USCCB officials on the ballot for conference leadership role

USCCB autumn general assembly Baltimore Nov 11 2019 Credit Christine rousselle CNA The USCCB autumn general assembly in Baltimore, Md., Nov. 11, 2019. | Christine Rousselle/CNA.

Two officials of the U.S. bishops' conference will be candidates to replace Msgr. Brian Bransfield, the outgoing general secretary of the conference.

Monsignor Jeff Burrill and Fr. Michael Fuller will be on the bishops' conference ballot in November for the general secretary position, multiple sources have told CNA. Bransfield, elected in 2015, is completing a five-year term in the position.

Burrill is now a deputy to Bransfield, serving as associate general secretary of the conference. A priest of La Crosse, the priest earned a licentiate in theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas in Rome, has served as a formator at the Pontifical North American College, a seminary in Rome, and has worked at the bishops' conference since 2016.

One conference staffer told CNA that Burrill is regarded within the bishops' conference as a "common-sense guy" with pastoral sensibilities, others speculated that if elected, Burrill might seek to streamline and simplify some of the procedural and bureaucratic aspects of the conference's day-to-day operations.

A former conference staffer told CNA that he believes Burrill would have a good working relationship with episcopal leaders, and would do well forming relationships between offices of the conference.

Fuller, a priest of the Rockford diocese, has also worked at the bishops' conference since 2016. The priest, who earned a doctorate in theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas in Rome, is director of the conference's offices for doctrine and canonical affairs. He was previously a professor of theology at the Archdiocese of Chicago's Mundelein seminary.

A source close to the conference told CNA that Fuller is a "good man," with "a demonstrated capacity to reflect the Church's mind on complex issues," which he added, is an important aspect of leadership in the conference.

The bishops' conference will conduct its November meeting virtually. The U.S. bishops ordinarily meet twice yearly, but their June meeting was cancelled amid the coronavirus pandemic. In addition to electing a new general secretary, the bishops will elect the chairmen of several committees and vote on some planning and budget items at the November virtual meeting. 

The conference's general secretary, who must be a priest, is responsible for overseeing staff, committees, and projects of the USCCB, and for facilitating dialogue between the U.S. bishops and offices of the Vatican's curial offices. Some priests who have served in the position have subsequently become bishops themselves, including Archbishop Dennis Schnurr of Cincinnati and Bishop David Malloy of Rockford, who is Fuller's bishop.

Bransfield is a priest of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Before he was elected general secretary, he was an associate general secretary of the conference, and before that led its catechetical office. The priest, who is the author of several books, has a doctorate in theology from the Pontifical John Paul II Institute and has been a theology instructor at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, DC.

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