Thursday, November 18, 2010

Surprise, Upset, Earthquake -- Archbishop Timothy Dolan New President of USCCB

In an unprecedented move on the part of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, utilizing a three vote election process, Archbishop Timothy Dolan became the new President of the Conference. The media reaction was decidedly stunned; one source proclaimed the decision by Dolan's brother bishops as an "Earthquake in Baltimore", while another declared it to be "breaking" news".

In years past, the USCCB had taken to elevating the standing Vice President of the Conference to the top position; the election was a simply a formality. This year's election of Dolan appears to be the institution of a new standard of operation for the Conference of Catholic Bishops. Some are calling it a slant to the conservative right, leaving the left leaning bishops behind and indicating a sea change for the USCCB. The once allegedly liberal leaning Conference is now headed in a more conservative direction -- the pendulum has swung from one extreme to the other. This is a troubling notion, although, one that many have held with regard to the Conference for years.

 Does the USCCB exist simply to be a reflection of our nation's politics? I don't believe that to be the case. From a purely philosophical perspective, one could apply Aristotle's "golden mean" as a yard stick for the Conference. Is their mission expressly to find balance between two extremes and execute their office from that perspective? This cannot be the case -- the Conference consists of men, but men under the Sacrament of Holy Orders; men who must not rely solely on their ability to operate in the world by reason, but by the working of faith and reason in unison. They are called to more than simple compromise, but to what is virtuous in terms of the Good that all men are called to -- God.

It is a misunderstanding of the function of the USCCB, and the Office of Bishop in general, to presume upon the political leanings of the membership. While they are men who have the freedom to vote their conscience, theirs is to transcend that which is purely temporal in the teaching, governing and sanctifying work of the Church in the world. For instance, if a bishop is focused first on matters of life, then he will be an outspoken advocate not only for the unborn, the elderly and the disabled, but also for the poor, the homeless and the marginalized.

It does not constitute a political bent to elect a bishop to lead the Conference whose views reflect a more "traditional Catholicism". Catholicism is not Liberal or Conservative, it is Truth. This proper understanding of Catholicism would seem to unequivocally demand that Bishop Dolan look beyond political affiliations to love of God and love of neighbor as his motivation in leadership.

In Truth, Dolan's brother bishops found him to be the best qualified to lead their Conference, to oversee their work and to provide for the future of American Catholics. This is not political -- beyond the fact that he was duly and properly elected to head that body -- but rather, an excellent example of faith informing human reason.

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