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.
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.
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…