BALTIMORE – In a surprise result, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City beat Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago as head of the U.S. bishops’ committee on pro-life activities by a vote of 96-82 during the Tuesday morning elections of the USCCB fall assembly.
The results will likely be viewed by many that the “Francis effect” has yet to take hold fully of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and a rejection of the “consistent ethic of life” methodology, promoted by the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, who served as Archbishop of Chicago in the 1980s and ’90s.
Cupich, considered a protege of Francis and the current head of the Chicago archdiocese, is the current standard-bearer of the view, which combines pro-life activism on abortion with other issues such as access to health care and poverty reduction measures.
This is the first time in nearly 40 years the U.S. bishops have chosen not to elect a cardinal as head of the pro-life committee.
This closely watched election has been viewed by many as a referendum on both the conference’s approach to pro-life issues and how it aligns with Francis. Naumann will replace outgoing head of the committee, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York. During his report on the pro-life committee on Monday, Dolan praised Nuamann’s work on the committee and as a board member of Human Life Action.
Naumann’s approach to life issues has long been marked by a specific focus on abortion.
In May of this year, Naumann made headlines when he announced that the parishes in his diocese would no longer host the Girl Scouts because of their affiliation with Planned Parenthood.
In an interview with Crux at the time, he said “the issues that pertain to family life, to marriage, to the dignity and sanctity of human life, do have a priority in our Catholic social teaching. Those are kind of foundational issues for us… I would say, however, in terms of the magnitude of things, abortion is a much more important issue, simply because of the sheer number of innocent lives that are taken every year in our culture.”
During the 2016 presidential election, Naumann took to the pages of his archdiocesan newspaper, The Leaven, to call out then-vice presidential candidate Senator Tim Kaine, a Catholic, for being personally opposed to abortion, yet failing to maintain those convictions in the political realm.
“If he knows these truths of biology, why would he believe that anyone has the right to authorize the killing of an unborn human being? This is where the reproductive choice euphemism breaks apart,” Naumann wrote. “Does anyone really have the choice to end another human being’s life? Our choices end where another individual’s more fundamental rights begin.”
Naumann has been archbishop of Kansas City, Kansas since 2005.
Also elected was Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit as conference secretary-elect for the conference. Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, was elected as head of the committee on religious liberty; Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia, as head of the committee on communications; Bishop Nelson Pérez of Cleveland as head of the committee Cultural Diversity in the Church; Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend as head of the committee on doctrine; and Bishop Joseph Cistone of Diocese of Saginaw as head of the committee for national collections.
The U.S. bishops will continue in open session on Tuesday afternoon with discussion and a vote on the cause for canonization for Nicholas William Black Elk, a former Sioux medicine man turned Catholic teacher and reports and updates from the committees on Domestic Justice and Human Development and Cultural Diversity in the Church. On Wednesday, the assembly will conclude with a final day of executive session.
Stay tuned for Crux’s latest news and updates from the USCCB fall assembly, where Crux’s national correspondent Christopher White will be providing regular updates. Follow him on Twitter @CWWhite212 and visit Crux for daily updates and interviews from Baltimore.