The ten men who could lead the US Catholic Church

By Inés San Martín
November 14, 2016

Bishops from around the US participate in an opening prayer during the fall meetings of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on November 13,, 2006, in Baltimore, Maryland.
Photo by Brendan Smialowski

Today the U.S. bishops gathered in Baltimore will elect new leaders, in a ballot likely to be taken as a referendum both on what they think of Pope Francis and also how they want to react to the presidency of Donald Trump. Here are sketches of the ten candidates.

For the second time in a month, Americans are going to the polls, although this time it’s only the few hundred bishops who compose the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in the U.S. who’ll be casting a vote.

As they do every three years, the American bishops will be electing their leadership, including their president and vice president.

Beyond electing new leaders, during their Nov. 14-16 fall general assembly, taking place in Baltimore, the American bishops also will discuss ways to promote peace in U.S. communities torn apart by violence, and will vote on an action plan to support the priorities they approved last year.

The list of ten nominees to replace Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky and Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston in their respective roles as president and vice-president was released late October. The bishops will elect the president first from this set of ten names, and then will select a number two from whoever’s left.

Here are sketches of the candidates, presented in alphabetical order.

Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond of New Orleans

Born in 1949 in the diocese he currently leads, Aymond became the fourteenth Archbishop of New Orleans on June 12, 2009, where he had to lead a local community that was struggling to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

He had previously served as a bishop in Austin, Texas, and before then, he had a three-year run as auxiliary in hometown. Aymond was ordained a priest in 1975, and among other things, he served as president-rector of Notre Dame seminary for 14 years.

Aymond has a reputation as a moderate, consensual prelate, capable of taking on controversial issues in a direct and vocal, yet non-ideological way. He’s called these confrontations a necessary part of being a bishop.

He’s known as a strong proponent of the Church’s position of opposing abortion, artificial birth control, and capital punishment, but he’s also been very outspoken on other social issues, such as racism and poverty.

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, of Philadelphia

Born in 1944, Chaput was appointed as the ninth Archbishop of Philadelphia Benedict XVI. Before that, he served in Denver and Rapid City. Ordained as a Capuchin priest in 1970, he’s also the first Native American archbishop (he’s a member of the Prairie Band Potawatomi tribe).

He’s seen as one of the most outspoken bishops in the conservative quarters, often speaking and writing on pro-life issues and against a “growing secularism.”

Yet he’s also often referred to the need for a reform of the United States’ immigration laws to regularize the status of most immigrants as a “moral imperative.”

He’s the co-founder the national Catholic Association of Latino Leaders and helped in the founding of ENDOW, a leadership initiative of Catholic women to “Educate on the Nature and Dignity of Women.”

In 2014, he was voted by his peers as a delegate for the Vatican’s Synod of Bishops on the Family. He’s currently the chair-elect of the USCCB’s committee on Laity, Marriage, Family and Youth.

Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City

Born in Norfolk, Virginia, in 1955, Coakley was ordained a priest in 1983. Before being appointed to Oklahoma, he served as bishop of Salina, Kansas, from 2004 to 2010.

Although with an arguably lower profile, Coakley is also very strong when it comes to on pro-life issues.

He once defining the election of President Barack Obama as a “undeniable irony,” saying it signaled America had crossed a threshold in the struggle for civil rights by electing the first African-American president, but that Obama denied “the civil rights and legal protection to a whole class of persons, unborn human beings.”

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston

Born in 1949 and ordained a priest in 1977, he was appointed as the second archbishop of Galveston-Houston in 2006. A year later he was created a cardinal by Benedict XVI and is currently the vice-president of the bishops’ conference, which makes him a strong contender to become its president.

From 1984 to 1991, he worked in Rome as a staff member for the Congregation for Bishops, as director of Villa Stritch (the house for American clergy), and as adjunct professor at the Pontifical North American College, where most US seminarians live when studying in Rome.

He is a member of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture, the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People. On 2014, he was named by Pope Francis to serve in the newly established Council for the Economy.

Conventionally described as conservative, he’s been outspoken about both pro-life issues and the importance of religious freedom, yet as the leader of one of the fastest growing churches in the US, among other things thanks to the boost of Hispanic immigrants, he’s also been vocal on the need for a comprehensive immigration reform.

