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November 17, 2010

Column #1,525

New Leadership in the Catholic Church

By Mike McManus

                 With a 2,000 year history, there are not many surprises in the Catholic Church, but Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, says he was “surprised” to be elected the new President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

                Historically the position goes to the incumbent Vice President, who was Tucson Bishop Gerald Kicanas.  However, three Catholic publications - Commonweal, The National Catholic Register and Spero News - published stories indicating that Kicanas, when he led the Mundelein Seminary, ignored three accusations of sexual misconduct by seminarian Daniel McCormack, later convicted of molesting 27 boys and is now in prison.

                “A 2006 diocesan audit found that in 1992 Mundelein officials learned of three accusations of  misconduct against McCormack, two from adult seminary classmates…and one from a minor in Mexico,” wrote Commonweal.  Nevertheless, two years later he was ordained.

In 2007 Kicanas was quoted by the Chicago Sun Times saying that he was aware of the allegations, of “sexual improprieties,” but that they were not “credible.”  Therefore, it would have been unjust to deny him ordination. “There was a sense that his activity was part of the developmental process and that he had learned from the experience.” 

Yet Kicanas recently issued a statement that, “I never received any allegation, report or concern about McCormack during his seminary years at Mundelein that involved sexual abuse of anyone.”

In any case, when the election for the President of the USCCB was held Tuesday, Kicanas received 109 votes vs. 84 for Dolan on the first ballot, but Kicanas lacked a majority, with scattered votes for eight other bishops. On a second ballot, Dolan pulled ahead by 118 to 111 but lacked a majority. A third ballot gave Dolan the position by 128 to 111. 

A core of mostly liberal bishops had voted for Kicanas, but by the third ballot, he was able to pick up only two votes. Conservatives switched their votes to the orthodox, but jovial Dolan. Ironically, Kicanas narrowly defeated Dolan for the VP slot three years ago.

When Notre Dame invited Barack Obama to speak a year ago, 80 conservative bishops criticized the university for giving the pro-abortion President a platform, while Kicanas was one of the few more liberal bishops defending Notre Dame.

Dolan served as Archbishop of Milwaukee for seven years before being tapped in 2009 as Archbishop of New York, America’s second largest diocese with 2.5 million members. He is one of several bishops appointed by Pope Benedict XVI, such as Archbishop Donald Wuerl in Washington, who are conservative in politics and theology, but upbeat and pastoral, according to John Allen Jr., the Vatican correspondent of National Catholic Reporter.

During the 2008 election, Dolan rebuked Catholic politicians, Sen. Joe Biden, the Democratic vice presidential nominee, and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi - for “misrepresenting timeless Church doctrine” on abortion, which Dolan called the “premier civil rights issue of our day.”  However, he opposed denying Communion to pro-choice elected officials.

Dolan also co-authored, with Princeton Prof. Robert George and Chuck Colson, the Manhattan Declaration, a call of conscience for Protestants and Catholics to take a common stand on three vital issues: the sanctity of life, the dignity of marriage as the union of one man and one woman, and religious liberty. Every day one reads of threats to these core principles. That has motivated nearly a half million people to sign the Declaration.

The Catholic bishops elected another activist conservative to serve as their Vice President, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz.  He has led a movement to strengthen marriage, which culminated in a USCCB Pastoral Letter: “Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan.”  A website, DVDs, and public service announcements have been developed to promote traditional marriage.

Kurtz also served as the Treasurer of the Catholic Bishops, who he urged to accept a 3% increase in their contributions to the USCCB.  That was voted down, so he proposed a 2% hike, but that was defeated as well.  Therefore, he accepted a zero budget increase.

The Catholic Church has a reputation of being monolithic, marching to orders from the Pope. However, this meeting of Catholic bishops demonstrates it operates far more democratically than outsiders can imagine. 

An underdog was elected President, while the heir-apparent was sidelined over his mismanagement of sexual abuse. A proposed budget increase supported by insiders was defeated.

Catholic leadership is alive and well in America and is determined to recapture its moral authority.


Mike McManus is President of Marriage Savers (

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