The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops begins its fall meeting next week, at which a new conference president and vice-president will be elected. The candidates include some of the most conservative bishops in the U.S. Today’s post includes brief description of the candidates’ records on LGBTQ+ issues where possible.
Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Military Services: Broglio, currently the USCCB’s Secretary, has served on several conference committees, including for international peace and justice, religious liberty, and the defense of marriage. In 2017, he supported President Trump’s ban on transgender members of the military, framing LGBTQ+ identities as “personal choice” resulting from an “incorrect social attitude.” In 2013, he issued guidance for military chaplains banning them from participating in activities that included same-gender couples and mandating they excluded people in such relationships from lay ministries. He also decried the military providing benefits like housing and healthcare to same-gender couples. The previous year, he objected to the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” In 2018, responding to a Catholic’s concern about a priest blaming homosexuality for abuse in the church, Broglio backed the priest and affirmed the claim.
Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia: Last year, Burbidge released anti-transgender guidelines that, among other restrictions, prohibited Catholic ministers from using a trans person’s chosen name and pronouns and warned against helping youth transition. While bishop of Raleigh, North Carolina, Burbidge joined the North Carolina Catholic Conference in initially supporting an anti-transgender bill, though he distanced himself after intense criticism. In 2013, the bishop withdrew his diocese from the North Carolina Council of Churches over its support for marriage equality, and had previously supported a bill to define marriage in exclusively heterosexual terms.
Bishop Frank Caggiano of Bridgeport, Connecticut: After the 2015 massacre at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida, Caggiano was among the few U.S. bishops who recognized the victims as largely LGBTQ+. He said at the time, “There can be no place in our midst for hatred and bigotry against our brothers and sisters who experience same sex attraction or for anyone who is marginalized by the larger society.” That same year, he vocally opposed the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized marriage equality. Caggiano was one of the U.S. representatives at the 2018 Synod on Youth.
Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City: Coakley is the current chair of the conference’s Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. In this role, he joined fellow bishops in opposing the Equality Act and President Biden’s efforts to implement LGBTQ+ non-discrimination protections. During the Trump administration, he applauded the president’s rules allowing social service agencies and homeless shelters to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people. In 2014, Coakley said marriage equality “thwarts the common good.” He is also a member of the episcopal advisory board for the right-wing Napa Institute, and said he has the “deepest respect” for conspiracy theorist Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganó.
Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco: Cordileone has a long record of opposing equality and implementing pastoral restrictions. Most recently, in 2022, he wrote to legislators asking them to vote against the Respect for Marriage Act. Before that, he had lead the USCCB’s efforts to stop marriage equality before Obergefell, and was identified as a key influence behind California’s Proposition 8. In his archdiocese, he implemented “morality clauses” focused on issues of sexuality and gender for employees at Catholic schools. In 2015, after Caitlyn Jenner’s coming out, Cordileone said transgender people undermine faith. In 2013, he opposed an immigration reform bill because it included provisions to protect same-gender couples. In 2012, asked leaders of the Catholic Association for Lesbian and Gay Ministry (CALGM) to sign an “oath of personal integrity” given he did not trust their pastoral judgement. Cordileone has faced repeated protests for his LGBTQ-negative actions, even calls for his removal. However, he did meet with New Ways Ministry’s leaders in 2014 after several LGBTQ+ groups asked the archbishop to refrain from attending an anti-marriage equality rally in Washington, D.C.. For Cordileone’s full record on LGBTQ+ issues, click here.
Archbishop Paul Etienne of Seattle: Etienne is one of the more moderate candidates on LGBTQ+ issues. He established an archdiocesan commission to develop guidance for LGBTQ+ issues in Catholic education, though its findings were considered a “mixed bag.” This commission came after several firings of LGBTQ+ church workers in Seattle, which Etienne initially defended. After Pope Francis made clear his support for same-gender civil unions, the archbishop said the pope was providing a distinction between church teaching and public policy, and that it all begins with the human person.
Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas: Flores has no strong record on LGBTQ+ issues. Since 2020, he has served as chair of the USCCB’s Committee on Doctrine. This year, in that role, wrote an introduction to the conference’s synod report that was less than positive about LGBTQ+ people.
Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller of San Antonio: García-Siller has no strong record on LGBTQ+ issues.
Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore: Lori has long-led aspects of the USCCB’s culture war. In 2014, he criticized President Barack Obama’s executive order to protect LGBTQ+ employees from discrimination. Lori led the USCCB’s religious liberty efforts, including the “Fortnight for Freedom,” which claimed the Catholic Church’s freedom was being attacked in part because of expanding LGBTQ+ equality. After moving to Baltimore, he opposed marriage equality in Maryland. He initially tried to downplay Pope Francis’ gay-friendly comments, but, in a hopeful sign, he said he will now rethink statements on LGBTQ+ and other controversial matters to see if they truly bring people to the Gospel. It seems Lori has moderated in recent years, allowing Baltimore parishes to form a growing network of LGBTQ+ ministries.
Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana: Rhoades, who has held several top roles in the USCCB, was the leading figure in trying to deny Communion to President Joe Biden last year. In 2013, he joined USCCB leaders in opposing the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act because it would have included protections for LGBTQ+ people. Locally, Rhoades has targeted the University of Notre Dame, which is in his diocese. In 2016, he objected to the university honoring then-Vice President Joe Biden in part because of the vice president’s support for LGBTQ+ equality. In 2014, he criticized a decision by Notre Dame and St. Mary’s College to offer benefits to employees’ same-gender partners. Rhoades has advisory roles with conservative groups like the Theology of the Body Institute and Ave Maria University.
The slate of candidates put forward for USCCB president and vice president are based on nominations from their fellow bishops, and this election signals just how conservative the conference remains almost ten years after the election of Pope Francis. Notably, none of the cardinals who either have ties to the pope or were appointed by him are nominated.
Normally, the election for president is fairly straightforward, as the vice president is usually chosen. But Archbishop Allen Vigneron, current USCCB vice president, has aged out of eligibility. Archbishop Broglio has been named as a frontrunner by some observers, but there is no clear choice, although observers downplay the chances of Archbishops Etienne or García-Siller.
What is more concerning is a report from America’s Michael O’Loughlin, which suggests religious liberty issues may be at the forefront of the bishops’ minds for the USCCB election. He wrote:
“At least three of the candidates for president are familiar names in the U.S. church’s high-profile campaign for religious liberty, which has dominated the conference’s work in recent years.
“While immigration concerns seemed to rise to the top during the Trump administration, bishops have pivoted back to religious liberty issues, which were also a pressing topic during the Obama presidency. Under the Biden administration, bishops have cited religious liberty in expressing opposition to expanded rights for L.G.B.T. Americans and proposals that could protect legal access to contraception and abortion.”
The slate of bishops for this election strongly and sadly shows that the U.S. episcopate, which, for a decade, has stridently resisted Pope Francis’ desire for the church to become a more inclusive place, seems intent on prioritizing that pattern. If the bishops elect leaders who will foreground anti-LGBTQ+ efforts, they will continue to cause great harm for the church. U.S. Catholics’ continue to show overwhelming support for LGBTQ+ equality. It’s time for the bishops to follow their lead.
—Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, November 11, 2022