The US Bishops have spurned Pope Francis’ call to dialogue in creating a working group to “navigate” president-elect Joe Biden’s potential “challenges” to Catholic doctrine.

– Biden “has given us reason to believe that he will support policies that are against some fundamental values we hold dear as Catholics”

The president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, announced the creation of the working group November 17 at the conclusion of the USCCB Fall General Assembly.

Gomez explained that the chairmen of “several” USCCB committees had approached him “to express a particular concern in the wake of the election”.

“I had the opportunity to consult with the executive committee about this concern and I found unanimous support” for the creation of a working group on the Biden administration’s future policies, the archbishop explained.

“We are facing a unique moment in the history of the Church in this country”, Gomez highlighted, explaining that “for only the second time we are anticipating a transition to a president who professes the Catholic faith”.

“This presents certain opportunities but also certain challenges”, the USCCB head affirmed.

“The president-elect has given us reason to believe that his faith commitments will move him to support some good policies. This includes policies in favour of immigration reform, refugees and the poor, and against racism, the death penalty and climate change”, Gomez acknowledged.

However, he added that Biden “has also given us reason to believe that he will support policies that are against some fundamental values we hold dear as Catholics”.

“These policies include the repeal of the Hyde Amendment and the preservation of Roe v. Wade. Both of these policies undermine our pre-eminent priority of the elimination of abortion”, Gomez warned.

The Archbishop of Los Angeles went on to say that Biden’s worrisome policies “also include restoration of the HHS mandate [insurance that covers contraception], the progess of the Equality Act [preventing discrimination against LGBT people] and the unequal treatment of Catholic schools”.

Gomez cautioned that “these policies was a serious threat to the common good whenever any politician supports them”. The members of the USCCB “have long opposed these policies strongly and we will continue to do so”, the archbishop promised.

“When politicians who profess the Catholic faith support them there are additional problems. Among other things, it creates confusion with the faithful about what the Church actually teaches on these questions”, the USCCB president alerted.

Describing the Biden transition as a “difficult and complex” situation for the bishops, Gomez said that in order to help the USCCB “navigate” the difficulties he had decided “to appoint a working group chaired by Archbishop [Allen] Vigneron [USCCB vice president] and consisting of the chairmen of the committees responsible for the policy areas at stake, as well as the committees on doctrine and communications”.

Promising further information about the working group in the near future, Gomez argued that in creating the working group he was merely following “the precedent of four years ago when Cardinal DiNardo, then president of the Conference, similarly faced a transition to a new administration threatening grave and immediate harm on critical issues”.

“Then as now, committees already existed to address those issues and the goal was to emphasise our priorities and enhance collaboration”, Gomez concluded.

– Pope, nuncio had warned prelates against “parallel monologues”

Though Gomez may merely be following precedent in establishing the working group of bishops to examine Biden policies, the move flies in the face of Pope Francis’ consistent call to dialogue, as expressed for example in his recent encyclical Fratelli tutti, where he warns against confusing dialogue with “parallel monologues” that “may attract some attention by their sharp and aggressive tone” but which “engage no one” due to their “frequently self-serving and contradictory” content (200).

“As religious leaders, we are called to be true ‘people of dialogue’”, the pontiff pleads in his encyclical (284).

The Pope’s warning against interlocutors talking past each other was also echoed in the USCCB General Assembly by nuncio Archbishop Christophe Pierre, who in his address November 16 told the bishops that “in a pluralistic, fragmented world, we are invited to dialogue”.

“What is the method proposed in Fratelli Tutti? In chapter six, Pope Francis speaks of dialogue. But, when we speak of dialogue, what are we really talking about? It cannot be like those on the news who shout past each other, demonstrating that they are more interested in power and their own ideas than the common good”.

– COVID-19, racism and clerical abuse among other priorities

In the meantime, in their General Assembly the bishops of the USCCB also discussed other issues including racism, the challenges and opportunities for evangelisation presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Vatican’s recently released report on now-defrocked abuser and former cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

In an online discussion on November 17, they talked about the impact of the coronavirus on local church communities, noting that isolation has not lessened people’s hunger for the Eucharist.

In a year marked by social unrest and protests for racial equality in the US, following more high-profile killings of Black citizens at the hands of the police, the bishops shared thoughts and experiences on the issue of racism.

The assembly voted to approve the renewal of the Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism that focuses on addressing the sin of racism. The committee was established in August 2017, upon the unanimous recommendation of the USCCB’s executive committee and in consultation with members of the USCCB’s committee on priorities and plans. 

The assembly also approved Revised Strategic Priorities for the 2021-24 USCCB Strategic Plan, “Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope”, and accepted the recommendations of the committee on budget and finance for the approval of the 2021 proposed budgets.

Finally, the assembly announced the new chairmen of eight standing committees, the new general secretary of the USCCB, and new members of the board of Catholic Relief Services (CRS).

The bishops elected as general secretary Father Jeffrey D. Burill, a priest of the Diocese of La Crosse who has served as associate general secretary of USCCB since February 2016.

(With reporting by Vatican News)

Discussions on Day 2 of the USCCB Fall General Assembly

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.