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US bishops break precedent, elect Archbishop Dolan as conference president

November 16, 2010

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has elected New York's Archbishop Timothy Dolan as president, in a vote that marks a major break from tradition.

In every previous election, the US hierarchy had elected the sitting vice-president of the USCCB to succeed the outgoing president. But Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, Arizona, who had been vice-president, encountered controversy because of his involvement in the case of a Chicago priest who has been convicted on multiple counts of molesting boys.

While the rector at Chicago's Mundelein seminary, the future Bishop Kicanas approved the ordination of Daniel McCormack, despite clear evidence that McCormack had been in involved in homosexual activities. Bishop Kicanas has defended his handling of the case, saying that there was no evidence the seminarian had engaged in abusive behavior.

The election of Bishop Kicanas as USSB president appeared a near-certainty until the week before the bishops' meeting, when Catholic journalists led by Tim Drake of the National Catholic Register began questioning whether the election of a leader tainted by his mishandling of a notorious abuser would severely damage the credibility of the bishops' conference. That question was clearly on the minds of many bishops as the voting began on Tuesday, November 16.

A first round of voting was inconclusive, with Bishop Kicanas winning a plurality of the votes but falling well short of the majority needed for election. In a second round Archbishop Dolan-- who had run a strong second on the first ballot-- took the lead, but again fell short of a majority. A third vote was decisive.

The USCCB membership chose Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky as the vice-president of the conference. Under the rules of the USCCB, Bishop Kicanas could not succeed himself in that post.

Archbishop Dolan told the Catholic News Service that he was "flattered and a tad intimidated" by his selection as president. He declined to speculate on the reason for the precedent-setting vote, but suggested that some bishops may have "bristled" at the suggestion that the result of the presidential election was pre-ordained.


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  • Posted by: dover beachcomber - Nov. 16, 2010 8:45 PM ET USA

    Do we all holy rites; Let there be sung 'Non nobis' and 'Te Deum;'... Henry V, Act 4, Scene 8

  • Posted by: - Nov. 16, 2010 8:08 PM ET USA

    BLESSED BE OUR LORD WHO WILL MAKE ALL OF HEAVEN AND EARTH BOW TO HIS NAME. JESUS we pray that Archbishop Dolan will serve well the people of GOD. Guy F.

  • Posted by: Ken - Nov. 16, 2010 6:02 PM ET USA

    What an excellent early Christmas present!!

  • Posted by: jeremiahjj - Nov. 16, 2010 5:57 PM ET USA

    Bishops share the burden when people they ordain, recommend or otherwise support goes off on a tangent like homosexuality or pedophilia. They might not be directly responsible for such acts, but mud thrown against a wall splashes backward too.

  • Posted by: Gil125 - Nov. 16, 2010 2:28 PM ET USA

    Well, will wonders never cease. It is a shame on the bishops that Kicanas had the most votes on the first ballot, but at least enough of them voted in their own (and our) best interest that they ultimately sent him quietly back to his home in the desert.

  • Posted by: spledant7672 - Nov. 16, 2010 1:34 PM ET USA

    The New York Times’ depiction of the choice being between “social justice” and “conservatism,” “dialogue" and "confrontation" is false. How would the New York Times have framed this story later if Bishop Kicanas had been elected and his role in contributing to the sexual abuse scandal became an issue? For a clue, just look how Archbishop Dolan’s leadership in actually addressing the scandal was not seen as central to the framing of this story and how Bishop Kicanas’ role in contributing to it was left out.

  • Posted by: Hal - Nov. 16, 2010 11:05 AM ET USA

    Thanks be to God and the power of the Holy Spirit! A flicker of life from the Conference!