- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Catholic bishops appear divided over forming a working group to address the imminent administration of presumptive President-elect Joseph R. Biden, who would be the nation’s second Catholic chief executive.

On one side is Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, who took to Twitter last week to say Mr. Biden should repent for his support of abortion and same-sex marriage.

“As a bishop I beg Mr Biden to repent of his dissent from Catholic teaching on abortion & marriage,” Bishop Strickland tweeted. “He aspires to the highest office in our land & must be guided by the truth.”

Other bishops are taking a wait-and-see approach with the incoming administration.

Washington Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory told a Vatican journalist on Tuesday that he would not deny Mr. Biden communion, as some have called for, over the former vice president’s stances on abortion.

“I certainly hope to be able to be in dialogue with him,” Archbishop Gregory told The National Catholic Reporter. “Being in conversation, being in dialogue, means more than just speaking about the happy things.”

This month, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops acknowledged Mr. Biden’s presumed election, saying “he joins the late President John F. Kennedy as the second United States president to profess the Catholic faith.”

Los Angeles Archbishop José Horacio Gómez, the conference’s president, spoke about “certain opportunities, but also certain challenges” of a Biden administration last week, when he announced the the formation of a “working group” in his virtual address at the conclusion of the bishops’ annual general assembly.

“The President-elect has given us reason to believe that his faith commitments will move him to support some good policies,” said Archbishop Gómez, noting immigration reform, resettlement of refugees, climate change, and the death penalty. “But he has also given us reason to believe that he will support policies that attack some fundamental values we hold dear as Catholics.”

Chief among those were abortion, a Health and Human Services mandate requiring employers to provide contraception to employees, the Equality Act and the “unequal treatment of Catholic schools,” the archbishop said.

The bishops have not released details on an agenda or membership of the working group, other than naming Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron, conference vice president, as its chairman. Conference spokeswoman Chieko T. Noguchi told The Washington Times on Wednesday that the group has yet to meet.

Some liberal Catholics, such as the advocacy group Catholics for Choice, have criticized the bishops’ working group, asking where such an organized response was to the 2016 election of Donald Trump, who had made disparaging remarks during his campaign on immigrants.

“In 2016, @USCCB rushed to congratulate Donald Trump after his presidential victory,” Catholics for Choice tweeted Monday. “But they created a task force for the Biden presidency. What an appalling failure to exercise ethical judgement.”

Archbishop Gómez suggested in his address that a Biden task force “follows the precedent of four years ago” as the bishops faced a shift in priorities under the prospective Trump administration. But a high-ranking U.S. Catholic official said on background: “This is the first time there has been a working group [for a presidential administration].”

One notable difference, say church observers, is that Mr. Biden is Catholic.

Even Archbishop Gómez last week suggested that “additional problems” could emerge for the laity, including “confusion” about the church doctrine on issues such as abortion.

The election of the nation’s second Catholic president also comes at a time of great partisan divide within the church. Mr. Biden’s assent culminated months of hectoring among Catholic leaders on social media.

At its root, the debate over Mr. Biden reflects a split in the Catholic faith between doctrinal followers and liberal progressives who have called for the church to reform on issues ranging from the ordination of female priests to increasing tolerance for same-sex Catholics.

Exit polls of more than 110,000 voters by The Associated Press show that Catholics were mostly split in voting for Mr. Trump or Mr. Biden, with 50% supporting the president and 49% the presumptive president-elect. Roughly 1 out of 5 voters in the U.S. was Catholic.

• Christopher Vondracek can be reached at cvondracek@washingtontimes.com.

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