Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, was elected president of the conference on the third ballot over Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz., the USCCB's vice president and a moderate who was opposed by Catholic conservatives. It is the first time since the 1960s that a USCCB vice president who was on the ballot for president lost.
Dolan will be the voice of Catholics in the United States for the next three years, the span of his term.
"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," Steven Ertelt of LifeNews.com wrote. " ... In Archbishop Dolan, the USCCB will be headed by a strong pro-life advocate."
Dolan once criticized House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Joseph Biden as "prominent Catholics" who "publicly misrepresent timeless church doctrine" on life issues. He added, according to LifeNews.com, "We cannot be mute on this premier civil rights issue of our day" -- a reference to abortion.
Catholic analyst Rocco Palmo called the election a "seismic shift," according to the Catholic News Agency.
Conservative Catholics had mounted a campaign to defeat Kicanas, who they believed would try to take U.S. Catholics in a more moderate or even liberal direction. When bishops across the country criticized Notre Dame for inviting President Obama to speak at a 2009 commencement, Kicanas was mostly non-committal on the issue. Dolan, by contrast, said at the time Notre Dame had made a "big mistake" in inviting a president who supports abortion. Gifts to Notre Dame fell $120 million during the fiscal year in which Obama spoke, according to CatholicCulture.org.
Kicanas also was viewed by conservatives as having moderate to liberal views on homosexuality. As a rector in Chicago, he had OK'd the ordination of Daniel McCormack, who went on to molest young boys. Critics said Kicanas approved the ordination with the knowledge that McCormack had a past of homosexual relations. Kicanas defended the ordination by saying Kicanas' actions were "experimental and developmental," CatholicCulture.org reported.
"His refusal to recognize the source of his mistake -- to take the problem of homosexuality seriously, and to see at least the possibility of a link between aberrant sexuality and abuse, was a problem today -- a problem for his candidacy to become the public voice of the American hierarchy," Phil Lawler, director of CatholicCulture.org, wrote.
Kicanas also was endorsed by a homosexual Catholic group, the Rainbow Sash Movement.
Dolan will succeed Chicago Cardinal Francis George, who also has been an outspoken conservative on moral issues.
"Above all, an indication of everything Cardinal George has been and done over his tenure the last three years in really kind of raising the level of bishops' outspokenness in moral clarity and moral courage, especially in the health care fight," Palmo said.
Compiled by Michael Foust, an assistant editor of Baptist Press.
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