francis George over his game-changing tenure at the conference’s helm.

Grant Gallicho wonders if Kicanas had been harmed by continuing controversy regarding his handling of this abuse case, and whether a “conservative” movement against Kicanas contributed to his loss.

It’s possible. Heaven knows, competing factions claim primary concerns over victims as it suits their interests.

It’s also possible that the bishops simply did not want to have to deal with every study, finding, pronouncement or teaching released by the USCCB being overshadowed by some variation of : “USCCB president, Kicanas–who has been criticized for his handling–while rector of Mundelein seminary–of complaints about a seminarian who later was ordained and is now laicized and in prison…”

Kicanas and Dolan are both good bishops; let us hope these elections will not be characterized along ideological lines. If that happens, then both men will find themselves tarnished by unfair assumptions which will casually be made about them by non-thinking reactionaries, and that would be too bad.

I am certain that no one who is disappointed in the defeat of Kicanas intends to imply anything negative about Dolan, and that those who rejoice at Dolan’s election in no way mean to denigrate Kicanas; I know I certainly don’t. But just the fact that “progressive” and “conservative” factions exist on the parameters of the story means that both men will be viewed, even mildly, with some suspicion or distrust by those members of the faithful who choose to identify themselves along political lines, and that is unjust. Our swampy political perspectives–if we view everything by them–too quickly taint too many.

Can we allow ourselves to view this election has having less to do with factions, or even media-matters, and more to do with the movement of the Holy Spirit? After all, even some of Joseph Ratzinger’s harshest critics have come around to admitting that the Holy Spirit managed to get Benedict XVI’s election right.

So, let us take a breath, fellow Catholics, and wish both Kicanas and Dolan well.

Kicanas’ gracious post-election statement:

A priest’s life is all about service – service to the People of God, service to the Church and its mission. I have been honored these past three years with the opportunity to serve our Church, its mission and the People of God as the vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. I have grown in my regard for the staff of the Conference, especially Msgr. David Malloy and the senior staff, for the untiring work they do on our behalf. Serving as vice president has been a marvelous experience.

I respect the wisdom of my brother bishops in choosing their new president and vice-president. I greatly appreciated their expressions of thanks to me for my service as vice-president. Archbishop Timothy Dolan has been a long time friend since our seminary work together. I know of his great wit, jovial spirit, keen ability to relate to people in a deeply personal way and his exceptional leadership qualities. These will certainly serve the Conference well as he begins his term as president.

I look forward to continuing to do whatever I can to further the work of the Conference. I really look forward to being able to focus on the needs of our Diocese – supporting our priests, women and men religious, deacons and lay people in the Diocese of Tucson, whom I have grown to love deeply.

The AP headlines have certainly emphasized the word “upset” and gone to all the usual places for quotes. But then I guess “upset” always makes for a provocative headline, and the piece itself is well done.

In the photo here Archbishop Chaput’s expression is priceless!

Deacon Greg has a nice round-up of reactions.

Check back for updates as I find more reactions. I am hoping to get video of Dolan’s first remarks. (Via)

Lisa Graas

UPDATE: Margaret Cabaniss gets us acquainted with Dolan’s Number Two. Or would he be his Number One? I know what Capt. Picard would say…

Dolan on Dorothy Day
Dolan on Haiti
Dolan for NY

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  • JohnG

    Odd, but it seems to me that Bishop Kicanas’s praise of Archbishop Dolan is faint, at best.

    Nowhere in his statement do I see him congratulating Archb. Dolan nor do I see any offering of his best wishes for the future.

    Lots of effusive statements about qualities Archb. Dolan has, but then one would expect that, no?

    I pray that bishop Kicanas can come to peace with the choice of his fellow Bishops with the passage of time.

  • Barbara

    YES!!! The Holy Spirit at work. Archbishop Dolan has seen through Obama on abortion. Kicanas et al are Obamacare diehards – worse than their squishiness on pedophile priests. We’ll see real reform of Catholic Charities, too.

  • Ellen

    Dear Elizabeth,

    I so enjoyed reading this piece on Archbishop Dolan.

    I also want to take this opportunity to let you know that even though I’m not Catholic (I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Methodist), I am a faithful reader of your wonderful blog. Blessings on you and your work!

  • Tantumblogo

    Define “good bishop.” I’m not saying that neither man fits that description, I’m just curious what you define as a good bishop.

    I do not know if I accept the premise that it is somehow “political” to expect solid catechetical leadership from the head of the USCCB. He is, for better or worse, something of the voice of the Church in the US. Bishop Kicanas has a certain record in this regard, Bishop Dolan has a rather different record. Is it “political” to give preference to a bishop, priest, etc., who more clearly and forcefully defends the Truth revealed by Christ through His Church?

  • Bender

    Yes, the Political Catholics, on both the right and the left, are characterizing this in political terms.

    Perhaps this is a good time, then, for the Conference to get out of the public policy business. Perhaps it is time to abolish 80 percent of the departments at the USCCB and eliminate 80 percent of the staff. Have the bishops’ conference focus on their true mission, the “threefold function of teaching, sanctifying and governing,” as Pope Benedict said to the bishops of Brazil on Monday.

