U.S. Catholic bishops’ new leaders echo pope’s concern for the poor

November 13, 2013

(Volunteers serve needy people during a free dinner service at Chicago Catholic Charities in Chicago, November 1, 2013. REUTERS/Jim Young)

U.S. Catholic bishops elected two centrist conservatives as new leaders on Tuesday, an archbishop from Kentucky and a Texas cardinal, both of whom expressed “solidarity” with Pope Francis’ strong emphasis on the poor.

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, 67, of Louisville, Kentucky was elected to a three-year term as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, while Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, 64, of the Galveston-Houston diocese, was chosen as vice president.

Their election comes as Catholic bishops worldwide are being given new direction by Pope Francis, who has emphasized greater humility and more concern for poverty. The bishops oversee 69 million U.S. Catholics, or about a quarter of the country’s population.

“I believe we are very much in solidarity with Pope Francis, and that is, his way of articulating clearly that we need not only to serve the voiceless and the vulnerable, but to be an advocate,” Kurtz told reporters after his election.

Christopher Hale, senior fellow with Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, a progressive group that focuses on social justice issues, said he believes both Kurtz and DiNardo “will move the American Church in the direction Pope Francis desires.”

Hale cited Kurtz’s “long pastoral experience” and praised DiNardo as a “tireless leader on immigration reform. He knows firsthand the problems of a broken immigration system.”

Kurtz’s election was expected as he is finishing a three-year term as vice president. Known as a reliable conservative who is also well-liked, pragmatic and effective, he replaces New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, an outspoken and colorful conservative elected in 2010.

“It means consistency and with Kurtz a little more concern for the poor and with DiNardo a little more concern about immigration,” said Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest and senior analyst with the National Catholic Reporter. Reese noted that Kurtz has a degree in social work and had cared for a brother with Down syndrome.

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