The Pope welcomed Biden. So why for American Catholic bishops a holy war? – Mother Jones



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November 17, 2020, The head of the American Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), Archbishop José Gomez, announced that Joe Biden, who had just been elected president, presented “a difficult and complex situation for the Church.” Biden, a devout Catholic, had nevertheless expressed support, albeit sometimes lukewarmly, for abortion and LGBT rights. Therefore, the bishop’s body had decided to form a working group to consider how to deal with a Catholic president contrary to the teachings of the Church.



Two months later, on the day of the inauguration, Gomez issued one press release which dampened the USCCB’s traditional congratulations by claiming that Biden had “the promise of pursuing certain policies that would promote moral evil and threaten human life and dignity.” Gomez’s press release was met with immediate rebuttal from other high-ranking bishops, one of whom described it on Twitter as “thoughtless” and demonstrative of “internal institutional failures”, as well as a subtle rebuke from Pope Francis, who sent Biden a warm congratulations later that day. It reflected a sharp divide in the church and now, with only the other Catholic to become president, the conservatives among the bishops felt compelled to act.

Last week, a year after the USCCB signaled that it would launch an offensive against the country’s second Catholic president – potentially preventing him from receiving the sacrament of communion – Catholic bishops met in Baltimore to determine the final outcome of this year’s debate. But as expected when they gathered, the meeting produced only a lukewarm consensus document that almost no one satisfied – considered “simultaneously bland and divisive” by liberals, and “an invitation to disobedience” which was “worse than nothing”, by conservative.



But if the official procedures were anticlimactic, they still represented a kind of important settlement. That is, in the case of the broader civil war that is engulfing American Catholicism, which has become as bitterly divided as the rest of the country, even though Catholicism seems more prominent in national politics than ever. Catholics occupy the presidency, the office of the Speaker of Parliament, two-thirds of the Supreme Court, and the ranks of some of today’s most innovative and frightening, right-wing extremist thinkers.

Throughout the 2020 presidential campaign, the “Catholic voice” emerged as one of the most coveted swing constituencies. Although American Catholicism is in reality too broad and diverse to be qualified as a single ballot box – opinion polls divide it instead by race, ethnicity and frequency of church decision – it is still seen as a reliable prediction of election results, with Catholics voting with winners in most of the last 10 presidential contests. And so, in the face of an opponent known as a devout Catholic, Republican attacks shifted from calling Biden a bad Catholic – for his position on social issues – to an anti-Catholic who would usher in a new wave of ecclesiastical persecution. The head of the conservative political group CatholicVote, which shared an employee with Trump’s Catholic advisory board, accused the Democrats of promoting the “hate climate” that allowed attacks on church property. At the same time, there was an unprecedented politicization of conservative Catholic clergy, with some saying that any Catholic who voted democratically would Fuck off while others threatened to deny communion to Democrats in their constituencies. The extreme right is the Catholic media Church militant warned that during a “Harris-Biden administration, the chuchen would be extinguished” and necessitates underground churches as in Communist China. Trump himself claimed, during an appearance on the Catholic cable network EWTN, that a Biden administration would “take all [Catholics’] Immediately.”



The river bit water, many right-wing Catholics shifted their focus and became players in various efforts to overthrow the election result. A Bishop of Texas, Joseph Strickland, refused to acknowledge Biden as incoming president and spoke at a December rally in Washington, DC, which was widely seen as a precursor to the January 6 violence. Another bishop tweeted a call for all Christians to pray “in connection with the submission of election-related documents to the Supreme Court.” More esoterically, beginning in November, a Colorado pastor led a Denver for a month series of prayers to “bind” evil spirits who tried to steal the election. And on January 6, another Nebraska priest traveled to perform an exorcism on the US Capitol after watching YouTube videos of a popular Catholic right-wing author who accused a demonic spirit of trying to “dissolve” the United States and turn it into something new.

Shortly after Biden took office, the Gomez working group proposed that the USCCB make a statement on “Eucharistic coherence” – a reaffirmation of Catholic doctrines of the Eucharist that could also serve as a formal response to high-profile Catholics President and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi the teaching of the church. (In May, Pelosi praised a Vatican letter which she characterized as a warning to American bishops not to create division in the issue.) Gomez said that in June the entire bishops’ conference should vote on the issue of drafting such a document, although in practice it was the question of whether Biden should actually be denied communion. in advance. According to church law, local bishops decide to make that call, and both bishops oversee President Biden’s church membership, in Washington and Delaware – strikingly is missing from the Gomez Working Group – had already declared that they would not “politicize communion.”

