Tuesday, November 12, 2013

USCCB's Southern Exposure – Kurtz, DiNardo Take the Helm

Restoring the half-century tradition of the US bishops – at least, until the "Timquake" of 2010 – the incumbent vice-president got his ticket punched this morning as the body elected Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville its next chief on the usual runaway first ballot.

Likewise as expected, the vote for a new vice-president proved unpredictable and bore out a surprise result as Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston was elected 147-87 in the third-ballot runoff against Archbishop Charles Chaput OFM Cap. of Philadelphia.

As previously noted, to a degree not seen before, this edition of the 10-man slate reflected the demographic shift that's seen American Catholicism's center of gravity (and, indeed, vitality) veer away from the old empires of the Northeast and upper Midwest toward parts South and West. Accordingly, Kurtz – a blogging, tweeting social-worker by training who made his name as head of East Tennessee's small but booming Knoxville diocese before his 2007 transfer to Louisville – has been teamed with the head of the South's largest local church and, in the Pittsburgh-born DiNardo, a onetime Vatican official (twice a coadjutor, to boot) who's never been known to relish the spotlight. (The incoming president is shown above holding his bet at Churchill Downs prior to this year's Kentucky Derby.)

Indeed, having been elected chair of the conference's Committee on Divine Worship at last year's meeting and slated to take its reins this week, DiNardo – who held the bench's most prominent issue portfolio as chair for Pro-Life Activities from 2009-12 – reportedly needed a degree of convincing to accept nomination for the 10-man slate this time around, having declined it in the past. Having been the lone red-hat on this edition's ballot, two other cardinals are believed to have turned down a place on it; the slate is comprised of the ten most-cited names submitted from the individual bishops who accept nomination.

For a body that thrives on process, the choice of the detail-oriented, staggeringly sharp Houston cardinal – the South's first "prince of the church" – brings Roman heft to the new leadership team as well as a command of Italian, something Kurtz lacks, and a trait whose import is significantly boosted with a Pope reluctant to use English.

On the wider front, meanwhile, after two headstrong, high-profile presidencies in a row that exponentially amplified the body's voice in the national public square, the duo now in place are decidedly more reserved and consensus-driven, and the impact of that shift on the conference's level and tone of advocacy bears watching. Yet perhaps most intriguingly of all, both the new president and his deputy were pastors of parishes upon and until their appointment as bishops... and it's admittedly difficult to remember the last time that was the case.