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"A Fine Choice": Our Experts on the New USCCB President, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz

Archdiocese Louisville

Brantly Millegan - published on 11/13/13

By returning to custom and electing the sitting vice president, the bishops have signaled that the sea-change inaugurated by Cardinal Dolan is meant to be permanent.

Yesterday, Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s three year term as president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) ended and a new president was elected: Joseph E. Kurtz, Archbishop of Louisville.

Archbishop Kurtz served as vice president under Cardinal Dolan. With his election, the conference has returned to the custom of choosing the vice president to succeed the president, a custom that was not followed with the election of Cardinal Dolan in 2010.

According to Catholic News Agency, the new president “served as Bishop of Knoxville from 1999-2007. He was a priest of the Diocese of Allentown, Pa. for 27 years, with a special focus in social services, diocesan administration, and parish ministry. He served as the director of the diocese’s Catholic Charities affiliate from 1988 to 1998 and was an executive director of the diocese’s Catholic Social Agency and Family Life Bureau.”

Currently, “he is the vice chancellor of the board of the Catholic Extension Society and an adviser to the Catholic Social Workers National Association, the Archdiocese of Louisville website says. He is on the board of directors of the National Catholic Bioethics Center and on the advisory board to the cause for the canonization of Servant of God Archbishop Fulton Sheen.”

Life Site Newspoints out that Archbishop Kurtz was “the moving force behind the 2012 Vatican-approved blessing for children in the womb that was written to encourage parish prayers for and recognition of the precious gift of the child in the womb, and to foster respect for human life within society.”

We asked our Aleteia Experts what they thought of the choice.

“A Faithful Shepherd”

“Archbishop Kurtz is an excellent choice as president of the Bishops' conference,” says Tim Drake, New Evangelization Coordinator with the Holdingford Area Catholic Community in the Diocese of St. Cloud. “He has been one of the Church's strongest voices in support of marriage. He utilizes the new media with his Twitter feed.”

“While Archbishop Kurtz isn't the headline-maker that Cardinal Dolan is, he is a faithful shepherd who will ably lead the Bishops' conference.”

James Likoudis, President Emeritus of Catholics United for the Faith, agrees. “I believe it a fine choice.”

“I have met the Archbishop a number of times and admire him for the pastoral care he has given his priests and laity. He was the Chairman of a Bishops’ Committee that issued an excellent Pastoral Letter on Marriage. He has also given warm support to the Church Teaches Forum which meets annually in Louisville, KY, and brings to a wide audience some excellent Cardinals, bishops and priest speakers.”

“The Archbishop is known for his fidelity to the Magisterium and certainly his influence will have a positive effect on his fellow USCCB bishops who have to deal with some grave moral problems, especially regarding marriage and family life.”

Not Well-Known, but Probably the Plan All Along

But if you hadn’t heard of him before, or didn’t know much about him, you’re not alone. “To be quite honest, I know little about him,” says Fr. C. John McCloskey, Church historian and Research Fellow at the Faith and Reason Institute in Washington DC.

Fr. Joseph Fessio, SJ, founder and editor of Ignatius Press, admits the same, but says he sees a broader strategy being employed by the bishops.“I don’t personally know much about him. But the fact that the same bishops who broke with longstanding custom to elect Cardinal Dolan instead of the then Vice-President Bishop Kicanas also elected Archbishop Kurtz as the new Vice-President is very significant.”

“Dolan’s election marked a sea-change in the U.S. episcopacy. Bishops are very loathe to criticize fellow-bishops publicly. And whatever their inclinations doctrinally or politically, they are intelligent enough to know that the non-election of Kicanas was and would be seen as a criticism both of Kicanas and of what could be called the ‘Bernardin wing’ of the episcopate.”

“Well, they wouldn’t take such a dramatic step in electing Dolan and at the same time elect a vice-president of a different persuasion. While breaking with the ‘VP to President’ custom was a major event, it wasn’t intended as a change in general policy. The best way to bring about, and signal, a change of direction was to make a clear break by electing Dolan; the best way to perpetuate that change was quietly to install the man who would succeed him and then go back to ‘business as usual’. Bishops, like Jesuits, whether good or bad are shrewd. The election of Cardinal DiNardo as VP confirms the thesis.”

The following Aleteia Experts contributed to this article:

Tim Drake is the New Evangelization Coordinator with the Holdingford Area Catholic Community in the Diocese of St. Cloud, Minnesota. He is an award-winning journalist, the author of six books on religion and culture, and a former radio host.

Fr. Joseph Fessio is a Catholic priest of the Jesuit order and the founder and editor of Ignatius Press. He was the founding provost of Ave Maria University until March 2007.

James Likoudis is a former college instructor in History and Government and is President Emeritus of Catholics United for the Faith.

Fr. C. John McCloskey is a Church historian and Research Fellow at the Faith and Reason Institute in Washington DC. His personal website is www.frmccloskey.com.

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