BALTIMORE — Pope Benedict XVI today named Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., the 16th archbishop of Baltimore.
The Baltimore Archdiocese’s new archbishop will be installed May 16 at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen. He succeeds Cardinal Edwin O’Brien, who has led the faithful in Baltimore since 2007 and was appointed grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem in August 2011.
Over the past six months, Archbishop-designate Lori, 60, the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, has emerged as an energetic, high-profile leader in the U.S. bishops’ fight to overturn the Obama administration’s contraception mandate. His new proximity to the nation’s capital will increase his impact on the debate.
Cardinal O’Brien introduced his successor at a March 20 press conference at the Baltimore basilica, where local media joined the archdiocese’s auxiliary bishops, priests and seminarians to greet their new shepherd.
It has been more than six months since Cardinal O’Brien was appointed to his Vatican post, and there had been a good deal of conjecture regarding his replacement, with insiders betting that Bishop Lori would be tapped to fill the post.
Upon introducing his successor to the congregation, Cardinal O’Brien quipped, “You have no idea how happy I am to see you.”
He praised the archbishop-designate’s legacy in Bridgeport, where vocations, Catholic education, and social outreach have been strengthened, and hailed his national role as an “advocate” of religious freedom and traditional marriage.
Archbishop-designate Lori, for his part, said his new appointment in Baltimore filled him with “joy and gratitude at the very thought of shepherding this great Church. My first thought is gratitude to the Lord, the Good Shepherd, the One who shepherds his people in love and truth.”
He thanked Pope Benedict XVI, who “entrusted” the archdiocese to him, as well as the first bishop of Baltimore, John Carroll, whose historic seat still has a place of honor in the basilica.
“I really look forward to working with everyone so that we might unite in bearing witness to Christ and join together in the spirit of loving service as this historic diocese proclaims the faith,” he said, expressing a desire to work closely with Church leaders and to get to know his priests, seminarians and the faithful in the pews.
He acknowledged that Baltimore will be a step up in his responsibilities. In Bridgeport, he oversaw a diocese consisting of one county and a total population of 895,015—about 60% Catholic. Baltimore’s Catholic population is only slightly larger, but the total population of the city and the nine other counties it covers is over 3.1 million.
Both dioceses have about 250 priests and about 30 men in seminary. Baltimore, though, has its own seminary, while Bridgeport relies on seminaries outside its boundaries.
The Battle Ahead
Bishop Lori’s formal introduction to his new flock served as an opportunity for Baltimore’s new archbishop to restate his commitment to the defense of traditional marriage and religious liberty.
Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Catholic, just signed a bill legalizing same-sex “marriage,” and the state is now gearing up for a referendum challenging the law. While the state’s historic black churches played a more visible role in the legislative battle, the new archbishop, as the president of the Maryland Catholic bishops conference, could emerge as a central player in an uphill referendum campaign.
During the press conference, he acknowledged that the referendum was a critical issue. On the subject of religious liberty, he reflected on his new appointment and said that defending the first freedom “from a chair once occupied by John Carroll” will be “a source of great grace.”
Threats to religious freedom “should concern all of us as Americans,” he said of the erosion of religious liberty. “This is something I have come to gradually, but now I am in with both feet.”
While leading the Bridgeport Diocese, he was drawn into the political arena, where the culture wars have fueled state fights on abortion rights, same-sex “marriage” and church-state contests. He earned a reputation as a tough Church leader, giving as good as he got.
“Connecticut was a dress rehearsal for the national battle we are now engaged in for the preservation for religious liberty,” said Peter Wolfgang, the executive director of the Family Institute of Connecticut, a Hartford-based nonprofit organization that works with the Connecticut Catholic Conference on marriage and life issues.
In 2009, the state Legislature introduced a bill that would have stripped bishops and priests of financial authority over their parishes.
After the legislation was introduced, Bishop Lori made a series of rapid-fire decisions that produced an immediate show of force in the state Capitol. The diocese arranged for buses and got the word out to other dioceses, while priests exhorted the faithful from the pulpit.
