Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., talks with Catholic News Service after he was elected the new president of the  U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on Tuesday (Nov. 12) in Baltimore. Photo by Nancy Phelan Wiechec, courtesy Catholic News Service

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., talks with Catholic News Service after he was elected the new president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on Tuesday (Nov. 12) in Baltimore. Photo by Nancy Phelan Wiechec, courtesy Catholic News Service


This image is available for Web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

(RNS) As the final vote tally made clear that Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., was elected the next head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, outgoing president Cardinal Timothy Dolan turned  in mock seriousness and asked: “By what name will you be called?”

It’s the line typically asked of newly elected popes, and Dolan’s quip last Tuesday (Nov. 12) prompted laughs from the nearly 250 bishops, who all knew that Kurtz is not exactly the American version of a Roman pontiff.

As the public face of the American hierarchy for the next three years, Kurtz will in fact spend most of his time and energy on administrative matters and the time-consuming process of herding clerical cats.

Meanwhile, in quieter ways, four other churchmen may wield more influence where it counts most: in Rome with Pope Francis.

Cardinal Sean P.  O’Malley celebrates Sunday Mass with other American Cardinals and  Archbishop Joseph Augustine Di Noia, O.P. at the Pontifical North American College March 3, 2013. RNS photo by Gregory L. Tracy/The Pilot.

Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley celebrates Sunday Mass with other American cardinals and Archbishop Joseph Augustine Di Noia at the Pontifical North American College on March 3, 2013. RNS photo by Gregory L. Tracy/The Pilot


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Cardinal Sean O’Malley

When Pope Francis tapped the archbishop of Boston as the only American to be one of the so-called Gang of Eight cardinals to serve as an informal “kitchen Cabinet,” it immediately launched O’Malley into the ranks of the Catholic super-elite.

The affinity between Francis and O’Malley – “the closest thing to a papal BFF,” as Amy Sullivan put it in National Journal – is natural. O’Malley is a Franciscan who is deeply orthodox but also deeply committed to serving the poor, which resonates with the pope, a Jesuit named after Francis of Assisi.

O’Malley, 69, also spent years ministering to Latinos and speaks fluent Spanish, and he can pick up the phone and cold call Francis for a chat in the Argentine pope’s native tongue – though email is said to be their preferred means of communication.

The only limit to O’Malley’s influence is his own reticence to play church politics. O’Malley, according to associates in Rome and the U.S., is such a Franciscan that he loathes dropping names or pressing his views on Francis. “O’Malley is, of course, the closest American to the pope,” said the Rev. Thomas Reese, a veteran church-watcher and National Catholic Reporter columnist. “But he’s a saint. He’s not a politician.”

Daniel N. DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston, RNS photo courtesy Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston. RNS photo courtesy Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston


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Cardinal Daniel DiNardo

The archbishop of Galveston-Houston, on the other hand, may not exactly be a Chicago pol, but he does have the experience to make a difference where it matters: in appointing the bishops who will – or won’t – carry out Francis’ marching orders for a more pastoral, engaged church. That’s because DiNardo worked for six years at the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops, the powerful clearinghouse for appointments to dioceses around the world.

While much of the focus in this week’s conference was on Kurtz, the real interest focused on DiNardo, who was elected vice president in convincing fashion. That means he will almost certainly be chosen as president of the hierarchy in three years.

At a relatively youthful 64, DiNardo has more than enough time to leave his mark; he still has more than 15 years until he’s forced into retirement and loses his vote in a papal conclave.

“It’s setting him up to be the kingmaker,” said Reese. “DiNardo knows the people and the process. Now he’s got the prestige and access to make it happen.”

“DiNardo has been a sleeper,” agreed an American church official with close ties to the Vatican; he spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about such sensitive matters.

Donald Cardinal Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, talks about the vision of Rev. Martin Luther King during the interfaith service at Washington's Shiloh Baptist Church to mark the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington on Wednesday (Aug. 28). RNS photo by Lauren Markoe

Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, talks about the vision of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during an interfaith service Aug. 28, 2013, at Washington’s Shiloh Baptist Church to mark the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. RNS photo by Lauren Markoe


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Cardinal Donald Wuerl

The archbishop of Washington is another churchman who knows the system and is increasingly being called on by Francis to help fix it.

Wuerl is in many ways a classic insider – a priest who was educated in Rome, rose through the ranks of the hierarchy and became familiar with every facet of church life along the way. He also has long experience with  Vatican synods, the periodic meetings of bishops that are held in Rome every few years.

