Bishops Elect Louisville Archbishop New President
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The new leader of the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops says he will draw on his years as a pastor to guide American bishops as they attempt to shift focus under Pope Francis, who wants more emphasis on compassion than on divisive social issues such as gay marriage.
Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Kentucky was elected Tuesday as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, a role that makes him the U.S church’s spokesman on national issues and a representative of American bishops to the Vatican and the pope.
Kurtz, a 67-year-old Pennsylvania native and a former bishop of Knoxville, Tenn., pledged after his election Tuesday to focus the bishops’ work on reaching out to the poor and underserved, a mission emphasized by the new pope.
"The challenge for us in welcoming people and most especially serving people who are voiceless and vulnerable, spans right across the board from our work in immigration (to) our work in serving people who are poor," Kurtz said.
Louisville church leaders who have worked closely with Kurtz said he has a deep well of energy and isn’t afraid to use social media or a rudimentary understanding of Spanish to communicate with the faithful.
"I think this is a great recognition of his gifts," said the Rev. J. Mark Spalding, pastor at Louisville’s Holy Trinity Church. "He’s got a gift for reaching out."
But Kurtz has also used his time as Louisville Archbishop to take strong stands on the kind of hot-button cultural issues the new pope says have occupied too much of the church’s focus. Since coming to Louisville, he has joined praying protesters in front of an abortion clinic, donated $1,000 of archdiocese money to a same-sex marriage repeal effort in Maine and joined other Catholic leaders in denouncing a federal requirement for employers to provide health insurance that covers artificial contraceptives.
The Rev. William Hammer, pastor of St. Joseph Proto-Cathedral in nearby Bardstown, said Kurtz has been outspoken on those issues because "he believes in them."
"At the same time, I do know he has very much been actively involved in a kind of ministry of presence, and going out to people on the margins," said Hammer, who is president of the archdiocese priests council. "I do think he brings a pastoral approach rather than simply an intellectual approach. That’s what I think is my reading of what Pope Francis is calling for."