US Catholic bishops may avoid reprimanding Biden over abortion
While some American Catholic bishops continue to denounce President Joe Biden for his support of legal abortion, their conference as a whole will likely avoid direct criticism of him at their upcoming national meeting.
The most important item on the agenda is a proposed “education document” on the company’s secret. Months of work on the document, by the conference’s Committee on Doctrine, coincided with at times heated debate among bishops about whether Biden and other Catholic politicians who support abortion rights do not deserve to receive Communion.
The draft document circulated before the November 15-18 meeting in Baltimore opens up a little new ground, although its language could be tightened during the meeting. The draft mentions abortion only once and does not mention Biden or other politicians, although at one point it says, “Ordinary people who exercise some form of public power have a special responsibility to embody the church’s teachings.”
A member of the Doctrine Committee, Bishop Michael Olson of Fort Worth, Texas, said he and his colleagues decided the document should avoid any trace of partisan politics.
However, Olson remains an outspoken critic of Biden’s stance on abortion, saying the president has “raised the scandal.”
“He has gone on record saying that abortion is a fundamental right while presenting himself as an exemplary Catholic,” Olson told the Associated Press. “The issue of public confusion is at stake here.”
While some bishops have made it clear that they will decline communion with Biden, there is no national policy on the matter. Cardinal Wilton Gregory, Archbishop of Washington, confirmed that Biden is welcome to receive Communion there.
Last month, after a private meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican, Biden said the issue of abortion had not been brought up, but indicated that he had the pope’s public support.
“We just talked about the fact that he was glad I was a good Catholic and should continue to receive the Eucharist,” Biden said.
Conservative bishop, Thomas Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island, urged Francis to confront Biden over abortion.
“Please challenge President Biden on this critical issue,” Tobin wrote on Twitter ahead of the Vatican meeting. “His continued support for abortion is an embarrassment to the Church and a scandal to the world.”
Throughout the year, Francis and some of his high-ranking aides sought to moderate anti-Biden sentiment in the ranks of the USCCB, calling for dialogue and an approach to communication that would be custodial rather than punitive.
The rift between US bishops and Catholic politicians who support abortion rights is a decades-old phenomenon. It reached a remarkably intense phase in 2004 when John Kerry, a Catholic, won the Democratic presidential nomination.
But Biden’s election — as only the second Catholic president after John F. Kennedy, and the first with a clear record in favor of legal abortion — created an unprecedented dilemma for bishops.
Archbishop of Los Angeles Jose Gomez, president of the American Conference of Catholic Bishops, formed a working group last year to assess the “complex and difficult situation” posed by the newly elected president’s positions on abortion and other issues that differ from official church teaching. Before its dissolution, the group proposed the drafting of a new document dealing with the issue of handling – a draft dedicated to the Doctrine Committee.
Among Biden’s outspoken critics is Archbishop Salvatore Cordelion of San Francisco – the hometown of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, also a Catholic. Cordelion made his point that Pelosi and Biden should refrain from receiving the Eucharist.
Cordelion told the Associated Press that he does not expect the proposed document to discriminate Biden, but wants to send a firm message regarding Catholics in public life and their position on abortion.
He cited many “gross evils” that pose threats to society – such as human trafficking, racism, terrorism, climate change and a flawed immigration system.
He added that “the difference with abortion is that it is the only evil of these grave evils that are openly promoted by many people in public life.”
The incoming chair of the bishops’ committee for pro-life activities, Archbishop William Lowery of Baltimore, hopes the proposed document will ease the divide between bishops who favored an outright rebuke of Biden and those who opposed it.
“Sometimes you say, OK, being in the middle is kind of weak,” he told the Catholic News Service. “These days, the position of strength and courage is often in the middle.”
Lowry stressed the importance of unity within the ranks of bishops at a time of political polarization in the United States
“We have to be careful not to allow ourselves to walk alleys with no way out, and partisan where there is no life at the end of it,” he told CNS.
In a panel discussion Thursday sponsored by the National Catholic Reporter, Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, Kentucky, who does not support the president’s reprimand, criticized the proposed teaching document as cute and divisive at the same time. He said he would vote against it but predicted it would win a two-thirds majority to be adopted.
For some prominent politicians, the company’s denial is not an abstract issue.
Dick Durbin, a practicing Catholic and Number 2 Democrat in the US Senate, says he has been barred from receiving Mass in his home parish in Springfield, Illinois, for 17 years under the direction of two successive bishops. Although he found a welcome church in the diocese of Chicago, he was still troubled by the situation.
“It’s not a happy experience,” Durbin said in an interview with Jesuit America. “I’m careful when I go to a church I’ve never been to before.”
The bishops’ meeting will include a speech from Gomez, who is facing criticism from Catholic racial justice activists for recently saying that some contemporary social movements and theories — such as social justice, “awakening” and intersectionality — represent “dangerous alternatives to true religion.”
“Critical theories and ideologies today are deeply atheist,” Gomez said. “They deny the soul, the transcendent spiritual dimension of human nature.”
The Washington-based Network of Clergymen in Public Life has distributed a petition — signed by several prominent activists — denouncing Gomez’s comments.
“Racial justice movements have awakened our nation’s conscience to an epidemic of police killings and systemic racism,” John Gering, director of the network’s Catholic program, said in a statement announcing the petition. “Catholic bishops and other religious leaders must be in the streets with these organizers of movements, not demean them.”
The Associated Press’s religious coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through The Conversation US. AP is solely responsible for this content.
Copyright 2021 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.