The problem is that the synods have become an exercise in rubber-stamp futility for many bishops, and Francis wants to make it a genuinely collaborative experience as part of his quest for a more “horizontal” church. Wuerl, 73, who friends say has been unusually animated by Francis’ new direction, is part of that reform and is widely rumored to be up for a top spot in the Roman Curia.

Cardinal Raymond Burke, former archbishop of St. Louis has quietly become an influential player in Rome. RNS photo by David Gibson

Cardinal Raymond Burke, former archbishop of St. Louis, has quietly become an influential player in Rome. RNS photo by David Gibson

Cardinal Raymond Burke

Burke has a reputation as an archconservative who can make enemies as well as allies, but he has several advantages, proximity being the most obvious: Pope Benedict XVI called the former archbishop of St. Louis to Rome in 2008 to head the Vatican’s canonical court system.

But it is his role as a member of the Congregation for Bishops that has given him a decisive voice in pushing through a number of key stateside appointments, sometimes against the wishes of U.S.-based bishops.

Church experts says the future cast of the U.S. hierarchy will depend in large part on whether Burke, 65, retains that post — and his influence over appointments — or whether Francis opts to replace him or rely on informal advisers as he names a new generation of leaders.

KRE/MG END GIBSON

17 Comments

  1. My vote is cast for Raymond Cardinal Burke. He is the holiest while the others are LIBERALS WITH CAPITAL LETTERS. May you be forever blessed Cardinal Burke. We love you.

    • I object to the assertion that liberally minded people are not worthy of holiness. This is preposterous and the reason why so many are leaving the church. Not only is your mind closed but it is hermetically sealed.

    • The problem with many well meaning US Christians today they do not follow a Christ, who loved without boundaries with opened armed compassion. It seems politics has entered the US Roman Catholic Church is confusing constricted politics with religion. Allowing politicians like Paul Ryan to demagogue their exclusion politics making it an acceptable to exclude the poor; Leo Burke, along with Chaput allow themselves to be used by partisan politics mindsets, with a habit of alienating those needing love and the sacraments the most. .

  2. I think you missed the most powerful U.S. Bishop – retired Justin Card. Rigali Archbishop Emeritus of Philadelphia. He was the eighth Archbishop of Philadelphia, having previously served as Archbishop of St. Louis from 1994 to 2003. He was elevated to the cardinalate in 2003 and accepted retirement after turning 75 a little while back.

  3. Sigh… Rev. Thomas Reese… columnist for the National (non)Catholic Reporter… This is the same as trying to get unbiased information on Obama from Jay Carney…..

  4. Long live Cardinal Burke!

    He is a genuinely holy and orthodox Bishop working to renew the Catholic Church throughout the world and in U.S. in particular.

  5. I don’t think this is about ” most powerful” bishops. I believe it’s about the most “popular” bishops. All bishops are bishops, some have different jobs, but a bishop is just that. All are under one head, the Pope. The cardinals and bishops and so on, have different responsibilities and titles, but to say there are more powerful ones than others and then name the ones that are in the media more often or are popular or unpopular, that’s what this article is really saying.

    Some bishops have made a name for themselves in the media for choosing to depart from Catholic teaching or among their political friends, others have become well liked because they are faithful to the Pope and the teachings of the Catholic Church.
    I have my favorite picks too, not the former.

    • Joe, that’s assuming that everything one learns about Wuerl in the mainstream press is “gospel.” I’m no fan of Wuerl because I think he has failed (like most of his confreres) to meet the challenges of the current federal government administration head-on. However, that does not mean he hasn’t qualities appreciated by Rome and by other bishops.

  6. Excellent commentary by all the above!

    Tagging religious leaders as “conservative vs liberal” is imprecise and gives the wrong perspective particularly when speaking of an organization with such a vast history. Words as Liberal vs Conservative are political inclinations/opinions which deal with matters from a horizontal – present time perspective, and conveniently ignore the vertical historic views and teachings. Bishops and religious matters, especially when refering to the Catholic Church and its long history, should be compared not by political opinion, but to concrete matter: their faithfulness to the teachings of the faith as passed down through the ages.

    Orthodoxy versus Heterodoxy is the more proper verbiage.

    Case in point, in politics having an outlook for the poor is generally considered a “liberal” policy…if that were the matter I believe all American Bishops would be considered as such. The issue here is why is the National (non)Catholic REPORTER and not the NC Register being consulted for such an article. Thus, we see the blatant bias of tagging the most faithful Orthodox Bishop with an inappropriate “liberal” slur in calling Bishop Burke an “ARCHconservative”. Hence, the stench of heterodoxy in the NC Reporter is made evident in this article.

    Amazingly not a peep about renown solidly orthodox bishops as Bishop Chaput of Philadelphia or Bishop Lori of Philadelphia !!!

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