Baltimore, Md., Nov 12, 2019 / 09:13 am America/Denver (CNA).
The bishops of the US have elected a new president and vice president to lead the USCCB for the next three years. On Tuesday morning, the second day of their fall general session, the bishops elected Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles as president and Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit as vice president of the conference.
As the votes were cast Nov. 12, Archbishop Gomez was serving as the USCCB vice president, and the bishops customarily elected the vice president to the presidency. From a slate of 10 candidates, Gomez was elected with 176 votes, more than double the number of the second-place candidate.
If Gomez’s election was a formality, the election of the vice president was more evenly contested. The bishops needed three rounds of voting to winnow down the nine remaining candidates.
Archbishop Vigneron led after the first ballot, with 77 votes but short of a majority. On the second round, that number rose to 106, with Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services the next placed candidate with 52 votes. The two archbishops were put forward in a run-off third ballot, in which Vigneron was elected, winning 151 out of 241 votes cast.
Gomez, 67, born in Monterrey, Mexico, and ordained a priest of Opus Dei in Spain, is the first Latino to lead the bishops’ conference. He is also the first immigrant at the conference helm.
Vigneron, a Michigan native, has led the Detroit archdiocese since 2009. He was ordained a priest for the archdiocese in 1975 and made an auxiliary bishop for Detroit in 1996. In 2003 he was named co-adjutor and later ordinary of the Diocese of Oakland.
Vigneron is widely considered to have provided steady leadership in Detroit during the recent sexual abuse crisis, even as the dioceses of the state face an ongoing Attorney General investigation. In April, he gave a speech in which he explained the importance of lay collaboration in the ministry of bishops as they govern their dioceses.
“In order to act well, I recognize that I am in need of what I might call ‘co-agents’--others who help me by thinking and acting along with me,” he said during a speech at the Catholic University of America.
"All the laity can continue to be engaged at the spiritual level, to realize that if there's going to be change in the Church, part of it has to be that we all pray for that to happen,” he said.
“The other thing is to continue to hold the pastors accountable, to urge us to do what we need to do to advance the purification of the Church and to support us as we're engaged in those challenges."
Seen as a moderate conservative, earlier this year he announced that archdiocesan sporting events and leagues would no longer play on Sundays to help encourage families to observe the day of rest.
Vigneron had been serving as the bishops’ conference secretary, and was elected to the vice presidency from a crowded field of candidates. Despite the long list of names on the ballot, the election was marked by the absence of any notably theologically progressive candidates.
One of the more thorny issues facing the newly elected leadership team will be how to deal with bishops, both active and retired, who face accusations of either negligence or abuse of office.
In June, the conference adopted a set of protocols on how diocesan bishops could limit the ministry of their retired or removed predecessors in the event that allegations came to light. Among those provisions was the option to “disinvite” emeritus bishops from attending future USCCB meetings.
Shortly before the November meeting, Bishop Mark Brennan of Wheeling-Charleston wrote to the outgoing conference president Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, asking him to disinvite former Wheeling Bishop Michael Bransfield, who faces numerous allegations of misconduct, both financial and sexual.
During a Nov. 11 press conference, CNA asked Cardinal DiNardo if similar requests to bar retired bishops from attending conference meetings would be made public.
“Bishop Bransfield was the first [such case] that we had, and I did a consultation with the administrative board,” DiNardo told CNA. “Not a vote taking, but a good consultation, but [the president] is the one who makes the decision.”
With investigations open in several dioceses, including into serving diocesan bishops in the dioceses of Crookston and Buffalo, Archbishop Gomez is likely to face several similarly sensitive decisions in the coming year.
Gomez and Vigneron also take the helm of the conference ahead of the release of the Vatican’s widely anticipated report on former cardinal Theodore McCarrick. On Monday, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston updated the conference on the Vatican Secretariat of State’s progress on the investigation into McCarrick’s career rise through ecclesiastical ranks despite decades of alleged abuse.
O’Malley told the U.S. bishops that the Vatican process had uncovered “a much larger corpus of information than had been expected,” and that this had delayed the publication of a report.
A draft was now complete, O’Malley said, and was in the process of being translated and would be presented to Pope Francis in the near future. “The intention is to publish the Holy See’s response soon, if not before Christmas, soon in the New Year,” O’Malley said.
How that report is presented to and received by the faithful in the United States will likely be the most important part of the first year of the Gomez-Vigneron leadership.