Brendan Hoban: this public rebuke to Pope Francis from 75% of the U.S. bishops seems an outrageous step too far.

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?













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  1. Joe O'Leary says:

    Yes, that’s how US bishops behave. We saw it in the way the horrible new translation of the Roman Missal was pushed through by Cardinal George, and the one bishop who warned of pastoral consequences was simply trampled on.

  2. Sean O'Conaill says:

    Shame on you, Brendan. They were not disobeying but merely DISSENTING – and, since the election of Pope Francis, that’s not nearly as awful a thing to do as it was just a decade ago.

    Just watch now as it becomes instead the most righteous virtue of the most upright men – the true Catholics.

  3. Pádraig McCarthy says:

    See document from US Conference of Catholic Bishops on 21 June:
    Questions and Answers on the U.S. Bishops’ Vote to Draft a
    Document on the Meaning of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church.
    It seems to have received little attention.

    Two of the questions (see document for full answers):
    Did the bishops vote to ban politicians from receiving Holy Communion?
    No, this was not up for vote or debate …
    Are the bishops going to issue a national policy on withholding Communion from politicians?
    No. There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians …

  4. Brendan Hoban says:

    Re Padraig McCarthy @ 3.
    Actions speak louder than words. The document of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops has received little attention because it is a self-serving attempt to cover their tracks. As has been widely reported, in the actual debate, even though a number of bishops tried to broaden the theme speaker after speaker referred to Biden by name, thus giving the name away. Apart from this post factum PR exercise, the conference rejected publicly and robustly what Pope Francis wanted. That’s the bottom line. By their deeds you shall know them.

  5. Ger Hopkins says:

    Well said Padraig.
    Probably best just to step through this point by point.

    Cardinal Ladaria, Prefect of the CDF, wrote to the American Bishops in May urging an episcopal dialogue that would help the bishops “agree as a Conference that support of pro-choice legislation is not compatible with Catholic teaching.”
    “If [the USCCB] then decided to formulate a national policy on worthiness for communion…any statement of the Conference regarding Catholic political leaders would best be framed within the broad context of worthiness for the reception of Holy Communion on the part of all the faithful.”
    (This is the ACP’s bete noir, the CDF, we are talking about. How liberal a warning letter do you think they sent the USCCB?)

    And what did the USCCB actually agree on last week?
    As mentioned by Brendan down in the 16th paragraph of his article – They voted to begin drafting a teaching document on the Eucharist.
    That’s it.
    Which the media seem to have turned in to a barring of Joe Biden from receiving Communion with immediate effect.
    It would have been very peculiar if in a discussion about this issue Joe Biden’s name had not been mentioned.
    “I think there were two bishops’ conferences that happened a week ago — one that I attended, and one that a lot of the Catholic press reported on,” – Bishop Monforton of Steubenville.

    And is there a need in the US for a teaching document on the Eucharist?
    Brendan alludes to a survey in March showing two thirds of US (mostly non church going) Catholics don’t agree with the withholding of Communion. There is presumably a large overlap here with the 70% of US Catholics in a 2019 Pew survey who thought the Eucharist was “just a symbol”.
    “On the lighter side of things, the second-graders at the Catholic schools in Steubenville know more about the Eucharist than 70 percent of Catholics,” – Bishop Monforton.

    I’m really lost as to where Trump figures in all of this. It seems that the only group who are feeling the loss of Trump more than the Capitol Hill rioters are liberals. Let it go.

    Looking at what the CDF called for, and what the USCCB are doing, you wonder if the media themselves believe their own stories about the USCCB setting up in outright disobedience to Pope Francis.

    Looking forward to Brendan putting the good people of Mayo at ease about all this in next week’s column.

    (A man on a galloping horse, who wasn’t paying too much attention, might have thought the ACP had spent most of its history advocating positions that were a little at odds with some Church teachings as articulated by Popes John Paul II and Benedict. And now are shocked, shocked, to find that dissension is going on in this establishment!)

  6. Pádraig McCarthy says:

    Re Brendan #4:
    However frequently the bishops mention Biden, the fact that they have issued this document stating a position makes it more difficult for them to do precisely the opposite in their upcoming statement.
    Pope Francis does not seem to see a problem in people disagreeing with him. From the start, he has encouraged Synods to speak with “parrhesia” – to speak with honesty what their views are.
    ACP took a strong position on the revised English version of the Roman Missal, as I did also, despite the clear direction Rome was taking, including Benedict XVI. I have not changed my opinion on this.

  7. George Lynch says:

    “Your comment must include your full name”
    I know who Brendan Hoban is, likewise Joe O Leary, Sean O Connell, and Padraig McCarthy.
    I have no idea who “Ger Hopkins” is – perhaps it’s time he had the courage of his convictions and outed himself!

    (Editor’s Note: It has always been the practice of this site to ‘include your full name.’ It has also always been the practice to alert the site editor if you wished to, for personal reasons, use a name other than your own, once the editor was informed of your real name. Ger Hopkins has informed me of of his full name and I am happy that he continues to contribute.)

  8. Eddie Finnegan says:

    Indeed I’ve known from the start that Ger is Gerard Manley Hopkins SJ, so why should anyone have questioned his credentials? I have occasionally wondered about ‘George Lynch’ but now I’m sure that he must be the hard rock heavy metal guitarist from Spokane and California.

  9. Eddie Finnegan says:

    John E Thiel on the new Donatism, I think – not James Martin.

  10. Paddy Ferry says:

    Brendan Hoban: this public rebuke to Pope Francis ….

    Yes, Eddie, you are correct. The article came to me via Fr. Martin’s FB page hence my mistake.

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