US bishops elect new chairs

This story appears in the USCCB Fall 2015 feature series. View the full series.

by Thomas Reese

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At their fall meeting in Baltimore, the U.S. bishops elected new chairs for a number of committees of the bishops conference.

The results continue the tradition of electing archbishops when they are running against bishops, with one exception.

  • Archbishop Dennis Schnurr of Cincinnati defeated Bishop John LeVoir of New Ulm, Minn., for conference treasurer by a vote of 126-110.
  • Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta defeated Bishop John Barres of Allentown, Penn., for chair of the Committee on Divine Worship by a vote of 124-114.
  • Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia defeated Bishop Frank Caggiano of Bridgeport, Conn., for chair of the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth by a vote of 141-98.
  • Only Bishop George Murry, S.J., of Youngstown, Ohio, defeated an archbishop -- Robert Carlson of St. Louis -- by a vote of 132-106 for chair of the Committee on Catholic Education. Murry has a doctorate from George Washington University, was a professor at University of Detroit, and president of Carroll High School in Washington, D.C.  He was also appointed by the pope to the recent synod on the family.

In the elections where the contenders were of equal rank, the results were:

  • Archbishop Joseph Tobin of Indianapolis over Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver by a vote of 144-96, for chair of the Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations. This result will be greeted by women religious with enthusiasm because they have found Tobin to be sympathetic partner. He got in trouble when he worked in the Vatican because of his positive attitude toward sisters.
  • Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Florida, defeated Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego by a vote of 128-111, for chairman-elect of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. McElroy has called for emphasizing the priorities of Pope Francis in the bishops' political responsibility statement, Faithful Citizenship.
  • Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles defeated Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe, New Mexico by a vote of 140-58 (with another 21 votes for Bishop Anthony Taylor of Little Rock, Arkansas) for chair of the Committee on Migration. Gomez is himself an immigrant from Mexico.

In an earlier column, I indicated while it would be unfair to label some bishops as more "Francis" bishops than others, it is true that some had received appointments by Francis, and therefore clearly have his approval. Of these, Murry won, while McElroy, Caggiano, and Wester lost.

The elections do not indicate a radical change in direction for the bishops conference. A number of the winners have held conference offices in the past: Schnurr, Murry, Gregory, Chaput, and Gomez.

In short, it is not a leap forward nor backwards. It is "steady as she goes."

Elected bishops will each serve as secretary-or chairman-elect for one year before beginning a three-year term.*

Also elected by the bishops was a new general secretary, Msgr. J. Brian Bransfield, currently associate general secretary. He defeated Fr. Shawn McKnight, former* executive director of the USCCB Secretariat of Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations. No vote tally was announced. The term of the general secretary is five years. 

[Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese is a senior analyst for NCR and author of Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church. His email address is] 

*An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the the number of years per term, and did not cite McKnight as former executive director of the USCCB Secretariat of Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations.

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