  • Gail F

    I don’t know anything about Bishop Kicanas, except the claims that he knew about a seminarian who had had three same-sex incidents (one with a minor) when drunk, and that he was “more worried about his drinking.”

    I don’t know how much truth there was to that, but I do know the Church in America doesn’t need three years of SNAP et al attacking the USCCB.

    I have also heard that he was a protege of Abp. Bernadine, who was once bishop of our Archdiocese (though long before I lived here). I don’t know that it’s particularly political for the bishops to say, as they seem to have said, that the Bernadine style of leadership has had its day.

  • Chantel

    It is time for a change and a gentler kinder Catholic. I believe it is possible that he will be able to friendly encourage those who have left to come back.

  • Roger_the_Shrubber

    My main gripe with the USCCB is their lobbying for illegal immigration. They should stay out of that one and start excommunicating abortion-happy “Catholic” politicians like Nancy Pelosi. Perhaps Dolan is the man to do that.

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  • Dede Miller – founder

    I’m all for change and especially so if it brings about positive change. I say we give him a chance to show us how he can be a leader. We need someone who can be both a leader and a public friend.

  • SKAY

    Good news!

  • Jeff

    While I like Dolan a lot, I still don’t see the need for the USCCB. Didn’t the Church in America get along without it for years? It just seems like another collectivist bureaucracy that diminishes the teaching authority of individual bishops.

  • Dave G

    Don’t discount Kicanas’s lefty views on illegal immigration as a rationale for choosing someone else to lead the USCCB.

  • Doc

    Gail, if that story is true I’m alarmed that Bishop Kicanas was permitted to ascend to position he held up until now. Drinking is not a grave sin. Sodomy certainly is.

  • Momma Kyle

    Does this mean that the USCCB will stop giving money to ACORN?

  • jh

    “My main gripe with the USCCB is their lobbying for illegal immigration”

    Roger the Church is not lobbying for illegal immigration. It is lobbying for a sane compromise on immigration reform.

    It is lobbying against insane measures that say American Children of illegal measures cannot get state issued birth certificates, ore be treated like lepers compared to others

  • jh

    “Don’t discount Kicanas’s lefty views on illegal immigration as a rationale for choosing someone else to lead the USCCB.”

    I am not sure there is a standard “left” or “right” view on the issues regarding illegal immigration. There are many organziations on the “right” that support immigration reform

    By the way Archsbihop Dolan has from what I can tell the exact same views as Kicanas as to the illegal immigration issues The same views the “conservative” Bishops such as Chaput, and Cardinal Chaput have.

    I fully expect Archsbihop Dolan to be fully involved in a forceful manner as to this.

    [The immigration debate and abortion debates demonstrate that Catholics do not fit comfortably (or walk in lockstep) with either party, but consider each issue on its own. -admin]

  • jh


    I think the USSB can be useful if reformed. THe problem with the USSB to me is that a lot of hired “experts” pn staff issue papers that I supect the Bishops rarely look at.

    I have always said as a former Baptist that if the USSB was more like the Southern Baptist Convention in some ways as to influence and setting a message that would be good.

    The fact is we now live in a society where many people don’t live in the same place or Diocese all their lives. We are a much more mobile society. So we all have a vested interest more than ever to make sure things are going right all over the place.

    The one big failing of the USSB is it seems not to promote what is going right in some Dioceses and perhaps urge other Bishops to examine it. FOr instance why does the Diocese of Austin have a lot of Vocations and other places do not. Why are some Catholic schools in some Dioceses very healthy and others are not.

    Further the USSB if it was funded properly perhaps could be a great source of bringing the Catholic news. Can one imagine if the USSB promoted on a national level with serious resources the Catholic Come Home movement that has had such success.

    While I agree with the Holy Father on the proper place of the Bishop Conference and that it does not supercede the local Bishop there is still a lot of rroom in many areas where the USSB can be a force of great good.

  • Jeff

    Well I might like it better if they could at least get a good national Catholic radio station up. It seems like the protestants have so many. Like the guy who is predicting the end of the world on May 21, 2011. Can’t remember his name.

    Do we have any?

  • jh

    I think most Catholic radio is a local affair. Besides EWTN I can;t think of anthing national.

  • Lisa Graas

    This is all great news! I’m very happy about the choice for Dolan. I would have picked Chaput, but I’m the “Catholic Taliban”, or so they say. Love Dolan. He’ll be good for us, all in all.

  • Lisa Graas

    Mommy Kyle, they’ve stopped giving money to ACORN, but continue to fund similar groups. We need to pray for the reform effort.

  • Dave G

    JH — you seem to have much to say. First, Catholic radio — Sirius/XM has a Catholic channel that is nationwide.

    second, the beef many of us have with the bishops and their stand on illegal immigration is that they use their pulpit to try to convince us that asking that immigrants respect OUR laws is a moral failing on OUR part. I’ll have none of it. And their is no sanity in allowing children Of illegals (anchor babies) immediate citizenship. “Immigration reform” as you speak of it is amnesty for all. For most of us it is to close and arm the border, punish employers who hire illegals, and refuse citizenship to anchor babies.

