By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
While elections for committee chairs in the bishops' conference rarely generate banner headlines, there were some interesting results from this morning's balloting. The prelate most identified with the press to deny communion to pro-choice politicians, for example, lost his race to head a committee on canon law, while one of the few American bishops to voice misgivings about vouchers for Catholic schools nevertheless won his contest to lead the education committee.
Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Chicago defeated Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis to head the Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance, winning 59.2 percent of the vote to Burke's 40.8. Burke has garnered national attention for his strong stand in favor of using canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law to justify refusing communion to politicians who support abortion rights, and his election could have been seen as an endorsement of that position.
Auxiliary Bishop Thomas J. Curry of Los Angeles, meanwhile, won the race to lead the Education Committee, despite the fact that the bishops have pressed hard over the years for public funding of Catholic schools, while Curry has raised questions about such a policy on the grounds of "he who pays the piper will call the tune."
Curry has warned in a series of lectures and essays over the last two decades that, over time, it's unrealistic to expect the government to fund an enterprise that is pervasively religious. For that reason, he has said, voucher programs could secularize church schools. Curry is not necessarily opposed to vouchers, but he has called for careful reflection about their long-term implications.
Archbishop Jose Gomez of San Antonio was elected to head the Committee on Cultural Diversity, becoming the second American bishop who belongs to Opus Dei (out of a total of four) to be elected as a committee chair in the conference. The other is Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn.
Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston, a member of the Capuchin Franciscans famed for wearing his brown Franciscan habit even after his elevation to the College of Cardinals, was elected to lead the Committee on Clergy and Consecrated Life.
In what is likely, at least in part, a tribute to a former president of the conference, Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta was elected to lead the Committee on Ecumenism and Inter-religious Dialogue, winning an overwhelming 67 percent of the vote. Within the conference, Gregory is an enormously popular figure, admired for his leadership during the peak period of the sexual abuse crisis in the United States.
A former colleague of Curry as an auxiliary in Los Angeles won the race to head the Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People. Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, a former auxiliary under Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles, defeated Bishop Blaise Cupich of Rapid City, South Dakota.