In a move seen as pushback against Pope Francis' agenda for the church, US Catholic bishops broke with tradition and elected a conservative archbishop to lead a top committee. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops voted 96 to 82 Tuesday to name Kansas City Archbishop Joseph Naumann chief of anti-abortion activities, besting front-runner Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago. For 40 years, the job has been held by a cardinal, but Naumann's elevation suggests US church leaders are sending a message to Rome that they don't share Francis' liberal vision for the church, the Wall Street Journal reports. Cupich is seen as the "current standard-bearer" of Francis' more moderate vision, coupling anti-abortion measures with activism for poverty reduction and greater access to health care, per Crux. The surprise result was seen as a vote for Naumann's more focused position opposing abortion.
Naumann appeared to reinforce that view when he promised to keep the committee primed to fight abortion and euthanasia. "I've been fortunate in my priesthood to work in the pro-life areas. I hope I can draw on that experience," Naumann said, per the Journal. A Villanova theologian tweeted that the vote demonstrates Francis' "message ... esp. on life and marriage" is "not adequate" for the US Catholic hierarchy. Other experts, however, see Naumann's slight margin of victory as signaling support for Francis. The National Review, meanwhile, says "the so-called Francis effect is a media concoction that is difficult to define." The vote, the magazine says, validates Francis' preference that local churches "know their own ecclesial experience" and tailor this mission according to those principles. (Francis ends cigarette sales in Vatican City.)