Speaking to Crux in May, he warned the Obama administration increasingly seemed to be trying to “constrict religious institutions. It’s so coercive.” He wasn’t referring only to the contraception mandates, but about “the future of Catholic charities and our other institutions.”

Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville

Born in 1961, he was ordained a priest in 1988 and appointed bishop of Brownsville in 2009, after serving as auxiliary in Detroit.

He’s a strong advocate of immigrant rights, but also a friend of the pro-life and conservative camp in the American Church. As a younger bishop, he’s very popular because he’s friendly and generally well liked.

Talking to Crux this July, he said that the mass deportation policies represent “formal cooperation with an intrinsic evil - not unlike driving someone to an abortion clinic.”

Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles

Gomez was born in Mexico in 1951, arrived in the country as an immigrant and has been a naturalized citizen for the last 20 years. He joined the conservative and somewhat white-collar Catholic group Opus Dei when he was in college, was ordained a priest in Spain in 1978, studied in Rome, and did some of his early priestly ministry in Mexico.

In 1987 he was transferred to Our Lady of Grace Church in San Antonio, Texas. In 1995 he became a U.S. citizen. His episcopal ministry began as auxiliary bishop in Denver, under Chaput, with whom he co-founded Catholic Association of Latino Leaders and he was Archbishop of San Antonio for six years before being appointed to LA by emeritus Pope Benedict XVI in 2010.

Also a member of the conservative camp, he is, however, one of the leading voices in the conference when it comes to protection of immigrants and against the death penalty.

His election, either as president or vice-president of the USCCB would send a strong message to President-elect Donald Trump. If nothing else, because he’d be the first Mexico-born prelate to hold either position.

Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore

Born in 1951, Lori was ordained a priest in 1977, he was appointed bishop of Bridgeport, Connecticut, in 2001, where he served until he was transferred to Baltimore in 2012. Before then, he had a six-year run as auxiliary in Washington. In 2005 he was elected as Supreme Chaplain of Crux’ main partners, the Knights of Columbus.

He’s known for his opposition to government actions requiring religious groups to provide coverage for abortion and contraceptives.

He was a member of an ad hoc delegation of American bishops who came to Rome in 2002 to work with Vatican’s official on approval and implementation of the US prelates zero tolerance policy on clerical sexual abuse.

In 2011 he was also appointed as the head of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty of the USCCB

Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron of Detroit

Born in Mount Clemens, Michigan, in 1948, he’s also the Ecclesiastical Superior of the Cayman Islands. Before his current positions, he served as bishop of Oakland and auxiliary of Detroit.

Often portrayed as a strong conservative, particularly after he helped lead protests in Oakland against gay marriage and after comparing abortion and stem-cell research to slavery and racism, in November 2015, he openly challenged Trump, saying that his proposals to ban Muslims from entering the country were an attack on religious freedom.

Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami

Born in West Palm Beach in 1950, he was appointed to Miami in 2010, though he served as an auxiliary here from 1997 until 2003. In between, he served as bishop of Orlando. He was ordained a priest in 1976, after entering the seminary when he was 12.

In many ways, Wenski is the South Florida version of Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York: a brash, loud, charismatic, cigar-smoking, Harley Davidson-riding force of nature.

Politically, he’d be seen both as solidly pro-life but also solidly committed to the Church’s social teachings. In particular, he’d be considered an outspoken advocate of immigrants and the poor.

By virtue of being the Archbishop of Miami, he’s developed a special interest in Haiti, and has been intimately involved in the efforts of the American church to assist in the reconstruction efforts after the earthquake and in to promote development.

He’s also seen as one of the most media savvy, self-confident and articulate figures of the USCCB.

Archbishop John C. Wester of Santa Fe

Born in 1950 in San Francisco, where he served as Auxiliary bishop from 1998 to 2007, when he was named bishop of Salt Lake City. Last year, Pope Francis appointed him to Santa Fe.

Though not a particularly high-profile figure, he’d be seen as one of the American bishops closest in spirit to Pope Francis, a man of dialogue, a man of openness to secular culture, someone who would emphasize the Church’s particular concern for the vulnerable and marginalized.

He’s an outspoken advocate for immigration reform, and famous for his staunch opposition to the death penalty and his willingness to partner with people of different faiths on issues of common concern.

Wester is generally perceived by his fellow bishops as a very effective behind the scenes figure, capable of building consensus and of brokering compromise.



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