BALTIMORE — The nation's Roman Catholic bishops on Tuesday elected Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Kentucky to be their new president as they grapple with changing priorities under Pope Francis.
Kurtz, who leads the Archdiocese of Louisville, won just over half the votes in a field of 10 candidates during a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He succeeds New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who is ending his three-year term. The new vice president is Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, Texas.
The conference president is the main spokesman on national issues for the Catholic Church in the United States and acts as a representative of the American church to the Vatican and the pope.
Kurtz, 67, takes on the role at a time when the bishops are struggling with what direction they should take in the new pontificate.
Francis, elected last March, has said he wants pastors, not ideologues, and an emphasis on mercy over divisive social issues. American bishops have made a priority of fighting same-sex marriage and abortion, saying they have been forced to do so in a society they consider hostile to faith. The bishops have vigorously fought the Obama administration over a requirement that employers provide health insurance that covers artificial contraceptives. Dozens of Catholic charities and dioceses, along with evangelical colleges and businesses, are suing for a broader religious exemption from the rule. The issue is expected to reach the U.S. Supreme Court.
In a news conference after the election, Kurtz underscored the bishops' commitment "to serve the voiceless and vulnerable." But he also said they would continue to fight abortion and wage their religious freedom campaign. He noted many of the key legislative fights are happening on a state level, where bishops have Catholic conferences to work on public policy.