WASHINGTON — Bishop William Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., was elected to a three-year term as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Nov. 15 during the regular fall meeting. Bishops elected Cardinal Francis George, archbishop of Chicago, as vice president.

Elected by a narrow majority with 120 votes, Bishop Skylstad will succeed Bishop Wilton Gregory of Bellville, Ill. Bishop Skylstad had served for three years as vice president, a position that traditionally leads to election as president.

“We bishops will continue to build on the steps we have taken for more than a decade, especially the charter and the norms adopted in 2002, to promote healing of those who have suffered sexual abuse and to prevent other children and young people from being abused,” Bishop Skylstad said at a Nov. 17 press conference.

Bishop Skylstad's election was controversial, coming just three days after he announced the Diocese of Spokane would file for bankruptcy protection after a breakdown of settlement talks with more than two dozen victims of sexual abuse who are suing.

“Is it going to be a tension? Sure, it will be,” Bishop Skylstad said of the bankruptcy. “And only I know how much that's going to be as I look to the weeks and months and three years ahead.”

Bishop Skylstad said working in his favor is the fact that the Diocese of Spokane is small, with about 90,000 Catholics and 81 parishes, allowing him to devote sufficient time to his diocese and to conference issues.

In other business, the bishops:

• Approved the U.S. Catholic Catechism for Adults, which has been in development for about five years. It's based on the content and structure of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which was released in 1992 as a reference tool to help bishops and catechetical publishers in the development of local catechetical materials.

• Approved participation in a proposed ecumenical forum called Christian Churches Together in the USA. The forum is intended to include all major Christian denominations in the country, including Pentecostals and evangelicals. Its stated charter is “to enable churches and national Christian organizations to grow closer together in Christ in order to strengthen our Christian witness in the world.”

• Approved the National Pastoral Initiative on Marriage, a multiyear project to help bishops strengthen marriages and traditional families. Bishop R. Daniel Conlon of Steubenville, Ohio, had proposed the development of a pastoral letter on marriage that would be similar to previous pastoral letters on peace and on the economy.

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, archbishop of Washington, said the initiative is an opportunity for bishops to help restore what he described as the endangered traditional family.

• The bishops overwhelmingly approved a series of recommendations aimed at limiting the conference's projects to those mandated by the Vatican or the bishops themselves. The conference “has taken on too many projects. We try to do too much,” said Bishop Donald Wuerl of Pittsburgh, chairman of the bishops' Task Force on Activities and Resources, which drafted the recommendations.

• On Nov. 15, the bishops approved a $129.4 million budget for 2005 — 1.8% higher than the previous year's budget — and agreed to create an ad hoc committee to aid the Church in Africa, which would collect and distribute contributions, using staff and resources from a handful of offices to manage the effort.

— Wayne Laugesen Catholic News Service contributed to this report.

More coverage in National News and in next week's Register.