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US Catholic bishops divided over Biden presidency

Wednesday’s critical statement of Biden from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops put a spotlight on the fractured episcopacy in the country.

Clergy attend the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Spring Assembly in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on June 13, 2018. RNS photo by Jack Jenkins

(RNS) — A statement released by U.S. bishops Wednesday (Jan. 20) after President Joe Biden’s inauguration highlighted tensions between Catholic teachings and the new administration and put a spotlight on the divided episcopacy in the country.

“Today, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued an ill-considered statement on the day of President Biden’s inauguration,” tweeted Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago.

“Aside from the fact that there is seemingly no precedent for doing so, the statement, critical of President Biden, came as a surprise to many bishops, who received it just hours before it was released,” he added.

The statement, released by the president of the Catholic bishops conference, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, criticized Biden’s stance on abortion rights. Some of his policies, the statement said, “would advance moral evils and threaten human life and dignity,” especially concerning abortion, marriage, contraception and gender.

“Of deep concern is the liberty of the Church and the freedom of believers to live according to their consciences,” the statement said.

Archbishop José Gómez of Los Angeles, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, speaks at a 2020 virtual meeting of the group. Video screengrab

RELATED: Pope Francis, US bishops send messages for Biden inauguration

While the statement was not entirely negative regarding Biden — it also called for more dialogue and cooperation between his administration and Catholic bishops in the country — some members of the clergy viewed it as an unnecessary attack on the incoming president.

Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, told Catholic News Service on Thursday that, while he recognizes the difficulty for Catholics regarding Biden’s stance on abortion, Tobin doesn’t want to see that as an issue that precludes dialogue.

“Even people who would be well disposed to the president find it difficult to (understand how) he can conjugate his stance on (the abortion) issue — which is so important to Catholics — and this faith that has been so important to him all of his life,” Tobin told Catholic News Service. “What I don’t understand are people who use very harsh words and want to cut off all communication with the president because of this.”

Cupich wrote on Twitter that the statement was written without following the necessary procedures and without allowing members of the Administrative Committee to discuss its content.

“The internal institutional failures involved must be addressed, and I look forward to contributing to all efforts to that end, so that, inspired by the Gospel, we can build up the unity of the Church, and together take up the work of healing our nation in this moment of crisis,” the cardinal wrote.

Both Cupich and Tobin were appointed by Pope Francis, and according to the Catholic news site The Pillar, the cardinals voiced their opposition to the statement directly to the Vatican. The U.S. bishops’ statement wasn’t released until after the Vatican issued its own message congratulating Biden.

“I likewise ask God, the source of all wisdom and truth, to guide your efforts to foster understanding, reconciliation and peace within the United States and among the nations of the world in order to advance the universal common good,” the message, signed by Pope Francis, read.

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