Friday, November 11, 2005

The Big Vote

As everyone knows, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops is gearing up for its semi-annual meeting which begins in Washington on Monday -- well, it really begins on Tuesday afternoon when everyone gets kicked out and the bishops sit in executive session for the remainder of the week.

The Conference faces a significant vote: one which, on its face, has nothing to do with liturgy, sex abuse, or any of the other hot-button issues which have divided hierarchy and laity alike these last few years. But in reality, it has everything to do with the approach the Conference has taken on those issues, and the extent to which the bishops want to exercise some muscle in the governance of their collective group.

Before next Thursday, we'll know the winner of the contest to succeed Msgr. Bill Fay as the USCCB's General Secretary, its day-to-day operator. As several sources have already made clear, the options could not be more different. The race pits the canonist Msgr. David Malloy, 49, a priest of the archdiocese of Milwaukee currently serving as the conference's Associate General Secretary against the theologian Msgr. John Strynkowski, 66, rector of the Cathedral-Basilica of St. James in Brooklyn, a former executive director of the Bishops' Secretariat for Doctrine and Pastoral Practices who left the Conference at the start of this year. Starting in February, the winner takes office for a five-year term.

Everyone's taking a side, and some have already started briefing against the other camp and warning of the ominous consequences if their unfavored candidate gets the nod; the tensions have crept into chancery life in some places and even the diocesan staffers are getting fired up, which is unusual for a GenSec's election. But this choice will dictate, arguably more than the election of the president, the Conference's self-definition of its scope, manner and vision for the next half-decade. And as always, that's something worth watching.