USCCB President Suffers Stroke – As Bench VP, Gomez Given The Reins
By Rocco Palmo, March 16, 2019
Having soldiered through this last year carrying an unprecedented double burden – the daily life of a booming 1.8 million-member archdiocese (one currently under civil investigation) and the elected leadership of the US’ largest religious body amid a season of epic crisis – Houston Chancery released the following statement at 7pm Central tonight, announcing a significant health scare for Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the President of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops:
Cardinal DiNardo was taken to a Houston hospital last night [Friday, 15 March] after experiencing the symptoms of what tests today have confirmed was a mild stroke. The Cardinal is resting comfortably and conversing with associates, doctors and nurses. It is expected that Cardinal DiNardo will remain hospitalized for a few more days of testing and observation, followed by a transfer to another facility for rehabilitation. he is grateful to the doctors and nurses for their wonderful care and for continued prayers during his recovery. Cardinal DiNardo said, “With so much to do, I am looking forward to getting back to work as soon as possible.”
According to a separate statement circulated privately to the US bench and obtained by Whispers, as the USCCB by-laws provide that the bench’s “Vice President … shall have such powers and perform such other duties as may be assigned him by the President,” as of tonight, DiNardo “has assigned [Los Angeles’] Archbishop [José] Gomez, as Vice President, to assist in executing the day-to-day responsibilities of the Presidency” for the period of his recovery.
In other words, for all practical purposes, the Mexican-born, 68 year-old head of the largest diocese American Catholicism has ever known is suddenly the Acting President of the US bishops – even on a pro tem basis, the first Latino ever to lead an episcopal bench north of the Rio Grande.
Just when you thought things weren’t eventful enough. Then again, lest anybody forgot, this was a “joint presidency” from its outset.
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Just shy of his 70th birthday in late May, DiNardo – the first cardinal ever created in the American South – is in the home stretch of his three-year term at the bench’s helm, which’ll end with the election of the new Executive in November.
Over the nearly five-decade history of the modern Stateside conference (rebooted as it was in the wake of Vatican II), not in memory has a Vice-President been called to publicly “assist” at the body’s helm as Acting Chief.
Then again, as the Presidency takes at least a third of its occupant’s energy in a normal time – always beginning with a first-thing hourlong call from the Washington headquarters every morning – lest anyone forgot, these days are anything but “normal.”
Having served as the US bench’s delegate to last month’s abuse summit in Rome, DiNardo was stricken just after returning home from this past week’s USCCB Administrative Committee meeting in Washington, which set the agenda for the bench’s June meeting in Baltimore and its expected plan to vote on four major documents enhancing the accountability of bishops, both in terms of direct allegations against them and/or their handling of abuse cases.
As one Whispers op relayed from the Admin talks, DiNardo appeared “ashen and tired” over the two-day DC meeting, echoing weeks of concern from within his inner circle over the unrelenting workload.
When the wear-down finally caught up with him, a Houston op reports that the cardinal was presiding over a Friday night Stations of the Cross in the Cathedral he dedicated ten years ago next month (above) – a rite specifically held in reparation for the recent scandals – when DiNardo became unsettled at the Seventh Station (per tradition, the moment recalling when “Jesus Falls the Second Time”) and needed to be taken out in a wheelchair.
Per early reports from Astroworld, the president is in intensive care in a local hospital; his rehab and initial recovery period will take at least six weeks, thus keeping DiNardo – head of the US’ fifth-largest diocese beyond his national role – out of commission through Holy Week and Easter.
In his last major public appearance before this weekend’s turn, DiNardo headlined an early February seminar at his alma mater – Washington’s Catholic University of America – where the bench chief cited Pope Francis’ January call to the US bishops for “a new ecclesial season” in the scandal-hit Stateside church… focusing especially on the laity’s role in it.