Archbishop Joseph Kurtz
New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan applauds the election of Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., as the next president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Nov. 12 in Baltimore. (CNS photo/Nancy Phelan Wiechec) (Nov. 12, 2013)
, 67, is
the new president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
The son of a Pennsylvania coal miner, he was ordained a priest for the
Diocese of Allentown in 1972, and has served as archbishop of
Louisville, Kentucky since 2007. Previously, he served as the USCCB’s
As he told CWR in 2011
Archbishop Kurtz sees the USCCB’s role as threefold: 1) to promote
unity among the bishops and Holy Father, 2) to help the individual
bishop in the care of his diocese, and 3) to provide a vehicle for the
bishops to collectively address issues of the day.
In an interview with CWR
on November 22, Archbishop Kurtz continued the discussion about the
work of the USCCB, and shared his thoughts on the new pontiff, Pope
CWR: The Catholic bishops have opposed
directives by the Obama administration that mandate Catholic
institutions such as schools and hospitals provide their employees with
health care coverage that includes contraceptives, abortions, and
sterilizations. Where are you in your negotiations with the
administration on this issue?
Abp. Kurtz: First
off, in the larger context, the U.S. bishops remain firmly united in
their opposition to the HHS [Health and Human Services] mandate. At the
conclusion of our General Assembly in Baltimore on November 13, the
USCCB issued a Special Message
that was passed by a unanimous vote. It says, in part, “Pope Francis
has reminded us that ‘In the context of society, there is only one thing
which the Church quite clearly demands: the freedom to proclaim the
Gospel in its entirety, even when it runs counter to the world, even
when it goes against the tide.’”
This is an excellent
statement by Pope Francis. Our belief, and the belief of most people,
is that when you look back in history, people’s faith doesn’t detract
from public life. Instead, it enriches and motivates us to serve
others. This is certainly true in providing health care. The Church
has been a major provider itself, and an advocate of providing access to
health care for all. However, when we do so, we do so in a manner
consistent with our Catholic principles. So, the HHS mandate continues
to be burdensome to us, and we will continue to oppose it.
was pleased to see that a federal judge just granted an injunction to
the Diocese of Pittsburgh and the Diocese of Erie saying that they do
not have to provide types of health insurance coverage which violate
their consciences. We hope that the U.S. Supreme Court will understand
and agree. If the decision goes against us, we will still remain united
in our opposition to the HHS mandate, and look for other avenues to
pursue that enable us to remain true to what we believe. We will never
do something we believe to be immoral.
we last talked in 2011, nine states have legalized same-sex marriage,
including three by a vote of the electorate (Maine, Maryland, and
Washington). Does the trend seem to be going against those who believe
in traditional marriage, and what is the best way Catholics can promote
Abp. Kurtz: To reiterate
our position, we believe marriage is the union of a man and a woman, in
permanence, for the sake of their children. That is the primary reason
why the state should be involved in marriage in the first place, for the
good of the children.
Pope Francis has said that marriage and
family are the engine of history and of the world. He has, in fact,
called an extraordinary general assembly of the Synod of Bishops in 2014
which will reflect on Church teachings on marriage and the family, how
they are received and how they can best be communicated to the world.
In his encyclical Lumen Fidei, the Holy Father lays out a great vision for what marriage between a man and a woman should be.
opinion in support of the Church’s view of marriage has been
weakening. This can be a source of discouragement for us, but I think
instead we should view it as an opportunity to better explain and defend
our position. We have a lot of work ahead of us. And we need Catholic
married couples who set examples for us by living out their marriages
in faithful love.
CWR: Will the USCCB be issuing a statement on pornography, and if so, what do you think ought to be included in that statement?
Abp. Kurtz: We’re
in the very early stages of the creation of such a statement. It would
involve maybe two years of observation, discussion, and drafting of the
Widespread pornography use, I believe, is a sign that
we live in a culture prone to addiction. We need to call people away
from addiction into the fullness of life. Pornography turns us inward
to ourselves, while our faith calls us to go outside of ourselves.
involved with it need to understand that addiction is a pattern that is
destructive, and that they need spiritual help to turn to virtue. I
like Bishop Sheen’s counsel when it comes to vice: it is easier to crowd
evil out than to drive it out. We need to fill our lives with positive
CWR: You’ve met with Pope Francis. What was he like?
