US bishops elect anti-Francis archbishop as new president

The US bishops have sent a clear message of rejection to Pope Francis by selecting Archbishop Timothy Broglio, who heads the Archdiocese for the Military Services, as president of the bishops’ conference.

Nov 25, 2022

Archbishop Timothy Broglio

By Michael Sean Winters

The US bishops have sent a clear message of rejection to Pope Francis by selecting Archbishop Timothy Broglio, who heads the Archdiocese for the Military Services, as president of the bishops’ conference.

The bishops choice of new leadership revealed the deeper ecclesiological orientation of the body. They had to decide if they wanted to be a part of the ongoing reception of the Second Vatican Council in the context of the magisterium of Pope Francis, or not, a choice made all the more obvious by the success of the synodal process so far. As papal nuncio Archbishop Christophe Pierre reminded them in his opening address, the bishops govern the Church “cum Petro and sub Petro,” with Peter and under Peter. They forgot that law, or ignored it, 30 minutes later.

In my many years of coming to these meetings of the US bishops’ conference, I have learned that relationships are usually, but not always, more important than ideology in the selection of conference officers and committee chairs. This year, however, the bishops faced clear ideological choices.

In the person of Broglio, the bishops had a candidate who rejects Pope Francis’ call for a more outward focused, accompanying Church, a throwback to the pre-conciliar vision of his mentor and patron, the late Cardinal Angelo Sodano.

It is difficult to overstate what a repudiation of Pope Francis the selection of Broglio to lead the conference is. He is the one bishop in the United States with long-standing tensions with the Pope, tensions that goes back to Broglio’s work with Sodano, who famously tried to shut down the Latin American Bishops’ Conference CELAM and who protected the monstrous pedophile Fr Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legionaries of Christ.

It was on Broglio’s watch as nuncio to the Dominican Republic and apostolic delegate to Puerto Rico that Bishop Daniel Fernández Torres was made a bishop. Torres was forced to step down as bishop of Arecibo, Puerto Rico earlier this year. The bishop had long been a thorn in the side of his brother bishops in Puerto Rico, but his decision to publicly oppose the bishops’ collective support for efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19 was a bridge too far. The Pope took the unusual step of sacking him.

Broglio also supported those who harboured “conscientious objections” to getting the vaccine: “This circumstance raises the question of whether the vaccine’s moral permissibility precludes an individual from forming a sincerely held religious belief that receiving the vaccine would violate his conscience,” he wrote. “It does not.”

That misstates the issue. Everyone has a right to not be vaccinated, but they cannot then assert a right to endanger others by that refusal. Just as someone with a conscientious objection to war does not, in turn, get to undermine the war effort, a soldier who does not want to get vaccinated cannot undermine the military’s effort to protect the health and well-being of its soldiers.

Broglio also seems obsessed with the issue of homosexuality, more specifically, with making sure that no one mistake pastoral outreach and accompaniment for anything approaching solidarity. After the release of Evgeny Afineevsky’s documentary Francesco, in which the Pope expressed some commonplaces about not ostracising gays and lesbians, Broglio issued a “clarification” of pastoral statements the Pope made to the movie director, emptying them of their plain meaning. Who does that?

Early in Francis’ pontificate, it was common to encounter these kinds of clarifications, in which someone who disagrees with the Pope “explains” that “what the Pope meant to say” was something quite different from what he actually said. It was common among members of the commentariat, but not among bishops. I do not remember bishops clarifying what Pope John Paul II said, do you? It is insulting.

This is the man the US bishops have chosen to lead them for the next three years, a tenure that will continue through the 2024 election. Lord help us all.

The US bishops’ conference cannot survive as the Republican Party at prayer. It is time for a change but the change the bishops selected was to revert. It is pitiful.--NCR

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