US Bishops’ support of Trump is shameful
Western People 29.6.2021
Imagine this scenario. For the June meeting of the Irish Catholic bishops, plans were set in train for the bishops to propose that the law on clerical celibacy should be abolished. The word of the Irish bishops’ intention percolated through to Rome. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), at the instigation of Pope Francis, warned the bishops that such a move would damage the unity of the bishops and that what was needed was ‘a period of serene dialogue’.
But regardless of what the CDF said or what Pope Francis wanted, the bishops decided to go ahead with a more or less similar proposal and voted 3 to 1 in favour of it – with, in effect, 75% of the bishops disobeying Pope Francis.
In this case, there’s no need to think about it, because it never happened.
But here’s something very similar that actually did happen – and happened just last week.
Some U.S. bishops have been critical of President Joe Biden because as a Catholic (in their view) his political party, the Democrats, are not anti-abortion enough and, as a result, they think he shouldn’t be allowed to receive Communion. But Pope Francis is unhappy with this. Indeed the CDF, at his instigation, directed the U.S. bishops not to propose anything along those lines at their annual meeting last week.
Instead, he said, a period of ‘serene dialogue’ would be more appropriate. But the bishops were not for turning and they proposed a more or less similar proposal and voted 3 to 1 for it. In effect, 75% of the bishops disobeyed Pope Francis.
A reporter for the National Catholic Reporter, Michael Sean Winters, described what happened at the meeting as ‘outrageous’: Bishops questioned each other’s motives; Archbishop José Gomez, who chaired the meeting was biased and manipulative; and the conference disintegrated into a shambles as efforts to pretend the debate was not about trying to deny Communion to Biden was undone by speaker after speaker referring to Biden by name. The meeting, according to Winters, resembled a school debating-society.
In January last, at the time of Biden’s inauguration as president, on behalf of some U.S. bishops, Gomez had released a statement on Biden, which Cardinal Cupich of Chicago, described as ‘ill-considered’ and unrepresentative of the mind of U.S. bishops. The statement was described by the prestigious Jesuit publication, Commonweal, as ‘one more indication’ that some U.S. bishops were ‘indifferent to what happened in this country under Trump and saw no reason not to support him a second time’.
What mesmerises so many Catholics on this side of the Atlantic is how so many U.S. Catholics, including so many U.S. Catholic bishops, have been taken in by Trump’s political adoption of an anti-abortion stance when it’s crystal clear that he has demonstrated time and again – in his actions, behaviour, life and politics – that the concept of moral responsibility is foreign to his thinking.
And what mesmerises Irish Catholics as well is how the U.S. bishops are so critical of Biden, whose moral integrity is above question and whose attitude to abortion – he is against it, though he refuses to force his beliefs on those who don’t share them – represents the position of most Irish Catholics.
The irony is that Biden, who attends Mass every Sunday and who always carries with him his late son’s rosary beads, has said that his faith shapes ‘all that I do’ and ‘will serve as my anchor’ in office.
And bishops and Catholics around the world are now looking askance at what’s happening among U.S. Catholic bishops – a lack of vision that places their actions and behaviour spectacularly outside the present concerns of Catholicism with synodality and reform.
For instance, Pope Francis has made it clear time and again that he is unhappy with the tendency of some American bishops to enter into what are called ‘culture wars’ – political conflicts around the polarising of values in society – and who insist that the only way is the Catholic way. And he’s particularly upset with Catholic bishops fomenting campaigns to punish Catholics who don’t agree with them by denying them Communion. ‘Communion’, Francis has said, ‘is not a prize for the perfect but nourishment for sinners’.
In simple terms, nobody deserves to receive Communion, as we are all sinners.
Francis is particularly unhappy with what’s called ‘weaponising the Eucharist’ – using Communion as a reward and refusing it as a punishment – as he sees it as disrespecting Communion. And a survey in March showed that two-thirds of U.S. Catholics agreed with him.
Despite the clear indication from Pope Francis that he is unhappy with the direction the US bishops are moving, the vote was carried – 168 to 55 with 6 abstaining – to draft a teaching document on Communion.
Even though they know that church law doesn’t allow for national policies, and they know that, even if the US bishops vote to deny politicians communion unless they adopt a policy of seeking to criminalise abortion, the necessary approval of the Vatican will not be forthcoming, clearly the U.S. bishops have Biden (and Pope Francis) in their sights.
To date, Pope Francis’ tactic has been not to respond to questioning, provocation, denunciation and abuse from the extreme conservative wing of Catholicism – Cardinal Leo Burke, Archbishop Carlo Vigano and others – but, whether this course is still wise when 75% of the U.S. bishops have directly challenged his authority, is another question.
But if the U.S. bishops’ shameful support of Trump (and the questions that raises for the moral authority of the Catholic Church) crossed a boundary in loyalty, fidelity and obedience to the Church, this public rebuke to Pope Francis from 75% of the U.S. bishops seems an outrageous step too far.
Will those bishops who, until Francis became pope, piously lamented the decline of obedience in the Church, now need to resign or be removed for their implicit and intolerable disobedience?