Abp. Kurtz: I
had the opportunity to speak with him for 35 minutes. He was gracious,
engaging, humble, conversational, and holy. He’s a person of obvious
strength and integrity, and determined to respond to God’s call to be a
CWR: Some Catholics have been concerned about some of Pope Francis’ comments. What reassurances would you offer to them?
Abp. Kurtz: I’d
encourage them to reflect on the words of the Holy Father himself, that
he is a loyal son of the Church, and that he takes seriously his
responsibility to pass on the teachings of Christ. He believes he must
do this in a new way, one that gets the attention of the people.
recently spoke on evangelization at the Our Lady of Guadalupe shrine in
Mexico City. One topic that came up was that what is crucial is not
what is proclaimed, but what is heard. I think Pope Francis gets that.
Thirty years ago Blessed John Paul IIsoon to be St. John Paulsaid
something similar. When he described the New Evangelization, he said we
must preach our faith with a new ardor, with new methods and new
Pope Francis has also described himself as a sinner,
filled with gratitude and contrition. He is giving himself 100 percent
to Christ and his people.
CWR: How would you
assess the health of the American Church in regard to numbers of
vocations, Mass attendance, children receiving a Catholic education,
Catholic marriages, the influence of the Church on public policy, and
other traditional barometers?
Abp. Kurtz: We live
in a culture where many people are distant or alienated from faith.
Some describe themselves as spiritual, but not tied to a religion. Many
people are indifferent to religion, and are materialistic.
2008, the bishops contracted a CARA [Center for Applied Research in the
Apostolate] study to take a scientific look at American Catholics and
their faith. Some of the results were sad, others encouraging. Sadly,
we learned that only 23 percent of Catholics go to Mass on Sundays. On a
positive note, however, 77 percent said they were proud to be Catholic.
think there are some positive signs of an awakening in the hearts of
American Catholics. In Louisville, we’ve had an increase in vocations
to the priesthood. We went from having three seminarians to 18. We
ordain about three priests per year, and most are men who grew up
locally. I believe more young men and women are considering religious
I’m encouraged when I see faith reflected in our young
people. I’m about to participate in the 2013 National Catholic Youth
Conference in Indianapolis, which draws nearly 25,000. Six hundred will
be from our Archdiocese of Louisville. I love to see their enthusiasm.
also been impressed with our Archdiocese of Louisville Catholic Men’s
Conference, which drew 650 men seeking to become closer to Christ.
pleased with these and many other evangelization efforts seeking to
transform our country. When it comes to evangelization, there’s a
simple formula I learned in Cursillo that stuck with me: make a friend,
be a friend, and bring a friend to Christ.
been known for your support of the rights of the unborn. Tell us about
your involvement with the promulgation last Mother’s Day of the Rite
for Blessing of the Child in the Womb.
Abp. Kurtz: A
priest in Knoxville, in eastern TennesseeI was previously bishop of
Knoxvilleasked me if such a rite existed. We have rites for the child
once he’s born, before baptism, and for a pregnant woman, so I assumed
there must be one for the child in the womb. To my surprise, I
discovered there was not.
I brought it to the USCCB’s Committee
on Pro-Life Activities, and they were very supportive about creating
such a rite. It went to the Committee on Divine Worship, and the rite
was created and approved unanimously by the bishops. It was approved by
Rome, and was promulgated in 2012.
I see it as one way we can
defend the child in the womb. The blessing is also about lifting up and
promoting that gift of a child. It is especially valuable if the
family is distant from the faith.
CWR: What do you hope to accomplish as USCCB president?
Abp. Kurtz: I
want to serve the bishops, who will, in turn, serve the faithful in
their dioceses. I also want to promote unity among those who serve
Christ. However, I recognize that the conference has a limited role.
As Cardinal Francis George of Chicago has pointed out, there is no
archbishop of the United States. The USCCB is called to serve, and many
people, including the Holy Father, have thanked us for our work.
CWR: Do you believe the USCCB has a significant influence in the United States?
Abp. Kurtz: I’ll
leave that for others to judge. I hope what we do, we do in humility,
listening to others and seeking the common good. We want to make our
contribution in sharing that rich tradition that is our faith, which has
so much to offer this country and the world.