by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
In 1965, William F. Buckley ran as a conservative for mayor of New York City. When he was asked what he would do if he were elected, Buckley quipped: “I’d demand a recount!”
I had similar sentiments after my recent election to serve as chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities.
I was actually elected first to serve one year as chair-elect for the pro-life committee. Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York remains the chair of the pro-life committee for the next year. At the conclusion of the November 2018 general assembly of the bishops’ conference, I will begin my three-year term as the chairman of the pro-life committee.
Oftentimes, a newly elected chair is not a member of the current committee. The opportunity to serve a year as chair-elect allows a bishop to become acquainted with the work of the committee before assuming the role of chair. Some of the more important and complex committee projects often require more than three years to accomplish. Allowing the incoming chair to serve first as chair-elect insures continuity with the committee work.
In my case, I am already a member of the pro-life committee. My life will not change significantly for the next year.
Through my 20 years as a member of the bishops’ conference, I have been nominated several times for other committee chairmanships. In fact, several years ago, I was nominated previously to chair the pro-life committee. Up until this November, I had a perfect losing record.
Every bishop is invited to nominate brother bishops for the chairmanship of committees, whose current chairs will be entering into their final year of service.
The Committee on Priorities and Plans, composed of elected representatives from all of the geographic regions, identify two bishops, based on the names of those most frequently nominated, who are willing to serve as candidates for the chairmanship of each committee.
Elections in the bishops’ conference are very different from those we experience in civil society. A nominee for a committee chairmanship never knows the identity of the other nominee until the list of candidates are presented to all the bishops.
Additional candidates can be nominated at the meeting, but this rarely occurs. It is never the case that you are running against the other nominee. Refreshingly, there is no campaigning for office. Bishops are presented with brief biographies of each candidate. Based on the bios and our own knowledge of one another, we cast our votes.
Personally, I have always felt quite humbled in the past to be nominated by the bishops to stand as a candidate for the chair of a committee. I admire the zeal, knowledge and wisdom of my brother bishops. We have such an incredible pool of talent within the conference of bishops.
I am one of a handful of bishops who had the opportunity during our priestly ministry to serve as diocesan pro-life directors. From 1984 through 1995, I was the priest coordinator for the pro-life apostolate of the Archdiocese of St. Louis.
This responsibility both required and afforded me the opportunity to study and reflect upon the many and often complex issues related to the church’s efforts to both protect and promote the sanctity of every human life.
In large part because of that experience, I am currently serving my sixth term as a member of the USCCB’s pro-life committee. It has been a great privilege to have been chosen by the six preceding pro-life chairmen to serve on the committee.
Since my election, I have been asked what will be my priorities for the committee. Cardinal Dolan remains the chair of the committee. Since my term does not begin until next November, it would be premature for me to articulate goals for the future committee. My focus currently is to assist Cardinal Dolan in any way that I can with the current committee’s work.
The USCCB Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities outlines the multidimensional approach the church employs in her pro-life efforts. First of all, every apostolate and ministry of the church must be grounded in prayer.
Secondly, the church’s pro-life efforts are educational. We must attempt to inform the minds and inspire the hearts of our own people to build a culture of life.
Third, the pro-life ministry is all about love and mercy. Our goal is to surround those experiencing an untimely or difficult pregnancy with a community of love and support to help them choose life.
At the same time, we are called to make available the healing mercy of God to those who have participated in or facilitated an abortion decision and now deeply regret that choice.
Finally, our pro-life efforts also include advocacy for public policies that protect life from the womb to the tomb. The church, since the inception of our nation, has chosen not to endorse political candidates or parties. At the same time, the church has a responsibility to form the consciences of her members and to be a voice for the voiceless in the public square.
Please know that I appreciate and depend on your prayers all the time. I will count on you to ramp up your prayers next November when I assume this additional responsibility to serve the U.S. bishops in their efforts to build a culture of life and a civilization of love.