Describing himself surprised and humbled by the honor, New York Archbishop Tim Dolan downplayed suggestions that his election represented a break with U.S.C.C.B. tradition. Tucson Bishop Gerald Kicanas, as vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for the expiring term, was widely expected to be elected U.S.C.C.B. president in keeping with a practice that has been consistent over five decades. “It seems to be a surprise,” Archbishop Dolan eventually allowed, “a nice surprise.”
Archbishop Dolan also downplayed the role of what might be described as politicking for the president’s office this year. Conservative Catholic bloggers and news sites were openly calling for anyone but Bishop Kicanas to be elected; e-mails and faxes to the bishops were apparently piling up in the bishop’s Baltimore hotel rooms and there has been a perception on the floor here in Baltimore that an organized campaign was working to promote Archbishop Dolan over Bishop Kicanas. Archbishop Dolan said he did not think bishops would be moved by such efforts, which he described as not uncommon at previous general assembly. “I have felt the heel of blogger attacks myself,” he said.
"We take our autonomy very seriously," Archbishop Dolan said. “I think the bishops usually bristle if they felt any pressure from outside." He added that it was an indication of how seriously the bishops appreciate their responsibility at the general assembly that they did not wish to vote a “shoo-in” into the job as conference president.
The New York prelate added that he intended no dramatic redirection for the U.S.C.C.B. “Our positions and priorities are basically inherited,” he said. He said specifically on health care that he intended to continue the policy of the previous U.S.C.C.B. executive, presumably watchful waiting on the outcome of the reform process and the possibility of federal resources used to pay for abortions through federal subsidized health care insurance. “The bishops of the United States are in a somewhat delicate position [regarding health care reform],” he said. “The bishops have been promoting [universal health care] for nine decades,” Archbishop Dolan said. “We should have been turning cartwheels” after the health care vote. Instead he said they found themselves with major reservations.
Archbishop Dolan declined to interpret the results of the 2010 elections. He said there would likely be plenty of interpretation in the media (there is). He acknowledged that pundits like to classify bishops according to their attentiveness to social justice issues or a keener interest in abortion and gay marriage. “But we bishops see those as part of a package deal and we don’t feel that cleavage between the two.” On the “essentials” of the faith, he said, all the bishops agree.
One observer of the conference was a little more willing to interpret results. He called the presidential vote, coupled with the bishops’ rejection of an increase of the diocesan assessment for the conference, evidence of a rising “Catholic Tea Party” among conservative church leaders. He added that the wave of bad press Bishop Kicanas received in recent weeks may have been just enough to embolden some bishops to break with tradition and vote for Dolan. Dolan was trailing Kicanas by 20 votes after the first ballot.
“Kicanas is perceived as a ‘conference’ man,” this observer said, “and there are some bishops here who don’t like the conference.” He wondered how well the bishops will work together in the U.S.C.C.B. after “they just embarrassed their vice president.”