Kurtz seen as a centrist Catholic leader
Kentucky archbishop to head conference
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ election of a middle-of-the-road candidate to replace Cardinal Timothy Dolan as president is being seen as a signal that American bishops are moving toward the more conciliatory policies of Pope Francis — though the new president himself said the fight against abortion will continue.
Addressing reporters Tuesday after his election at the conference in Baltimore, new USCCB President Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz emphasized his commitment “to serve the voiceless and vulnerable,” while promising that American bishops would continue to oppose same-sex marriage and abortion.
Archbishop Kurtz, 67, of Louisville, Ky., takes the post — considered the nation’s top Catholic spokesman and the primary liaison between the U.S. church and the Vatican — after three years as vice president.
“Kurtz is not seen as belonging to any party or faction,” National Catholic Reporter’s Michael Sean Winters wrote in an analysis after the vote, adding that the Louisville prelate may have been considered the candidate best suited to bridging the divide between conservative and liberal wings of American Catholicism. One sign of Archbishop Kurtz’s appeal: He was elected in the first round of voting, getting more than half the vote despite running in a 10-candidate field.
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston is the conference’s new vice president.
Coming up short in the vote were some of the more provocative candidates, including Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia and Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, who have spoken out directly against homosexuality and led initiatives distancing the Catholic faith from the gay-rights movement. Archbishop Chaput, who has acknowledged the discomfort some conservative Catholics have felt over the statements of the new pope, was defeated in a head-to-head vote against Cardinal DiNardo for the conference’s vice president post, traditionally a steppingstone to the top job.
Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, considered a progressive candidate because of his support for immigration reforms and his affiliation to the Hispanic-American community, also came up short in the vote.
Archbishop Kurtz has taken to modern social media, tweeting frequently, and throughout his career has made relationship-building a large focus of his ministry. But he has a far lower media profile than his predecessor, Cardinal Dolan of New York.
During a question-and-answer session, Archbishop Kurtz said the most important time he spent leading came during his 12 years as a pastor. The Pennsylvania native worked for more than two decades in the Diocese of Allentown before becoming bishop of Knoxville, Tenn.
He said he hopes to continue to focus on the individual and not become consumed with internal church political nuances.
“There is a culture of indifference. And now when we move from being an inward culture to looking out at those in need, the challenge in welcoming people and especially serving people that are voiceless and vulnerable spans right across the board from our work with immigration, our work in serving people who are poor and having the chance to acknowledge the needs of people from the unborn, as well as the very helpless,” he said.
On the issue of same-sex marriage, Archbishop Kurtz remained firm in his convictions on the sanctity of traditional marriage, yet still concerned with the needs of the individual.
“I would follow the lead of Pope Francis in saying, let me see the person first,” he said earlier this year in comments in the Louisville Courier-Journal.
But on the issue of abortion, however, Archbishop Kurtz gave a strong restatement of the church’s traditional stance.
“In a nation founded on the self-evident truth that all are created with an inalienable right to life, the deliberate destruction of unborn children at their most vulnerable stage is a travesty. It is a violent response that does not serve women, children, families or the common good,” he said.
Archbishop Joseph Kurtz (left) of Louisville, Ky., speaks with Cardinal Timothy Dolan, of New York, the man he succeeds as president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Archbishop Kurtz was elected president during the conference’s annual fall meeting in Baltimore on Tuesday.