The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops elected Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York to be its president on Tuesday in a surprise move that reaffirmed the conservative direction of the Roman Catholic Church in America.
The vote makes Archbishop Dolan the most visible face of the church in the United States. It also suggested that the bishops were seeking a powerful and reliably orthodox voice to reassert the church’s teaching in the court of public opinion and to disarm critics who insist that the bishops have lost their moral authority as a result of their role in the sexual abuse scandals.
For the first time, the bishops overlooked tradition and passed over a vice president who was running for the presidency, Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson. Bishop Kicanas represents the more liberal “social justice” tradition of the American church and is known for advocating dialogue between Catholic liberals and traditionalists. Archbishop Dolan is considered a moderate conservative.
Archbishop Dolan said in a news conference after the vote that he would carry on the forceful opposition of his predecessor, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, to the recent health care overhaul because the bishops believed it would permit expanded government financing for abortion.