On January 20, the day of Joe Biden’s investiture, Pope Francis encourages him to work for the reconciliation of the country after the divisions of the Trump era. At the same time, Mgr. José Gomez, president of the American Bishops’ Conference (USCCB), warns. “ The new president pledged to conduct certain policies that would advance moral evils and threaten human life and dignity ”, writes the Archbishop of Los Angeles, referring in particular to the pro-abortion positions of the Democratic leader, second Catholic elected to the White House after John F. Kennedy.
→ READ. American bishops split over letter to Joe Biden
The tone of the letter caused such surprise among some bishops that Cardinal Blase Cupich, Archbishop of Chicago, took the unprecedented decision to openly criticize the conference president in a tweet by accusing the missive of ” thoughtless “.
An influential conservative fringe
While the Biden presidency crosses the hundred-day mark this Thursday, April 29, his relations with the American bishops are still mixed. “ I’ve seen bishops closer to non-Catholic conservative Republicans, like George W. Bush or Trump, than to Joe Biden “, says Massimo Faggioli, professor of theology at Villanova University. Author of a book on Joe Biden and American Catholicism, he sees the influence of the conservative fringe of the episcopate, hostile to Pope Francis.
After the Democrat’s victory in November, the USCCB launched a task force to determine how the bishops would position themselves against the president. Since his inauguration, he has not given his opponents a reason to change their mind. The stop at the end of January of the “Mexico City policy”, a rule prohibiting public funding of organizations abroad that facilitate access to abortion, was denounced in Catholic circles.
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In February, the head of the USCCB pro-life committee, Bishop Joseph Naumann, said in an interview that Joe Biden “Should stop portraying himself as a pious Catholic “ and that the bishops should “Correct it “ when he described himself that way. His comments gave rise to a petition calling for his resignation.
A bet on the long term
Beyond the hostility of certain bishops, the USCCB has reacted positively to many decisions of the Biden administration in the field of the environment or aid to the economic victims of Covid-19.
On the migration crisis, the bishops were measured, according to Father Stephen Koeth, a specialist in political and religious history at Columbia University. “ They could have criticized him more because we see the same images of children in cages as under Donald Trump. But they are betting that its migration policy will be aligned with theirs in the long term.. “ Individually, several bishops whose dioceses line the border have even said they are ready to work with Joe Biden on a reform of the right of asylum.
“ The Episcopal Conference publishes press releases here and there, but there is no comprehensive strategy to collaborate with the White House ”, shade Massimo Faggioli. The lack of dialogue could complicate the lobbying of the bishops on certain legislative projects, such as the “Equality Act”. Catholic leaders fear that this proposed law, which would prohibit any discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation, will endorse the end of single-sex Catholic schools. The USCCB declined the requests for The cross to comment on possible contacts with the White House.
Joe Biden’s opening signs
For his part, Joe Biden has shown signs of openness. In February, he re-established the White House Office for Partnerships with Religious Groups, created under George W. Bush. Its new leader, Baptist lawyer Melissa Rogers, has expressed her willingness to work with the bishopric.
→ ANALYSIS. Joe Biden re-establishes “office of faith-based partnerships” in the White House
“ Politically, Joe Biden should be more worried about the left wing of the Democratic Party than about the bishops, who no longer represent such an influential electoral bloc as before, resumes Father Koeth. He is not dependent on their approval like Kennedy was. There have always been diverse political views among bishops, including towards Kennedy, but the differences are more visible today. “
Joe Biden and Catholics
49% of Catholic voters voted for Joe Biden in the presidential election versus 50% for Trump (Associated Press estimate)
58% of Catholics have a favorable opinion of Joe Biden’s action, against 78-88% for Kennedy (source: Gallup, March 2021)
67% of Catholics believe Joe Biden should receive Communion, despite his pro-abortion stances. 55% of Republican Catholics are against (source: Pew, March 2021)
58% of American voters know Joe Biden is Catholic (Pew, Mar 2021)