And yet, in the months between, the political differences in the American Church remained public. Liberal Catholic groups like circulated petitions Challenging bishops who called for the denial of Biden were met with counter-representations by conservative Catholic groups campaigning for Trump. Right-wing media gathered readers to contact their local bishops, urging them to “act in unison to exclude Joe Biden from the Eucharist for his scandalous promotion of abortion.” The Catholic League sent a report to all U.S. bishops identifying 32 times that Biden is alleged to have violated Catholic morality since taking over the presidency, including by allowing transgender people to serve in the military and repealing the Mexico City policy of banning nonprofit recipients of U.S. funds from speaking . to clients about abortion.

Writes on the liberal National Catholic Reporter, journalist Christopher White explained that most bishops who demanded that Biden be expelled from the Eucharist had also supported a now disgraced Archbishop’s 2018 demand for the resignation of Pope Francis and that most were connected by the same network of right-wing donors who had mediated ties between bishops and Republican leaders. The Vatican even weighed in and warned that the planned document would divide the American Church, indicating that it would not approve any proclamations that did not reach consensus support.

But when the USCCB met in June to discuss the plan, after a controversial, hours-long debate, the working group’s proposal to deny communion was approved. “Progressive and moderate Catholics reacted with concern, including 60 Catholic Congress Democrats, who released a statement condemning all moves to”vapenisera“The Eucharist.

During the autumn, sparring continued. The Conservative Archbishop of San Francisco Salvatore Cordileone opened a public prayer campaign calls on “all Catholics and others of good will” to pray for the “transformation” of Speaker Nancy Pelosis’ “mother heart”. Archbishop of Los Angeles Gomez delivered a polarizing public address at a conference in Spain fighting that “vigilance,” “social justice,” and “intersectionality” were “dangerous” and “atheistic … pseudo-religions” that “have come to fill the space that Christian faith and practice once occupied.” Meanwhile, in Rome, the pope told reporters that he “had never refused any communion” and later met both Pelosi and Biden – Biden who came from his visit with the report that the pope had told him to continue receiving communion.

And yet, at the time a working version of the bishops guidance document leaked in early november, there was almost nothing about the “scandal” for politicians who are positive about the election, and some conservative bishops tried to suggest that they had never tried to deny prominent democrats communion, but only to train laymen about the doctrine of the Church.

Finally last week, the bishops met again, in Baltimore, to vote on the document they had created, “The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church.” In the end, the final document refers only crookedly to Catholic politicians and does not mention anyone by name. In the final document, most of the anger last year kokat ner to a hard-working sentence: “Lay people who exercise some form of public authority have a special responsibility to shape their consciences in accordance with the Church’s beliefs and moral law, and to serve the human family by upholding human life and dignity.”

The anodyne character of the ultimate document – and the reasons why it was created in the first place – provoked protests from both sides. Progressive Catholic groups, including Catholics for Choice, held an event outside the Baltimore Hotel where the bishops met and urged the bishops not to politicize church sacraments. A group of 200 anti-abortion activists held a “Mens March” from a Baltimore Planned Parenthood to the same hotel, demanding that the bishops refuse communion to those who “stubbornly persist in obvious serious sin.” And Church militant, regularly issuing blatant condemnations of the pope and the church hierarchy, held a meeting on a jetty overlooking the hotel, which led to hundreds of followers chanting slogans in the direction of the bishops: “Shame on you”, “Lock them up”.

Sign National Catholic Reporter on the eve of the conference, journalist Michael Sean Winters predicted that “even those bishops who think it was a mistake to prepare a document on the Lord’s Supper in the first place, and many of those who think the proposal is lousy, can stop voting for the text just to put the issue behind them. “

But a little optimism seemed to greet this overwhelming resolution. And the results of one opinion poll by American clergy under the direction of the academic journal Public discourse, released this month, seemed to reveal more clearly that cracks in the leadership of the American Catholic Church reflected those in society at large. On the whole, it found the priesthood to be more conservative; that younger priests are utterly opposed to their pope’s policy; and that clergy on both sides of the political spectrum believe that things are getting worse, not better, in the American church

Top image: Mother Jones illustration; Justin Sullivan / Getty; Win McNamee / Getty

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