With Archbishop Broglio, US Bishops Choose Unity
EDITORIAL: With the election of the former diplomat and current shepherd of the Archdiocese for the Military Services to serve as conference president, the bishops have a leader who is well poised to continue to build unity among the U.S. episcopacy and with the Holy See.
When Archbishop José Gomez was asked last week to reflect on his most important accomplishment as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Los Angeles prelate chose to speak about fostering greater unity among the U.S. episcopacy.
It might have seemed like a surprising thing to highlight. Archbishop Gomez’s presidency, after all, included public moments of infighting among the bishops, from Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich’s public criticism of the conference over its statement marking President Joe Biden’s 2021 inauguration to particularly heated exchanges during the USCCB’s June 2021 General Assembly over the question of barring pro-abortion politicians from Communion.
But permitting long-festering divisions in the conference to come to light allowed the bishops, under Archbishop Gomez’s leadership, to address them. Measures like holding closed-door sessions at the conference’s general assembly, crafting a Eucharistic coherence document that received near-unanimous approval, and even, as we saw last week in Baltimore, holding fraternal dialogues around circular tables have all fostered a greater sense of brotherhood among the U.S. bishops.
Now, in electing Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services as their next USCCB president, the bishops have chosen a successor to Archbishop Gomez who is distinctly suited to build upon these renewed foundations of episcopal unity.
Much is being made about Archbishop Broglio’s experience as a member of the Vatican’s diplomatic corps, and rightfully so. In that capacity, Archbishop Broglio learned and employed the subtle art of strategic dialogue, maintaining relations while pursuing key objectives. Additionally, his recent experience as secretary of the USCCB likely yielded a deep familiarity with the way the conference works and how it can be led effectively.
Geography also matters. As archbishop of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, with headquarters located less than a mile from the USCCB in Washington, D.C., Archbishop Broglio is in a position to exercise more direct oversight over conference staff, ensuring that the various focus areas and objectives of the USCCB work hand in hand, not at cross-purposes. Additionally, his role as pastor of Catholics in the U.S. military spread out across the country (and the world) gives Archbishop Broglio the opportunity to travel to different dioceses, learning more about the situation in different local Churches, and forging relationships with his brother bishops.
The archbishop is clearly aware of the continued need to foster ecclesial unity. In an interview with Catholic journalist Michael Heinlein, he described this as “a primary concern” as he takes the reins of the USCCB and said he aims to encourage dialogue and bring the bishops together.
But Archbishop Broglio’s leadership style will not simply be a case of employing dialogue for dialogue’s sake or content-less management bereft of doctrinal concerns. Instead, he was likely picked by his brother bishops as a figure of unity precisely because of his theological and pastoral emphases. His election represents an affirmation of the steady, unflashy but unwavering doctrinal orthodoxy that characterizes much of the U.S. episcopacy. His commitment to the pro-life cause, his love of the Eucharist and his no-nonsense approach to the sex-abuse crisis are not incidental to his capacity to unite and lead the USCCB. They are integral to it.
There’s good reason to think that Archbishop Broglio will also foster unity between the Church in the U.S. and the Holy See. No recent USCCB president has known the dynamics of the Vatican better than the archbishop, a former apostolic nuncio and staff member of the Holy See’s Secretariat of State. Furthermore, after having spent such a significant amount of time in Rome, Archbishop Broglio is still reportedly loved and respected by everyday staff at the Vatican.
Some media figures have sadly sown division by attempting to portray Archbishop Broglio as “anti-Francis,” with little to no basis for the claim. In fact, it is these agenda-driven attacks that have fabricated a dichotomy between the U.S. bishops and the teaching and vision of the Holy Father.
Pope Francis has made a point to advance “healthy decentralization” in the Church by giving greater responsibilities to episcopal conferences in limited cases. The new apostolic constitution issued by the Holy Father, Predicare Evangeliam, has also been described as presenting episcopal conferences as “bodies of subsidiarity” that “express and foster the exercise of ‘co-responsibility in the communio.’” By discerning the specific challenges facing the U.S. Church and society and electing a candidate well-suited to meet them, the bishops are demonstrating greater fidelity to Pope Francis’ vision than if they had picked a conference president who simply regurgitated Vatican talking points.
American society is rife with division, and it has taken its toll on ecclesial life. With Archbishop Broglio at the helm of the USCCB, we should expectantly hope for a continued deepening of unity in the U.S. Church in the years ahead.