By Kathleen Gilbert

WASHINGTON, D.C., November 18, 2009 ( – Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of the Galveston-Houston Diocese in Texas will be taking over as the next Chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' (USCCB) Committee on Pro-Life Activities.  DiNardo, who was elected for the position last year, will replace Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia at the conclusion of the USCCB 2009 Fall General Assembly Thursday. 

The transition comes at a critical time, as the U.S. bishops' stance on life issues has come to play a leading role in the national debate surrounding health care reform.

Cardinal DiNardo has agreed there is a need for health care reform in broad terms, but strongly emphasized the critical requirement for any such legislation to protect the unborn and the vulnerable.

“After receiving materials regarding the health care debate from the U.S. Bishops' Conference yesterday, I am compelled to urge the Catholic faithful to pray that Congress will act to insure that needed reform will truly protect the life, dignity and health care of all,” Cardinal DiNardo said in a statement October 29. “We need reform that protects life, not threatens it.”

The sentiments reflect those of Cardinal Rigali, who has recently drawn national attention by representing the U.S. bishops' basic pro-life requirements for health care reform.  Because the USCCB's stamp of approval is a deciding factor for several conservative House Democrats on pro-life issues, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was unexpectedly forced earlier this month to open the House bill to a USCCB-backed amendment that mirrored the Hyde amendment.

Like his predecessor, DiNardo has a reputation for taking a stand for Catholic Church teaching on the sanctity of life.

At the “Red Mass” marking the beginning of the U.S. judicial year last month, Cardinal DiNardo admonished several members of the U.S. Supreme Court in attendance to give “radical support” for the unborn. “In some cases the clients are voiceless for they lack influence; in others they are literally voiceless, not yet with tongues and even without names, and require our most careful attention and radical support,” he said.

DiNardo was the fourth out of 80 active U.S. bishops and the first cardinal to speak out against the University of Notre Dame's decision to honor President Obama at its commencement exercises earlier this year.

Deirdre McQuade, the spokeswoman for the USCCB's Pro-Life Secretariat, told (LSN) today that the secretariat was “deeply grateful for Cardinal Rigali's untiring service” and looked forward to working with Cardinal DiNardo, whom she said was “passionate about the pro-life movement.”

According to testimony from members of DiNardo's Texas diocese, said McQuade, the cardinal regularly weaves pro-life sentiments into his homilies.  “You can see he's just deeply committed to the defense of human life,” she said, pointing to the Cardinal's many discourses on life issues.