By Patrick B. Craine

BALTIMORE, Maryland, November 16, 2010 ( – In a surprise vote that was described as a “seismic shift” by one prominent Catholic commentator, the strongly pro-life Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York today beat out controversial sitting Vice President Bishop Gerald Kicanas to become the next president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

Archbishop Dolan’s election is only the second time in history that the U.S. Bishops broke from their tradition of elevating the sitting vice president of the conference.  Bishop Kicanas of Tucson, Arizona had been expected to take the role, but was the subject of criticism in the lead-up to the election over his connection to a Chicago priest convicted of child molestation, as well as his liberal reputation on issues such as abortion and homosexuality.

Archbishop Dolan won on the third round of ballots with 128 votes to Bishop Kicanas’ 111.  Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver came in at third in each round.

“No one runs for this office. As bishops, we’re concerned with what’s going on in our own dioceses,” said Archbishop Dolan, according to the National Catholic Register.  “No one seeks this office. My brother bishops elected me.”

Archbishop Dolan has a solid reputation as an outspoken pro-life leader. He has insisted that Catholics should never honor anyone taking a pro-abortion position, and he was a strong opponent of Notre Dame's decision to honour President Obama at their 2009 commencement.  This fall, he joined the bishops of New York in calling on Catholics to make the right to life their primary concern at the ballot box.

Numerous Catholic commentators had warned that Bishop Kicanas, on the other hand, is made in the mold of his mentor Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, who is known for his support of liberal movements in the Church.  This week, Bishop Kicanas won an endorsement from the Rainbow Sash Movement, a militant ‘Catholic’ homosexualist group.

For vice president of the conference, the bishops chose Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky.  He received 147 votes to Archbishop Chaput’s 91.

Archbishop Kurtz has led the bishops’ effort to defend true marriage, and has called that battle “one of the premier social justice issues of our time.”

He warned at the bishops’ meeting yesterday that if the courts are allowed to overturn Proposition 8 – which established true marriage in California – the impact will be “akin to Roe v. Wade.”  “In a sense, today is like 1970 for marriage,” he told the bishops, according to Catholic News Agency. “If, in 1970, you knew that Roe v. Wade were coming in two or three years, what would you have done differently?”

Archbishop Dolan replaces outgoing president Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, who led the bishops’ fight to prevent public funding of abortion in the federal health care legislation.  Both Archbishops Dolan and Kurtz will serve for the next three years.

Fr. Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, congratulated the pair, saying “they have been unequivocal in their defense of the unborn, which for our ministry is the primary focus. They have welcomed and encouraged the work of Priests for Life, and for that we are grateful.”

On Archbishop Dolan’s election, Rocco Palmo, the well known Catholic commentator and writer of the Whispers in the Loggia blog, said: “Overturning a half-century of tradition for the bench, the result represents a seismic shift for the leadership of the nation's largest religious body, and a mandate for a continuance of the outspoken, high-profile leadership shown by Cardinal Francis George over his game-changing tenure at the conference's helm.”

See related coverage:

Newly Appointed Archbishop of New York on ND Scandal: “They Made a Big Mistake”

NY Catholic Bishops: Right to Life Outweighs other Concerns in Voting

NY Archbishop on Outspoken Abortion Teaching: I'm Just Doing My Job


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