The Bishop of Rome has called the bishops of the world to a renewal of pastoral outreach within the Church. If American Catholics could use anything these days, it is pastoral guidance from American bishops.
Many of the faithful in the land of the free and the home of the brave are being prodded and paralyzed by fear in the shifting chaos and confusion that are rampant. For many Catholics, the American Dream has become the American Nightmare. The discrepancy between Catholic doctrine and practice over contraception, the failing work of catechesis, the rise of the theological dissent, Common Core corruption, the death of culture, the culture of death, and a chameleon Catholic identity are only some of the crises that are scattering the American flock—a flock in need of shepherding.
Since his election last March, the Bishop of Rome has not been a very political figure—meaning his papacy does not appear to be motivated by politics. His honesty and humility are practically inimical to political posturing. It is possible that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has taken the Pontiff’s lead, realizing that there is no real victory to be won by pounding the pavement of mainstream politics. Americans do not need any more diplomatic skullduggery; they need authentic, affectionate leadership.
They need the truth.
On November 12th, the USCCB elected as the chief liaison between the US Church and the Vatican a man who has a reputation for being very much like Pope Francis in his pastoral approach. Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, became the new president of the leadership conference: a prelate with extensive experience in Catholic social services who brings, therefore, much expectation for advancement on the battlefronts of social American Catholicism.
This new face for the Catholic Church in America, as a gracious conservative, is seen as an indication of a desire among the American Bishops to spread the peacemaking works and words of Pope Francis. However, as a forthright prelate, he promises to retain an aggressive attitude toward the principle social and moral plagues of our country. Though Kurtz is not seen as belonging to any particular party or faction within the Church and considered a proponent of consensus between liberal and conservative groups, there is good reason to expect him to show more backbone than a mere conciliator might have. Archbishop Kurtz has a pugnacious streak to his record that justifies certain expectations—certain hopes.
1. Archbishop Kurtz has ever been an outspoken prelate on the atrocity of abortion, and has berated politicians who do not conform to the Church’s teaching on the matter. In his first address after his election, he vowed to keep up the fight to defend “the voiceless and the vulnerable,” and to oppose abortion unconditionally in pastoral service to the unborn. In recent months, the media has expressed the world’s disappointment that the new Pope, who seemed to be breaking away from so many stuffy customs, was as traditional as ever on the Church’s stance concerning abortion. If Archbishop Kurtz is like his Pope in any way, this is one. “In a nation founded on the self-evident truth that all are created with an inalienable right to life,” he stated, “the deliberate destruction of unborn children at their most vulnerable stage is a travesty. It is a violent response that does not serve women, children, families or the common good.”
2. On the issue of same-sex unions, Archbishop Kurtz has been unwavering in his opposition. True to his apostolic station, he upholds the one and only understanding that marriage is a holy union between one man and one woman. Archbishop Kurtz previously served as chair of the US Bishops’ Committee for the Defense of Marriage and Family Life, speaking out openly against legalized same-sex marriage. The only thing that may qualify his prominent disapproval is his statement that he intends to follow Pope Francis’ direction of seeing the person before all else. Kurtz is of one mind with the Pope regarding the need for dialogue and sensitivity in providing pastoral care and direction for those who struggle with homosexuality.
3. One of the greatest challenges awaiting the new USCCB president is the controversy and contretemps of the US president’s federal health care mandate. The encroachment on religious liberty under the Affordable Care Act, requiring many employers to provide health insurance that includes contraception coverage, even if the employer is morally opposed to the practice, is of tremendous concern to Catholic America—and Catholic America will be looking to Archbishop Kurtz to lead the way through the labyrinth. His track record of vocal protests against the contraception requirement in Obamacare has earned the disapproval of his election from many liberal Catholics, but Archbishop Kurtz has not shown himself afraid of appearing “old-fashioned.” The archbishop takes the helm of the USCCB as dozens of dioceses file lawsuits against the current administration. The calm before the storm? Despite their differences, Kurtz says, the church can maintain a productive relationship with the government.
4. Like Pope Francis, Archbishop Kurtz is known for his simple lifestyle, living in a plain apartment next door to the Louisville cathedral. He has worked firsthand with the poor and marginalized for years, recognizing the Catholic Church as a Church for the poor. His advocacy for the poor extends to a desire for humane immigration reform and care for the elderly and infirm. The human person is central to Kurtz’s apostolic approach. Like Pope Francis, he pledged after his election to reach out to the poor and undeserving. When asked whether the bishops intend to utilize their authority on behalf of the poor, Archbishop Kurtz replied, “I believe we are very much in solidarity with Pope Francis on this.” In his new position, Archbishop Kurtz will have the power to influence and organize charitable efforts in social services and education.
5. Archbishop Kurtz, despite being 67 years old, is no stranger to the pastoral opportunities afforded by social media venues, which almost necessarily plays a role in reaching out to the younger generations of Americans. His use of Twitter has gathered over 6,000 followers, a number that will surely grow as his position and profile rises in the US Church. For one who is determined to speak in an orthodox and straightforward manner in the language of love, such efforts to reach a wayward or perplexed youth is encouraging and suggests a new evangelization headed up by the new leader of the American apostleship.
Archbishop Joseph Kurtz’s coat of arms bears the motto, “Hope in the Lord.” At this time, as the leadership of the Catholic Church in the United States passes into the hands of this estimable man, let us adopt this motto as our own. Archbishop Kurtz’s service in the Lord thus far gives the American faithful cause to hope—to hope in the Lord—for it is only He who is Truth that can give us true freedom.
image: Wikimedia Commons