Steve Ruark, Associated Press
Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, president-elect of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, talks to media Tuesday in Baltimore. He'll serve a three-year term.

BALTIMORE — Cardinal Francis George of Chicago was elected president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on Tuesday.

In that role, he will lead Catholics in welcoming Pope Benedict XVI on his first papal visit to the United States in April.

He also will be the U.S. voice for the church during the upcoming presidential elections.

George, 70, was ordained a priest in 1957 in the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. He later served as vicar general of the religious order, based in Rome.

He became bishop of Yakima, Wash., in 1990, then archbishop of Portland, Ore. In 1997, he became the first Chicago native to be named archbishop there. He became a cardinal in 1998.

Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson was elected vice president, succeeding George in that post. Both positions are three-year terms.

Abuse survivors demonstrating daily in front of the hotel where the bishops are meeting expressed dismay with the choices.

Barbara Blaine of Chicago, president of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), said George has a "horrific record" for "leaving predator priests in ministry and children at risk."

But George wasn't rattled by any questions at his first press conference about how the Chicago Archdiocese and the bishops group have handled the crisis in recent years.

"He's very bright, articulate and profoundly spiritual," says the Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, editor of the journal First Things. "I think the bishops used the same approach in choosing this president that the cardinals used in electing this pope. They looked around and asked themselves, 'Who is the brightest bulb we've got?' and voted him in."

In other action, the bishops approved a statement on Iraq, calling the current situation "unacceptable and unsustainable." The group has persistently opposed the war.

The statement says "responsible transition should aim to reduce the further loss of life and to address the humanitarian crisis in Iraq, the refugee crisis in the region, the need to help rebuild the country, and human rights, especially religious freedom."