U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, for the first time since the 1960’s, denied their sitting vice president, Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson the promotion to the top job and instead elected New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan as president. Press reports said Kicanas was seen as having a more “moderate style” than some more orthodox bishops.
Conflict and politics is no stranger to the Roman Catholic Church and the bishops in the American church conference have been debating how to address the decline in church membership and strategies to uphold the church’s teachings in the face of scandals over clergy abuse.
Archbishop Dolan won 54% to 46% on the third round of balloting at the annual fall meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He replaces Chicago’s Francis Cardinal George as president. The Conference also elected Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky as vice president 62% to 38% over Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput.
The winning candidates seemed to position themselves as more outspoken in defending church teaching. While Dolan has not gone so far as to deny the sacrament to Catholic politicians who are seen as favoring abortion rights, he was thought to be a stricter defender of church orthodoxy in a style favored by many theological conservatives than Kicanas who urged Catholic voters to ban gay marriage and oppose abortion. Kicanas instead urged bishops and Catholic university presidents to start a discussion about their differences. But the bishops were having none of it.
Let’s face it, as Anglicans we have had our own share of conflict so we recognize the impact of these contentious decisions among our Roman friends. While our own views are considerably more “moderate” on many of the issues debated by the Catholic bishops they are still struggling to confront the central reality they face. Many of the Catholic faithful have not lost faith in Christ or in the Church but in their leaders who tolerated unspeakable acts of abuse of children in their midst and covered it up or ignored it while hypocritically preaching intolerance over same sex relationships and a woman’s right to control over her own body and other issues of conscience.
The bishops are going to have to do more than preach orthodoxy to restore that trust. And the faithful must redeem the church by holding those accountable to Caesar for violations of the law while they pray to God for healing, renewal and hope.