A headline in The Sun yesterday erroneously stated that the National Conference of Catholic Bishops would meet in Baltimore. In fact, the conference is in Washington.
The Sun regrets the errors.
WASHINGTON -- If precedent is followed, Roman Catholic Archbishop William H. Keeler of Baltimore will be elected president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops at its annual meeting beginning here today.
Archbishop Keeler, vice president of the conference, is one of 10 nominees to the top post, selected by about 275 active U.S. Catholic bishops, archbishops and cardinals through mailed ballots.
With only two exceptions, the vice president of the conference has been elevated to the president's job. The exceptions were a cardinal who declined the leadership position and a man who died while in the office of vice president.
The most controversial item on the hierarchy's agenda this week is a draft pastoral letter on the role of women in society and the church.
This draft is the fourth version of the document to come before the bishops during a rocky writing process that has taken nine years.
While none of the previous drafts gave real encouragement to the many American Catholics who favor the ordination of women, the latest version contains the strongest language so far barring such an eventuality.
The wording was influenced by pressure from the Vatican, where Pope John Paul II has said repeatedly that the Roman Catholic tradition of an all-male clergy will stand.
It is not a popular prohibition among many of the U.S. Catholic laity. Last June, a Gallup Poll of U.S. Catholics found that 67 percent of those surveyed supported the ordination of women. Nearly 60 percent of the laity favored women bishops and 80 percent wanted women ordained as Catholic deacons -- seen as a step toward the priesthood.
Archbishop Keeler is on record as opposing the ordination of women and favoring adoption of the pastoral letter, titled "One in Christ Jesus -- A Pastoral Response to the Concerns of Women for Church and Society."
Recently, however, Baltimore Auxiliary Bishop P. Francis Murphy urged that the paper be tabled while more study is given to the historical reasons for the barring of female priests. He is one of a very few U.S. Catholic bishops who have taken public stands in favor of women's ordination.
Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles has suggested that adoption of the document on women's concerns is not worth the controversy.
One of the 10 nominees for president of the bishops' conference this year, the cardinal recently said of the pastoral letter, "No one was calling for it. It has minimal amount of ownership and has created an enormous amount of controversy and conflict."
Final action on the document would conclude the work of a committee of six bishops and five women consultants. Bishop Joseph L. Imesch of Joliet, Ill., chairman of the committee, predicted, "The bishops who want to see a more open document are going to vote against it."
Besides Archbishop Keeler and Cardinal Mahony, the nominees for president of the national conference are Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua of Philadelphia, Archbishops Thomas C. Kelly of Louisville, Ky., William J. Levada of Portland, Ore., Oscar H. Lipscomb of Mobile, Ala., Adam J. Maida of Detroit, Theodore E. McCarrick of Newark, N.J., Thomas J. Murphy of Seattle and Bishop Anthony M. Pilla of Cleveland.
The new president will succeed Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk of Cincinnati for a three-year term as the elected leader of the U.S. Catholic hierarchy.
By a majority vote of the bishops, a vice president will then be selected from among the runners-up.