Biden is America’s most prominent Catholic. The church’s most conservative wish he wasn’t.

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WASHINGTON – When President Joe Biden met Pope Francis in the Vatican on Friday, he presented the pontiff with a century-old, hand-spun cloak from a church in the nation’s capital with a long history and a liberal bent.

But it was not the priestly attire that sent the strongest message. It was the box he walked in, carrying a verse from the Bible that said, in part, “… if any of you have a grievance against anyone … [f]command as the Lord has forgiven you.

It could be seen as a tacit nod to the fight in which Biden, only the second Roman Catholic to be elected president, found himself embroiled at home over the future of the faith he has attributed his entire life to .

As the American Catholic Church tries to find its place after years of scandal and increasingly empty pews, a battle between conservative and progressive wings that reflects partisan divisions across the country has spilled over into the public. . While most seem to agree the fight is more important than Biden, the president is at the center of what church historians say is an inflection point due to his support for legal abortion, a point of a view that aligns him with the Democratic Party he leads but separates him from his church.

The American bishops suggested that Biden be denied communion, the founding element of the faith of religion.

“Biden openly takes political positions that directly contradict the church’s most basic teachings,” said Ashley McGuire, senior member of the Conservative Catholic Association. “The church has no choice, really, to remain silent.”

In June, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops dedicated its national meeting to discussing Biden and his public support for abortion rights. The Catholic Church opposes abortion and teaches that life begins at conception. The sacrament of Communion is central to the practice of the Catholic faith, a demonstration that they believe Jesus was the Son of God and that wine and bread are transformed into his body and blood.

The bishops decided to draft a document advising priests on what to do when pro-abortion politicians show up in their churches. The bishops will meet again in November to reconsider the matter and are likely to make formal recommendations.

The draft document in circulation will not name Biden, said a source who has advised some of the bishops working on the document. The source requested anonymity to speak candidly about the bishops’ deliberations.

The document won’t ask priests to withhold Communion from anyone, but it will seek to use Biden – or politicians like him – as an example of how not to practice Catholicism, the source said.

Biden, who attends mass every weekend and has made his faith central to his personal history, has remained silent in the fight. He did not comment publicly on the bishops’ meeting or respond when other prominent church leaders publicly criticized him, including from the pulpit.

When asked on Friday whether Pope Francis, who has also been the target of American bishops who see him as insufficiently conservative and even illegitimate, told him to continue to receive Communion, Biden simply replied, “Yes.”

“If Joe Biden is excluded from Communion, it would be a further step in the escalation of the hyperpartisanship that is incredibly visible in the Catholic Church in this country right now,” said Massimo Faggioli, professor of theology at the ‘Villanova University. “So they say this not to help Biden, but to help Catholicism not fall into the trap of bigotry.”

Biden’s election to the White House would have seemed, to an outsider, to be the crowning achievement of the integration of American Catholics into the fabric of the nation. But not to church curators.

“He is a very confusing figure to American Catholics because he has campaigned a lot on his faith and Catholicism and at the same time openly flouts the teaching of the church,” McGuire said of Biden.

When John F. Kennedy was elected the first Catholic president, Catholicism was considered a foreign religion, with an American head of state at risk of being controlled by a foreign pope. The year Kennedy took office, Biden graduated from a Catholic high school in Wilmington, Delaware, a city with large populations of Irish, Italian, and Polish Catholics who were likely delighted to see one of their own in the office. oval.

In 2020, Biden’s faith was not seen as alien and was essentially an electoral non-issue. And he’s hardly alone in Washington: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is also Catholic, as is almost a third of Congress and two-thirds of the Supreme Court, including Conservative Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, who spoke openly on his faith during his confirmation hearings.

“Joe Biden’s life basically spanned this period of church history in America, from when the church was what you might call very united, very faithful, seminaries were full of new priests. The Catholic churches was full, till today, where you’ve got church consolidations, church closings, you know, emptying seminaries, all kinds of trouble. Brian Burch, president of CatholicVote.org, said.

That Biden should now be used to show Catholics how not to practice Catholicism was a refrain for those advocating his exclusion from Communion, according to several people who spoke about the internal debate on the condition of anonymity to provide insight into their discussions.

For the Orthodox or conservative wing of the Catholic Church, the debate over Biden and abortion is about the very future of the faith, which they see becoming something different in Europe as once the nations high concentration of Catholics have become more secular and church attendance is also declining. . They fear the church will be stripped of its fundamentals and replaced by liberal ideologies and bigotry.

The church sex abuse scandal – and the failure of Catholic Church leaders to remove priests who were known to abuse children – have often been blamed for the dwindling number of parishioners.

Some church historians argue that as the number of pews declined, the influence of the strictest attendees who remained, including those who would see Biden denied Communion, increased.

“It’s a serious crisis,” Faggioli said. “It is a crisis not only of credibility, because of the crisis of sexual abuse, but it is a crisis of catholicity.”

Faggioli and Steven Millies, professor at the Catholic Theological Union, one of the largest English-speaking Catholic theological schools, argue that there has already been an irreconcilable rift between America’s Catholic leadership and the head of the church in Rome. American church leaders have become increasingly comfortable criticizing the Pope for being too liberal, too focused on issues like climate change, and too willing to allow Catholics like Biden to go unchecked .

In the short term, Millies saw a sign in the gift Francis gave Biden about the effort to keep divisions within the church from widening. Among the gifts given to the president was a copy of the Fratelli Tutti, the pope’s writing on human brotherhood that Biden often cited during the election campaign.

“This is an extremely important document. It really fundamentally reframed Catholic social teaching, and we’ll be talking about it for decades,” Millies said. “This is how he [Francis] think about politics and social community. Francis has always called for “a better kind of politics” since he was elected, and Fratelli Tutti partly defends this thesis. “


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