Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville on Tuesday was overwhelmingly elected to lead the nation's Roman Catholic bishops.

As the new president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), Kurtz serves as the church's national spokesman in the United States.

After his election, Kurtz, 67, vowed to follow Pope Francis' call to move the church away from divisive social issues such as gay marriage, contraception and abortion. Francis, elected last March, has said that he wants the church to emphasize mercy and compassion over cultural issues.

“We are very much in solidarity with Pope Francis,” Kurtz said during a news conference.

“The challenge for us in welcoming people and most especially serving people who are voiceless and vulnerable spans right across the board from our work in immigration [to] our work in serving people who are poor,” he added.

However, Kurtz has taken strong stands while serving in Louisville, including praying with protesters outside an abortion clinic and donating archdiocese money to repeal a law in Maine allowing gay couples to marry.

Kurtz's predecessor, New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, strongly opposed passage of New York's marriage equality bill and recently blamed the church's obsession with gay rights on the media.

The election took place a day after Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco endorsed a federal bill which seeks a religious exemption for opponents of same-sex marriage as a possible “remedy” to the Supreme Court's ruling knocking down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and passage in the Senate of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).

(Related: Bishop Salvatore Cordileone backs federal protections for gay marriage foes.)