Meeting virtually this week, the U.S. bishops reaffirmed that the nation’s episcopal conference remains deeply conservative.
In his concluding remarks, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) head took aim at President-elect Joe Biden in what one journalist has suggested might become a “showdown” between church leaders and the new administration, in part because of LGBTQ equality.
Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, in his role as USCCB president, made his comments regarding Biden at the meeting’s end, and provided no opportunity for comment from other bishops. Describing the president-elect not simply as a Catholic, but with the circumlocution of someone who “professes the Catholic faith,” Gomez affirmed that on issues like migration, racism, and the death penalty, there could be positive developments from a Biden administration. But the archbishop continued:
“He has also given us reason to believe that he will support policies that are against some fundamental values that we hold dear as Catholics. These policies include: the repeal of the Hyde Amendment and the preservation of Roe vs. Wade. . .the restoration of the HHS mandate, the passage of the Equality Act, and the unequal treatment of Catholic schools.”
Reporting on Gomez’s comments, Christopher White of the National Catholic Reporter, suggested the archbishop could be “signaling what could become a showdown between the leadership of the U.S. Catholic Church and the second Catholic president in U.S. history.” White also reported that the USCCB had formed a working group in response to a Biden administration headed by Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit, who has a strongly negative record in regard to LGBTQ issues, and who serves as USCCB vice-president.
Columnist Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter described Gomez’s claims that Biden’s positions on the aforementioned issues caused confusion among Catholics as “nonsense.” The working group, Winters added, would be studying a “nonexistent problem.” He also noted the differences between how the conference responds to Biden now versus Donald Trump four years ago:
“Here is a link to the statement the bishops adopted four years ago. Note they started by congratulating President-elect Donald Trump and closed by promising him their prayers, none of which made it into Gomez’s statement this time.
“Gomez needed to stand up to the committee chairs who approached him to make this statement. Failing that, he needed to stand up to the staff that drafted this statement, which was churlish and unbecoming. Instead, he caved to their worst instincts and decided to swim with the culture warriors.”
In 2019, the U.S. bishops stated they were “gravely disappointed” by the House of Representatives’ passage of the Equality Act, something which committee chairs for the USCCB said would be “to the detriment of society as a whole.”
Further signs that the bishops’ conference is not backing away from its culture wars mentality were the results of the elections for conference committee chairs. In a separate commentary, Winters stated simply, “The elections for committee chairs showed that moderates are still not able to get elected by this body.”
Most relevant to LGBTQ issues are the elections of Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York as chair for the Committee for Religious Liberty, which at this point spearheads the bishops’ conference’s anti-LGBTQ work, and Bishop Thomas Daly of Spokane, Washington, as chair of the Committee on Catholic Education, which is increasingly vocal on LGBTQ issues. Both Dolan and Daly have LGBTQ-negative records.
Perhaps the bishops’ executive sessions were different, but the public portions on Monday and Tuesday of this week were disheartening to watch. The meeting confirmed that the USCCB is incapable of responding to the signs of our times, such as the Movement for Black Lives, Covid-19, LGBTQ equality, and sexual abuse in the church. Many, perhaps most, U.S. bishops have rejected Pope Francis’ vision at a fundamental level. Instead, bishops lean ever harder into denying equal rights to LGBTQ people and to women. They abuse the concept of religious liberty for discriminatory ends. And in doing so, they fail gravely at being the pastoral leaders that Catholics and the whole U.S. society desperately need. Beyond a handful of interventions by figures like Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv., of Lexington, Kentucky, the only good news about the U.S. bishops’ meeting this week is that so few Catholics saw it happen.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, November 19, 2020