  • c matt

    the end of the world on May 21, 2011

    Bummer, that’s my brother’s birthday. He’ll be disappointed.

  • jh

    “And their is no sanity in allowing children Of illegals (anchor babies) immediate citizenship. “

    Dave the question if we should continue to have Birthright Citizenship is a open one. The fact is now we DO!! Therefore the majority cannot just treat American Citizens differently on a whim. If we want to get rid of Birthright Citizenship then we do it in the proper way.

    Are we comfortable with a bill that was just intorduced in the Texas State Legislature yesterday that denied illegal aliens all access to the Court system for any matter?

    I do agree some Bishops are have not been proper spokesmen for immigration reform However it is folly not to recognize that the Bishops also have (many of them) also talked about the responsibility of immigrants / illegal aalien that if they were to become Citizens they would have meet certain obligations and requirement. In fact the Bill that the Bishops were behind in 2007 would have dpeorted million of illegals that would not have qualified in meeting those standards.

    Again the Bishops position is usually a lot nuanced.

    Here is the deal. During Hurricane Katrina I saw a lot of Conservative hire folks that were likely illegals to repair their homes. They had no choice in many ways. If we want to be Fiar and Just about the law then we should make such acts FELONIES. But the problem is that will never happen (and perhaps should not). There has been a lot of breaking the “law” by both sides over the last 30 years that has got us to this problem. Justice demands that the punihiment perhaps not just falls on one group and their should be some mitigation

  • Jeff

    I’m with Dave G. The USCBB (an annoying acronym) loses all credibility as a Catholic voice when it suggests, implies and all but declares that amnesty is the proper solution to illegal immigration. This is a political view, not a Christian one. It isn’t Christian to ask law abiding tax-paying citizens (and recent legal immigrants) to turn a blind eye to illegal conduct. it also sets a terrible example for compliance with all other laws, civil and religious. For example, why should I bother to obey the laws of the Church, when it is ok for millions to disobey the laws of “Caesar.” They should get off that horse quickly.

    [I find USCCB to be a very useful acronym, as I'd rather not write it all out again. I am one who supported Bush's comprehensive immigration reform, and the bishop's too. America brought this on herself by not enforcing her immigration laws for almost 4 decades and allowing her NIS to all-but disintegrate. The NIS badly needs reform, and immigration laws need to be enforced, but America is also going to have to deal with the fact that she ALLOWED illegals to form lives here for decades and decades, and treat those people fairly and humanely. "Ship them all back" will not work, not when you're talking MILLIONS of people, most of whom are law-abiding folk who just want to live their lives, do their work and raise their families. This is one issue where I break completely from the "conservative" stance. -admin]

  • LarryD

    Liz Elizabeth – I apologize in advance for the self-promotion, but here’s a reaction to Dolan’s election I know you won’t find anywhere else.

    [Fixed it for you -admin]

  • Tantumblogo

    I think Bender is mostly right, but I might offer that the Church survived, somehow, for 2 millenia without national bishops conferences, and I would rather seem them all done away with. I am not a big fan of Cardinal Spellman’s legacy, the bureaucratization of much of the Church.

  • Dave G

    There is no “ship them all back” push. When the opportunities for illegals evaporate here, they will quite neatly repatriate themselves. The “ship them all back” canard is a straw man.

  • jeff

    Can’t agree with you on this one Anchoress. The responsible party is the person who entered our country illegally, not the country itself. Your argument is like saying that because crime occurs the country is responsible for it.

    [I didn't expect you to agree. We're allowed to disagree. But the country did not do due diligence for some decades. It needs to do the right thing by human beings. And I'm not going to go round and round on this. If you want to replay the tapes, you can look at the illegal immigration screamfests of 2005-2006. My positions have not changed. Nor, I'm sure, have yours! :-) -admin]

  • LarryD

    Elizabeth – mea culpa!

  • jeff

    Fair enough. But let’s see how mexico reacts when hordes of americans flee obama into their country, and demand citizenship. I wonder what the usccb wll say then. We know that mexican law has no tolerance for it. In the words of BXVI, where is the reciprocity?

    [Why must there be reciprocity? What other nations do or don't do should have no bearing at all on whether or not we do the right thing. -admin]

  • J

    This new bishop is described as a moderate.
    It is because of “moderates” that we have the likes of Kerry, Pelosi, etc.

    I really believe it will take a clear speaker and a strong conservative to battle the seeping abortion/euthenize (sp)brigade that is winning the day.

  • Madeline

    He is on the fast track to becoming a Cardinal. Maybe the first American pope? I hope so. He is a good man.

  • jeff

    But the point is most every country in the world outlaws illegal immigration. There is nothing unjust about maintaining the integrity of borders. Amnesty dilutes our sovereignty.