“More than any single individual, credit for the success of the rally and defeat of the bill goes to Bishop Lori, who bypassed the normal structures for doing business at the state Capitol,” Wolfgang recalled. “The Catholic Church was viewed as a moribund institution. He saw that the sleeping giant could be awakened.”
Subsequently, the state Legislature’s ethics committee launched an investigation into the Church’s actions during the legislative battle. Bishop Lori promptly sued the committee, and the state attorney general let the matter drop.
In 2011, that record led New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan to appoint him to lead the newly established Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. In that role, he has testified on Capitol Hill, drafted letters read from church pulpits, and helped to form a broad alliance of Christian churches opposed to the mandate.
During his recent testimony before several House committee hearings on the HHS contraception mandate, Bishop Lori exhibited the same tough-minded approach on display back in Bridgeport.
When Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, repeatedly challenged the legitimacy of the bishops’ opposition to the mandate, Bishop Lori calmly disputed his various arguments.
At one point, Cummings noted that Church-affiliated institutions received millions in federal funds and implied that the bishops had nothing to complain about.
Bishop Lori replied: “We don’t get a handout. We have a contract for services, and we deliver them. … We bring the generosity of the Catholic people, and we bring volunteers. When you contract with the Church, you get a bang for your buck.”
But he leavened his unapologetic stance with humor, offering a ” Parable of the Kosher Deli” during a Feb 16 hearing that sought to clarify the church’s stance on the mandate.
His performance on Capitol Hill, and his effort to recruit a team of experts to help guide the bishops’ response to present and future challenges have earned him respect. Though Church leaders are on a steep learning curve, several recent opinion polls signaled that the majority of Americans agree with their position.
“Bishop Lori has — for years — been a clear and courageous defender of the freedoms of the Church and the religious liberty of all. His leadership on crucial questions regarding the fundamental right to religious freedom is a blessing, and not only to Catholics,” said Richard Garnett, a professor of law and associate dean of Notre Dame Law School, who is a consultant for the U.S. bishops’ committee on religious liberty.
“It’s entirely appropriate that the leader of the U.S. bishops’ defense of religious freedom should come to Baltimore, the home of religious freedom in Catholic America,” said George Weigel, the papal biographer and public intellectual, who has written extensively on the mandate fight and charted Bishop Lori’s rising prominence.
During today’s press conference, the archbishop-designate wryly acknowledged his new visibility in the nation’s capital as church leaders look for opportunities to advance their case.
“The Vatican decided that I was spending entirely too much time … on the US Airways shuttle, so they moved me to Baltimore,” he said. “So, they moved me to Baltimore so I’m a train ride away.”
Baltimore’s newly appointed archbishop is the supreme chaplain of the Knights of Columbus. Supreme Knight Carl Anderson was traveling and unavailable for comment.
William Lori was born in Louisville, Ky., on May 6, 1951. Ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington in 1977 and a bishop by Pope John Paul II in 1995, he served as an auxiliary bishop in the nation’s capital. Six years later, he was named the bishop of Bridgeport, where he strengthened diocesan schools, vocations outreach and social programs.
Over the past decade, he has put his stamp on key USCCB initiatives, serving on the Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse, where he helped to develop the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. He also serves on the Committee on Doctrine, the Pro-Life Activities Committee and the Ad Hoc Committee for the Defense of Marriage.
For the immediate future, Archbishop-designate Lori will focus much of his energies on his new responsibilities in Baltimore. But his appointment, combined with the recent arrival of Archbishop Charles Chaput in Philadelphia, provide critical reinforcements for Cardinal Dolan’s campaign to evangelize the culture, and secure a place for religion in the public square.
“Washingtonians like me, who’ve known Archbishop Lori for years, are delighted by this appointment,” said Russell Shaw, the long-time USCCB spokesman and author of Nothing to Hide: Secrecy, Communication and Communion in the Catholic Church”
Shaw observed that some of the new archbishop’s most notable qualities “have been much on display in recent months in the religious liberty fight—but he’s also outspokenly orthodox and notably pastoral in style. I hope the good people of Baltimore are dancing in the streets today. They should.”
Joan Frawley Desmond is the Register’s senior editor.