In his final address as president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York outlined a series of steps U.S. bishops could take to protect religious freedom around the world, “a central social and political concern of our time.” Speaking at the opening of the U.S. bishops fall general assembly in Baltimore on Nov. 11, Cardinal Dolan recited a sad litany of acts of oppression and persecution primarily against Christian minority communities around the world.
“We as bishops, as shepherds of one of the most richly blessed communities of faith on the planet, as pastors who have spoken with enthusiastic unity in defense of our own religious freedom, must become advocates and champions for these Christians whose lives literally hang in the balance, as we dare not allow our laudable battles over religious freedom at home to obscure the actual violence being inflicted on Christians elsewhere,” the cardinal said. The cardinal asked bishops to raise awareness of the global plight of Christians and urged them to contact political leaders to persuade them to make the protection of “at-risk Christians a foreign policy priority.”
The responsibility to coordinate the conference toward that goal now falls on Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., who on Nov. 12 was elected to succeed Cardinal Dolan. Previously U.S.C.C.B. vice president, Archbishop Kurtz’ elevation marks a return to past practice for the conference, which typically moves the previous term’s vice president into the top spot. In 2010, Cardinal Dolan’s election over then vice president Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, marked a break with that tradition. Archbishop Kurtz won on the first round of balloting with 125 votes. In the voting for vice president, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston was elected during the third round of voting, defeating Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia, 147 to 87. The terms of the new president and vice president began at the conclusion of the General Assembly on Nov. 14.
Archbishop Kurtz was born Aug. 18, 1946, and ordained a priest for the Diocese of Allentown, Pa., on March 18, 1972. He previously served as bishop of Knoxville, Tenn., from 1999 to 2007 before being appointed to Louisville. Cardinal DiNardo was born May 23, 1949, and ordained a priest for Pittsburgh on June 16, 1977. He previously served as bishop of Sioux City, Iowa, from 1998 to 2004 before being appointed coadjutor bishop, then archbishop, of Galveston-Houston. Pope Benedict XVI named him a cardinal in 2007, making him the first cardinal from Texas.
Early in the assembly, the bishops discussed the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family, called by Pope Francis for next October. Cardinal Dolan said he is awaiting clarification from the Holy See about how preparatory material, such as the answers to a questionnaire sent to the world’s bishops’ conferences, will be used. In the meantime, several bishops said they are already using the questionnaire to consult with their priests’ councils or other diocesan organizations. Bishop Robert N. Lynch of St. Petersburg, Fla., suggested the U.S. bishops create several ways that everyday Catholics could respond to the questions on faith and family life posed by the Vatican, including an online survey. In other business the bishops voted to proceed with development of a pastoral statement on the dangers pornography poses to family life, which should be completed by 2015. They approved several steps toward adapting the Mexican Misal Romano for use in the United States.
A guest speaker of the assembly’s was Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, who told the bishops on Nov. 11: “The Holy Father wants bishops in tune with their people.… he made a special point of saying that he wants pastoral bishops, not bishops who profess or follow a particular ideology.” The nuncio said it would be “primarily by her conduct and by her life that the church will evangelize the world, in other words by her living witness of fidelity to the Lord Jesus.”
He said, “No one can dispute the clear fact that our present Holy Father himself, as the Supreme Teacher, is giving us by his own witness, an example of how to live a life attuned to the values of the Gospel.
“While each of us must take into consideration our adaptability to the many different circumstances and cultures in which we live and the people whom we serve,” he said, “there has to be a noticeable lifestyle characterized by simplicity and holiness of life. This is a sure way to bring our people to an awareness of the truth of our message.