Kicanas Elected VP of Bishops Conference

Arizona Daily Star
November 14, 2007

Tucson Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas was elected vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Tuesday in Baltimore, putting him in position to become president of the group.

The vice presidency is a three-year term and typically leads to the presidency. The conference president does not set policy but acts as a national spokesman for the bishops and represents the U.S. church in meetings at the Vatican.

"I hope to assist the president in his responsibilities and to try to understand better the challenges faced by bishops," Kicanas, 66, said by telephone Tuesday afternoon.

Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas

Kicanas said he and the other officers are responsible for carrying out priorities that include encouraging married life, fostering vocations to the priesthood and religious life, and finding ways to celebrate cultural diversity.

Kicanas' former boss, Cardinal Francis George of the Archdiocese of Chicago — already one of the most influential men in the American church — was elected president.

In that post, George, 70, will host Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Washington and New York in April and guide church leaders through a presidential election season in which religion will once again figure prominently.

But George will take over at a time of diminishing influence for the group. The conference has cut jobs and committees to streamline its work and save money.

Bishops have said the funds they turn over for conference work are needed in their dioceses. They blame rising costs for health care and salaries, multimillion-dollar abuse settlements and other expenses.

Tuesday's elections drew ire from the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests who say George and Kicanas were ineffective in handling the clergy sexual-abuse scandal.

They say the Chicago archdiocese is notoriously secretive and note that until he came to Tucson in 2001, Kicanas was an auxiliary bishop there.

In 2004, in his current post as leader of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson, Kicanas became the second bishop in the country to have his diocese file for bankruptcy because of lawsuits concerning sexual abuse of children by priests. Archbishop John G. Vlazny of Portland, Ore., was the first.

The survivors group and other critics say the bankruptcy process is a way to blame victims for financial problems and to avoid embarrassing trials.


Tucson Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas, a Chicago native, was consecrated a bishop in 1995.

Before coming to Tucson in 2001, Kicanas was one of eight auxiliary bishops for the Archdiocese of Chicago, which includes 2.4 million Catholics and the country's largest Catholic school system.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson includes nine counties and an estimated 350,000 Catholics.

The Tucson diocese was officially established in 1897. It traces its roots to the Jesuit missionary and explorer Padre Eusebio Francisco Kino, who first came to the northern Sonoran Desert in the late 17th century.

The mission

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops describes its mission in part as:

• "To unify, coordinate, encourage, promote and carry on Catholic activities in the United States; to organize and conduct religious, charitable and social welfare work at home and abroad; to aid in education; to care for immigrants..."

However, Kicanas said Tuesday that the Tucson diocese has come a long way since the scandal became public.

"I've had the humbling experience of meeting with many victims, and those are very moving and powerful experiences that you never forget," he said. "We've been working very hard to put into place policy and procedure to make sure children are provided a safe environment."

Kicanas said screenings are now conducted for anyone who has contact with children, and a program has been put into place for families that encourages the reporting of any misconduct.

"I feel good about the progress we are making," he said.

George received 188 votes out of 222 cast for the presidency, a total of 85 percent of the vote.

Kicanas had been a nominee for the president's job, along with nine other bishops. After George was elected, the remaining nine candidates automatically became candidates for vice president.

Kicanas has held prominent posts with the national conference for several years. At last year's November meeting he was elected secretary, which marked the first time he served on the conference's four-member executive committee.

George succeeds Bishop William S. Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., as president.

Skylstad released a statement Tuesday — affirmed by the full body of bishops — telling American lawmakers of both major parties that they have a moral duty to clean up the chaos that has followed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Pope John Paul II, who died in 2005, vehemently opposed the military strike, and his successor, Pope Benedict XVI, condemns the "continual slaughter" in the country.

Kicanas agrees with Skylstad, saying the bishops' position is that the U.S. needs to find an appropriate way to leave Iraq.

"It is a difficult situation for everyone involved," Kicanas said. "We have great respect for the men and women of the armed forces and we pray for them regularly."

Read faith and values reporter Stephanie Innes' blog Desert Beliefs at


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