BALTIMORE (AP) – The cardinal elected Tuesday to lead the U.S. Roman Catholic bishops’ conference was already one of the most influential men in the American church.

Cardinal Francis George, archbishop of Chicago for a decade, earned two doctorates in philosophy and theology, knows six languages and has deep ties within the Vatican.

As the new president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, he will host Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Washington and New York in April and guide church leaders through a presidential election season in which religion will once again figure prominently.

George received 85 percent of the vote out of a field of 10 candidates at the bishops’ fall meeting. He had served the last three years as the conference vice president. The prelate holding that job customarily is elected to the top post.

George succeeds Bishop William Skylstad, of Spokane, Wash., who is ending his term. Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz., was elected as the new vice president on the third ballot.

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