The United States bishops have elected two stalwart conservatives to the top leadership posts of the U.S. Bishops Conference (USCCB), in what observers suggest may be a pushback to Pope Francis’s recent picks of progressive bishops to become cardinals.
The bishops chose Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston and a known conservative, as president of the USCCB. DiNardo was one of 13 cardinals to sign a letter to Pope Francis in October 2015 raising several objections about left-wing manipulation of the controversial synod on marriage and family life.
Although the signers of the letter said they were taking up the Pope’s invitation for frank debate, many saw the move as a rebuke of the way Francis organized the synod.
As Vice President of the Conference, the bishops elected another conservative, Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez, a member of Opus Dei. Together with Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, Gomez was passed over by Pope Francis in the recent selection of new U.S. cardinals, despite his impressive résumé and the importance of Los Angeles as an archdiocese.
Instead, Francis named the recently appointed archbishop of Chicago, Blaise Cupich, a man with impeccable liberal credentials. He also broke with protocol by choosing Archbishop William Tobin of Indianapolis, a relatively small archdiocese, and then moved him to the archdiocese of Newark. Both men will be made cardinals in the Vatican this weekend at a meeting called a consistory.
Veteran Vatican analyst John Allen noted that with his new appointments, Pope Francis had engineered a “seismic shift” in the Catholic hierarchy in the United States, and by naming just progressives, “Francis was making a statement about the direction in which he wants the American church to go.”
For his part, Indianapolis Archbishop William Tobin has also been critical of America’s culture wars and publicly clashed with Vice President-elect Mike Pence over the idea of welcoming Syrian refugees into the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.
Archbishop DiNardo has said he views American society as growing increasingly intolerant toward religion and has found the Obama administration “coercive” in its attempts to restrict religious liberty.
As a strong supporter of the pro-life movement, DiNardo’s appointment signals that the bishops’ conference will continue its emphasis on the right to life and religious freedom in the U.S.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter Follow @tdwilliamsrome.