The nation’s Catholic bishops broke with precedent that normally sees the vice-president move up the ranks to become the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Archbishop Timothy Dolan defeated Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, Arizona in a surprise victory, receiving 54 percent of the vote to 46 percent for Kicanas on the third round of balloting.
It is the first time since the 1960s that a sitting vice-president of the bishops’ conference did not ascend to the presidency.
The election is important for the pro-life movement because the president of the conference is the spokesman for the nation’s bishops on so many important pro-life issues. When it came to the national debate over ObamaCare, outgoing USCCB president Cardinal George of Chicago was adamant that the bill be opposed because it did not adequately prevent abortion funding or protect conscience rights.
In Archbishop Dolan, the USCCB will be headed by a strong pro-life advocate.
Dolan has been a strong friend and ally and has been called a “hero” by leading pro-life advocates in part for speaking out about Catholic politicians who support abortion.
“It bothers me if any politician, Catholic or not, is for abortion,” Dolan has said. “Because in my mind, we’re talking about a civil right, we’re not talking about a matter of Catholic Church discipline. We can’t allow the noble pro-life cause to be reduced to a denominational issue.”
In 2008, Dolan took House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice-President Joe Biden to task for misrepresenting Catholic pro-life teachings.
“Church tradition is equally clear that bishops are the authentic teachers of the faith. So, when prominent Catholics publicly misrepresent timeless Church doctrine – as Biden and Pelosi regrettably did (to say nothing of erring in biology!) – a bishop has the duty to clarify,” he explained.
“Does the baby alive in the womb (a biological, not a doctrinal, fact) deserve the full protection of the law or not? Does one have the right to terminate the life of another at will? Can we consider one form of life – that of the innocent, fragile baby in the womb – inferior and expendable?” Dolan asked.
And, for the new New York Catholic leader, the answer is clearly no.
“We cannot be mute on this premier civil rights issue of our day,” he says.
Dolan also took on the abortion funding aspects of ObamaCare, saying it “does not reflect the protections of the Hyde Amendment.”
“We’re not the obstructionists here, since all we’re insisting upon is that the understanding that tax money not pay for abortions, in place since 1975, remains, ” he continued. “It is instead those who have radically altered the debate to open a loophole to eliminate the Hyde Amendment who are risking the very fate of this legislation.”
Meanwhile, in 2006, Dolan wrote a letter to Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle asking him to reconsider his stance in favor of using taxpayer dollars to fund embryonic stem cell research.
On the question of Kicanas, Thomas Peters of American Papist said before the vote that he presents concerns for pro-lifers.
“I fear all of this progress in promoting vibrant orthodoxy within the bishops conference is threatened by the impending election of Kicanas,” he writes today.
“Bishop Kicanas has a troubling reputation,” Peters explains. “The arch-liberal Father Thomas Reese has described Kicanas as “the leading liberal hope” among the progressive wing of the Church.”
Peters also calls out Kicanas for what he describes as a “cozy” relationship with and praise of pro-abortion politicians, including former Arizona Republican Congressman Jim Kolbe and former Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano.
“Not surprisingly, the liberal Catholics at Commonweal Magazine and National Catholic Reporter are adamant supporters of Bishop Kicanas. He is their kind of bishop, indeed probably one of the most liberal bishops in America. And all of this should set off warning alarms for those of us serious about continuing to rebuild orthodoxy in America,” he wrote.
Dolan, the former Milwaukee Archbishop Pope Benedict has chosen to succeed Cardinal Edward Egan in New York City, is a St. Louis native and the oldest of five children who earned a doctorate in church history from The Catholic University of America.
He worked as a priest and professor and spent seven years as rector of the North American College in Rome. Dolan served briefly as an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of St. Louis before heading to Milwaukee.
The other candidates for the chairman and vice-chairman position included Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond of New Orleans; Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, California; Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville; Bishop George V. Murry of Youngstown; Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien of Baltimore; Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron of Detroit; and Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City.