The fall plenary meeting of the U.S. Catholic bishops began with an appeal for healing and hope. It ended with a controversy. Bishops concerned about President-elect Joe Biden's position on abortion.
The second Catholic in the White House has not yet taken office, and the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is already raising a cautionary finger. At the conclusion of the bishops' first virtual fall meeting, Archbishop Jose Horacio Gomez warned President-elect Joe Biden that his position on abortion creates "a difficult and complex situation".
Biden, a 77-year-old practicing Catholic, is "causing confusion among the faithful about what the church teaches on these ies," the conference president said.
Biden's position on abortions
Biden personally opposes abortions, but wants to let women decide whether to have an abortion. "When politicians of Catholic faith support abortion rights, it only creates additional problems," Gomez stressed. The archbishop specifically emphasized the Democrat's opposition to the so-called "Hyde Amendment". It prohibits the use of federal tax dollars for abortions. In addition, Gomez criticized Biden's support for the landmark ruling "Roe v. Wade," by which the Supreme Court had declared abortions a private matter.
The mild-mannered archbishop's sharp tone at the end of the two-day meeting came as a surprise after Gomez had been one of the first leading church representatives to congratulate Biden on his election victory. And it contrasts with last Thursday's cordial phone call in which Pope Francis congratulated the president-elect and pledged close cooperation on ies such as immigration and protecting the climate.
Gomez's pleas are explained by the makeup of the majority-conservative U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Many of his confreres recognizably at odds with Washington's political turnaround. The bishop of Knoxville in the state of Tennessee, Richard F. Stika, went so far as to cast doubt on Biden's election victory last week. "The election is not over," he tweeted. Biden's stance on abortion he called "the ultimate child abuse".
Critical words on abuse scandal
The passion with which some bishops reacted to Biden's election contrasted somewhat with the rather terse discussion of the Vatican report on Theodore McCarrick's unimpeded rise to cardinal-despite warning and knowledge in the hierarchy of allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct.
After all, more than a dozen bishops spoke out in Monday's hour-long debate. Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich put those affected at the center of his contribution. Without the courage of abuse victims, the McCarrick report could not have been written at all, he said. He said it was important to "continue to listen to them".
The cardinal-designate and archbishop of Washington, Archbishop Wilton Gregory, also emphasized this point. The McCarrick report has "brought out the darkest corners of our church that I am deeply ashamed of and deeply angry about".
Suffragan Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles, whom observers predict will continue his career in the U.S. church hierarchy, made similarly strong comments. The report from Rome, he said, exposes a "tragic incompetence" driven by a clerical structure "preoccupied with itself and protecting its own.
Call for "healing" and "hope"
Pope's ambassador Christophe Pierre, at the start of the fall virtual assembly, had called on the Church in the United States to rise to the "challenge of healing the world". The church suffers from the same problems as the rest of society, the archbishop said. 'Our mission is to reconcile the world'."
Bishops' Conference Chairman Gomez echoed the image, calling the church to "healing" and "hope" in his opening address. So says a strategy paper adopted at the meeting, to which the bishops added a chapter Tuesday on the pandemic and the fight against systematic racism in the U.S.
Key personnel decisions at fall plenary confirmed a core conservative orientation of the bishops' conference. The Commission on Religious Liberty, Education and Life Ies, will be headed in the future by New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Spokane Bishop Thomas Daly and Baltimore Archbishop William Lori. The new secretary general will be Jeffrey Burrill, also a conservative, who is personally considered approachable.
Those who had hoped for a jolt in the Francis-skeptical church leadership in the U.S. after the presidential election had to realize: The mills in the bishops' conference grind very slowly.