Does the new US President Joe Biden represent Catholic values?? A dispute has erupted in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops over this ie, bringing out old fronts. Protagonists are the archbishops of Los Angeles and Chicago.
Actually, it is a milestone for America's Catholics: One of them is now President. According to John F. Kennedy, Joe Biden is now the second Catholic president in the U.S. Until Kennedy's election, such a thing had been thought impossible. A president must be committed to his country and not to the Vatican – that is why it is impossible for a Catholic to become president. Kennedy still had to are during the election campaign that his Catholicism would not influence his politics.
Biden is a different story. There has been little criticism of the fact that a Catholic is now once again in the White House – at least from the secular side. Many Catholics are delighted to see one of their own in the country's highest office. Among the bishops of the USA, however, it seems to look different. There, Biden's inauguration not only provokes criticism, but even leads to open strife in the bishops' conference – and, according to media reports, even an intervention from the Vatican.
The day of the inauguration
It all started with a congratulatory letter: On 20. On January 1, the day of the new president's inauguration, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, ied a statement wishing President Biden well, but at the same time listing in detail what the Catholic bishops had to criticize about Biden's policies. In it, Gomez describes as "a serious threat to the common good" Biden's support of liberal abortion policies in particular, but also his stance on gender ies. This step is unusual. As a rule, the bishops' conference does not comment on an inauguration. The congratulatory telegram on the new presidency usually comes directly from the pope.
And the telegram came: Francis, however, struck a completely different tone from the bishops' conference in his letter. The pope wished Biden God's help in "promoting understanding, reconciliation and peace within the U.S. and among the nations of the world to advance the universal common good.". The Pope did not address the conflict ie of abortion with a single word, but called for "tireless respect" for the rights and dignity of every human being, "especially the poor, the weak and those who have no voice".
Two different letters, two different emphases. But that's not all: According to several media outlets in the U.S., attempts were made from Rome to prevent the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops from publishing its letter. The letter on behalf of the bishops' conference had originally been announced for 9 a.m., but was only officially published in the afternoon. The Vatican Secretariat of State reportedly intervened to try to prevent the publication. Not least, probably, because there has been criticism in America as well – inside and outside the bishops' conference.
Catholic journalist Heidi Schlumpf, editor-in-chief of the National Catholic Reporter, finds Archbishop Gomez's letter troubling. In our site interview, she calls his action particularly unfortunate: "This is not the time to list in detail what policy objective you are not happy with."
Similarly, Cardinal Cupich, the archbishop of Chicago, who is considered a spokesman for the liberal wing in the bishops' conference, sees the bubble as a "very important step. Unusually, he took to Twitter to comment on Gomez's statement. An "ill-considered statement" was made, he said. The other bishops would not have had time to work on it. Only a few hours before the publication you would have learned of the letter at all. It's unusual and shows structural problems in the bishops' conference that need to be addressed, Cupich says.
The journalist Schlumpf sees in this criticism "something that has not yet existed in this form. For a cardinal to publicly criticize an archbishop so bluntly is quite an act."
An old conflict
At the same time, the dispute between Gomez and Cupich is nothing new. The two represent two factions in the bishops' conference that have been at loggerheads for decades. The U.S. bishops' conference tends to be dominated by conservatives, noted Jesuit and journalist Tom Reese in 2018. The bulk of the bishops, he said, had been influenced by Popes John Paul II. and Benedict XVI. had been appointed, and shaped accordingly. There would be some older bishops who had been ordained priests during the time of the Second Vatican Council and a few young ones appointed by Pope Francis. But this moderate faction, he said, represents a minority in the bishops' conference.
The conflict was evident, for example, in the 2017 appointments to the U.S. bishops' pro-life committee. Bubble Cupich would have actually been a shoo-in for the post as a Chicago cardinal. But the bishops' conference opted for the less experienced Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, even though that post is traditionally filled by a cardinal.
Gomez and Cupich
When Jose Gomez was elected president of the bishops' conference in 2019, it made headlines beyond church media: the first chief bishop of Mexican descent from a diocese with a strong intercultural background. In his past there are links with the Opus Dei community. The journalist Schlumpf does not see Gomez himself as a conservative hardliner, but stresses that he certainly maintains good relations in such circles.
Cardinal Cupich, on the other hand, is considered a moderate. He has a clear presence in the Vatican, being a member of the Vatican Congregation of Bishops. He also holds liberal positions in Rome. At the 2015 Synod on the Family, he spoke out in favor of pastoral solutions for remarried-divorced and homosexual partnerships in the church. Some observers even say that the draft of the German bishops on the admission of remarried persons to communion was largely initiated by Cupich.
Will the dispute "Gomez vs. Cupich" now split the entire bishops' conference? Although the conflict is not new, it is coming into the public eye a bit more with the criticism of the new president. In all this, one must not forget that it is not just about the two bishops, says journalist Schlumpf: "They are not alone in each case. It's not just these two men, although it comes down to this in the current climate."
America has a Catholic president. This could actually be a chance to inspire more people in the USA for the Catholic faith. Instead, the news coverage right now is focused on the bishops' dispute. For journalist Heidi Schlumpf, this is a fatal step: "I find this quite problematic. This could now be a time for Catholics to rediscover something very positive. We have a practicing Catholic as president who, for the most part, is living his faith and trying to make the best of his new position. Bishops' disputes overshadow it all."
For info: The detailed interview with journalist Heidi Schlumpf is available for reading here.