Giving, Receiving, Protecting, Celebrating Life with the New President of the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Conference

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

The new president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky. He was vice president under Cardinal Dolan and represents a continuity in leadership that yesterday’s message only confirmed.

He’s co-author of a book on parenthood and blessing unborn children, The Gift of Joy.

The timing of his election came just days after disability-rights groups filed an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court urging them to consider the disabled when looking at a petition to review an Arizona law protecting the unborn after 20 weeks. The Bioethics Defense Fund filed a brief on behalf of the Jerome Lejeune Foundation USA, Saving Downs, and the International Down Syndrome Coalition arguing that given most abortions after 20 weeks involve the discovery that a child may be disabled, at issue is less unintended pregnancies – the grave, troubled politics of “choice” — and more that child. “Aborting children with disabilities is a form of discrimination that threatens to devalue the lives of people born and living with disabilities,” the brief states. The law, it argues helps “erect[] a clear boundary against the practice of postnatal eugenic infanticide.”

I find that timing significant given a reflection Archbishop Kurtz once wrote on the life of his brother (who he has credited with helping him understand his call to the priesthood). In 1990, he reflected on his older brother, who has Down Syndrome, moving into his rectory with him. Kurtz wrote:

This has been a time to stop and pause and enjoy. From the very beginning, Georgie knew what we have just slowly discovered in four months — that he is looking after me and so many others. Recently, after celebrating a Mass for our dear mother, I must have looked a little down to him. He gave me a pat on the back and said, “Don’t worry. Mom is in heaven. You have me.” Giving and receiving are intertwined. We never do one exclusively. In the case of my relating to my brother, it is not a cliché to say I have received much more than I have given. That’s the nature of Christian community. The love of Christ calls all of us to be good givers and good receivers and so to love.

We’re at a point in American history were there is so much pain and this sense that it is all too overwhelming, and so we depress debates, and highlight the divides, and get nowhere. But there are common experiences that plead for something better, for accepting some of the natural alternatives to a culture of death and avoidance – a culture that tends to run away from the sometimes-foreign possibility of real hope in redemptive sacrifice and true, selfless love. New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who has been president of the bishops’ conference these past three years, has unmistakable gifts for drawing the media in, for garnering collegiality. But expect more of the same pastoral posture – of leading with love, in awareness of the wounds our culture bears, opening doors to hope – from Archbishop Kurtz.

This has post has been amended since posting.

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