November 14,  2011 ( – During their annual plenary meeting today, the United States bishops elected Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston as chairman-elect of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

Cardinal O’Malley was elected in a 149-84 vote over Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit. He will take over the office from Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Houston in the new year.

O’Malley takes the helm of the committee at a critical time, when the U.S. bishops are heavily engaged in the battle to strip Obama’s health care reform law of provisions that open the door to massive increased funding of abortion and an attack on the conscience rights of health care workers.

Immediately after the vote, Fr. Frank Pavone, National Director of Priests for Life, issued a statement congratulating the cardinal.

“For the last 20 years, we have appreciated the collaborative relationship we have had with the US Bishops’ Committee on Pro-life Activities, and we look forward to increasing that collaboration under the leadership of Cardinal O’Malley,” said Pavone.

“There is no issue or challenge facing the Church that carries greater urgency and consequence for the human family than abortion. We thank the bishops for their leadership in making that clear.”

In recent years Cardinal O’Malley has had an at-times strained relationship with the United States’ pro-life movement. While known for his doctrinal orthodoxy on life and family issues, he has also been criticized by pro-life and pro-family leaders for certain prudential decisions. The most notable of these was his decision to permit and participate in an elaborate public funeral for the late pro-abortion, pro-homosexual Sen. Ted Kennedy that included three eulogies.

He has also expressed hesitancy about the idea of denying communion to pro-abortion politicians, telling in an interview in 2010 that the “only way it would work,” is if the Vatican issues a clear directive on the matter.  However, in 2004, a letter from then Cardinal Ratzinger that was intended to be given to all US bishops, but was withheld from the bishops by Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick to whom it was sent, presented very specific direction on the issue. Cardinal Francis Arinze has repeatedly affirmed those directions.

Earlier this year, O’Malley was also involved in two separate controversies relating to homosexuality: one involving his decision to allow the children of homosexual couples to attend Catholic schools, and another about his decision to cancel, and then reschedule a mass in his diocese originally intended to commemorate Boston’s Gay Pride celebrations.

At the same time, the cardinal has been a regular and prominent participant in the annual March for Life in Washington and has been outspoken in defense of the Catholic Church’s pro-life and pro-family teachings.

At the March for Life in 2009 O’Malley told that if he could only tell President Obama one thing, it would be that “life is the most important value we have to defend.”

Shortly thereafter, when Obama repealed the Mexico City Policy, O’Malley decried the decision, saying: “When we see the numbers of abortions being performed in the developing world – many of which are directed at girls in the womb – it is very disturbing to think that our country is going to be promoting this kind of assault on human life and dignity throughout the world.”

“Abortion is a great evil and anytime restrictions to abortion are lifted it is a tragedy,” he said.

As recently as September the cardinal also came out strongly against efforts to legalize assisted suicide and euthanasia in Massachusetts.

“We are called upon to defend the gospel of life with courage and resolve,” he told the members of the legal profession at the diocesan Red Mass.  “Your very profession invests in all of you a great responsibility to ensure that all laws are just.”

O’Malley also expressed his hope that Massachusetts citizens would not be “seduced by language [such as] dignity and compassion, which are means to disguise the sheer brutality of helping people to kill themselves.”

He added: “Suicide is a tragedy, one that a compassionate society should work to prevent.”