The recent election of conservative Archbishop Timothy Dolan to the presidency of the U.S. Conference of Bishops (USCB) reveals a shift in the approach and strategies of the bishops that will have long-term effects on the American church, according to the liberal National Catholic Reporter (Nov. 18).
In what has been described as part of the anti-incumbency mood in American politics and religion, the Dolan election marked the first time in the history of the modern conference where the eligible sitting vice-president was not elected. Allen writes that the defeat of Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz. punctuates the “end of the ‘Bernardin era,’ a loose designation that honors the approach of the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago … [which took] a broad and generally progressive outlook on the big cultural issues and enjoyed a conciliatory style within the church.” Under Bernardin in the late 1980s and early ‘90s, individual bishops tended to submerge their differences in order to provide a united front, often on social issues.
The newspaper adds that the close of the Bernardin era was in line with Pope John Paul’s desire for leaner national bishops’ conferences addressing a narrower scope of issues. In recent years, the U.S. conference has become more conservative and more splintered, often differing over an agenda dominated by internal matters, such as the liturgy and Catholic identity. Episcopal activity in the public arena has focused largely on abortion and homosexuality, with less attention to other social issues, as can be seen at the recent USCB, meeting where no mention was made of the state of the economy, unemployment or poverty, according to the article.
One explanation for the upset was that younger bishops are resisting the system that automatically elevates the vice president to the top position, while others cite allegations against Kicanas for mishandling sexual abuse charges (although somewhat similar charges have been leveled against Dolan). The article concludes that Kicanas’s defeat is a sign that more vocal conservatives are making their presence known; trying to moderate these voices may be next on the conference’s agenda.
(National Catholic Reporter, http://www.ncronline.org)