- - Monday, November 11, 2013

As the world’s Catholics adjust to a very different kind of pope in the Vatican, American Catholics across the political spectrum are watching closely as the country’s Catholic bishops gather this week to select a new U.S. leader.

Liberals have been thrilled by some of the pronouncements from Pope Francis, while conservatives are watching warily as the bishops gather in Baltimore.

Many conservative Catholics argue that the next head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) should maintain the doctrinal standard the Catholic Church has upheld throughout its history — and resist the temptation to adopt a more relative theology.

“The church is not a democracy,” said Judie Brown, president of the Catholic organization American Life League. “We cannot vote on what we want to believe and what we don’t want to believe.”

The conference began Monday, and the election for president will be held Tuesday.

The gathering is being closely watched for clues as to how American bishops are reacting to Francis.

“It is all very polite. But behind the veil of pleasantries, there are real differences, and the USCCB needs to decide if it is going to get on the Pope Francis bandwagon or pursue the kind of culture warrior approach that has too often hijacked the bishops’ stance in the public square these past few years,” liberal Catholic Michael Sean Winters, author of “Left at the Altar,” wrote recently in the National Catholic Reporter.

Church liberals hope the selection of Francis also signals a new direction for American Catholics.

“I hope the approach that Pope Francis has taken is reflected by the hierarchy,” said David Nolan, director of communications at Catholics for Choice. “I think it gives the bishops an opportunity to show that they have listened and heard what Pope Francis has said.”

Mr. Nolan and Catholics for Choice believe that the next USCCB president should place less emphasis on “haranguing” individuals about reproductive rights and their sexual orientation.

Ten candidates are running for president: Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane, Wash., Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, Archbishop Dennis Schnurr of Cincinnati, Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit, and Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami.

The American bishops heard directly from the pope’s representative Monday.

Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the apostolic nuncio based in Washington, told the bishops they should not “follow a particular ideology” and should make Roman Catholics feel more welcome in church, according to The Associated Press. He urged the bishops to follow the pope’s example to eschew pomp and pursue a life of simplicity.

“There has to be a noticeable lifestyle characterized by simplicity and holiness of life. This is a sure way to bring our people to an awareness of the truth of our message,” he said.

“The Holy Father wants bishops in tune with their people,” he said. “He made a special point of saying that he wants pastoral bishops, not bishops who profess or follow a particular ideology.”

Though the political arena certainly will play a large role in the presidency of whoever is elected today, many conservative Catholics hope that the next president will find a way to transcend politics and the pressures it can place on faith and doctrine.

“Sadly, most of our leaders find it more appealing to be politically correct than truthful,” said Ms. Brown.

The winner of Tuesday’s secret vote will succeed Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, who opened the convention Monday with his final address as president.

During his three-year presidency, Cardinal Dolan has increased media awareness and helped the church rebound from sex-abuse scandals that caused many to question its legitimacy.

Cardinal Dolan also expressed support for immigration reform. Last week, he sent a letter to members of Congress asking that they address the polarizing issue before the end of the calendar year, according to the Catholic News Service.

“Like him or not, you couldn’t ignore him,” Rocco Palmo, editor of Whispers in the Loggia, a widely read blog on the Roman Catholic Church, told the Baltimore Sun. “He’s a once-in-a-generation leader. It’s like Elvis is leaving the building. Who’s going to take the stage now?”