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Analysis: Who speaks for American Catholics?

by Ed Condon for CNA

"Worship Protest" on the National Mall during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Credit: Nicole Glass Photography/Shutterstock)

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 16, 2020 / 01:30 pm (CNA).- As partisan divides continue to deepen and solidify across the country, Catholics and Catholicism are being drawn into the political fray.

With an incoming Biden administration signaling its antagonism to Catholic institutions and values, and an increasingly vocal minority of Americans refusing even to accept the legitimacy of the election, many Catholics are looking to the Church for guidance. What they see and hear are wildly conflicting signals about where the Church stands, what its priorities are, and what even it means to be a Catholic in America.

Even before the election, both party conventions featured prominent Catholic speakers, including priests and religious sisters. As Trump sought to run on his staunch opposition to abortion, and Biden repeatedly invoked his own cultural Catholicism during the campaign, Catholic bishops, parishes, and families have been pulled in opposite directions.

While some bishops have shown themselves willing to engage with one or other particular side of the political divide, many Catholics are looking for leadership that brings a clear, distinctly Catholic voice in answer to the confusion and division, and articulates a vision for society that represents the entirety of the Church’s message, on its own terms.

During their online Fall General Assembly last month, the U.S. bishops acknowledged the unique “challenges” presented by the current political landscape, most especially the “confusion” caused by an incoming president who is personally at odds with the moral teaching of the Church and opposed to the religious freedom of Catholic religious orders.

At the end of the meeting, USCCB president Archbishop Jose Gomez announced the creation of a special ad hoc committee to help the bishops “navigate” this “difficult and complex situation.” But while that committee gets on quietly with the nuanced work of formulating a strategy, other individual bishops and clergy have waded in for themselves.

Newly minted Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington has repeatedly said he will not deny Biden Communion, despite the President-elect’s open support for abortion, and the clear teaching of the Vatican that Catholic politicians who do so are in a state of public grave sin.

Gregory has said that holding out the possibility of imposing the Church’s medicinal discipline would be like having a “gun on the table” when he meets with Biden. The cardinal has said he prefers to “dialogue” with next president on areas of common cause, while accepting that they will “not agree” on some things, like the Church’s preeminent concern with ending legal abortion.

“I hope that I don’t highlight one over the other,” Gregory said.

For many U.S. Catholics, Gregory’s position reads as a tacit endorsement of the nation’s most prominent and powerful layman rejecting core Church teaching and suffering no apparent spiritual harm. Whatever the USCCB committee might conclude, it is unlikely to come up with a response strong enough to answer the eventual image of President Biden attending Mass in St. Matthew’s Cathedral.

When, as seems likely, Biden’s administration renews legal attacks on groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor, or champions legislation to recognize the pseudo-science of gender theory (also explicitly rejected by the Church), many might reasonably infer that there is nothing prohibitively unCatholic about siding with the President against the Church.

On the other side of the political divide, a few Catholic bishops have shown themselves willing to share platforms with divisive figures largely regarded as the political fringe.

On Saturday, a “Jericho March” rally was held on the National Mall in support of President Donald Trump who, event organizers maintained, actually won the general election, despite ballot counts and court decisions to the contrary.

In addition to popular YouTube conspiracy theorists, religious figures from across several denominations spoke at the event, including Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, and the former papal nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano.

Throughout the day, attendees and viewers online were told that Trump would serve a second term and that this had been confirmed to speakers via divine revelation. Archbishop Vigano, who lives in hiding and has seemed recently to call into question the validity of Vatican Council II, appeared by video link, telling the crowd to pray that God dispel “the lies and deceptions of the children of darkness.”

While not explicitly endorsing claims that Biden’s victory had been achieved by some sort of national or international voter fraud campaign, Vigano led the rally in prayer that “truth will triumph over lies, justice over abuse and fraud,” and that “the walls of the deep state, behind which evil is barricaded, will come crashing down.”

Also appearing via video was Bishop Strickland, who himself did not address the explicitly partisan agenda of the rally, and who did not actually turn to face the camera during his appearance. Strickland led a prayer “for our nation at this time,” which “proudly proclaims that we are one nation under God.”

While neither bishop acknowledged the other speakers at the event, many Catholics will have understood their decision to share a platform with them as a tacit endorsement; speakers who insist that “God rose up [sic] Donald Trump to stand against the enemy,” and that “this is the beginning of the great revival before the antiChrist comes.”

While many American Catholics, and indeed American Catholic bishops, will likely find themselves equally uncomfortable with the apparent moral equivocation being offered to Biden, and the conspiracy-laden, apocalyptic rhetoric swirling around Trump, what has not emerged is an evangelical and episcopal voice, or cadre of voices, that can rival the potency of either.

The work of the USCCB and its various committees has and certainly will continue to play an important role in articulating a coherent Catholic message and response to different political issues as they arise. But statements and press releases, however well crafted, simply cannot compete with the striking imagery of a president in the Communion line, or a bishop sharing a stage with a demagogue.

Unless and until bishops emerge to challenge both sides, offering a distinctly and wholly Catholic voice for unity in and with the Church, American Catholicism risks appearing less like a united flock and ever more like the divided country it is called to evangelize.

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  1. “Unless and until bishops emerge to challenge both sides, offering a distinctly and wholly Catholic voice for unity in and with the Church”

    Bishops have no competence to address political matters (or “charism” to do so), and better off not saying anything at all about this election.

    • Bishops have the right to speak on any moral matter, including the idea of election fraud, if there was any. Whether it be Church doctrine or the 10 Commandments, bishops and priests can preach, teach, correct, and confront any politician or any political party. Furthermore, bishops and priests are also citizens of this nation and have every right to speak about important matters connected with governing.

      • No. Bishops have no more competence to speak on particular issues other than what has been Divinely Revealed, and very little of that has to do with political governance. They may give an opinion that some law is contrary to Divinely-revealed law that has been clearly recognized in Tradition (and I don’t even include Natural Law under this, because, that’s not how Natural Law is known, and again, no special competence), but that is about it. Don’t bother to cite the relevant Roman canons to me, as that is just theologoumena under the guise of canon law.

        The bishops have no extra insight into whether election fraud took place, nor do they have extra insight as to whether Biden is legitimate or illegitimate. If they wish to speak as an individual “citizen,” let them do so with an EXPLICIT ACKNOWLEDGMENT that this is so, and without any title before their name.

        • Dec. 18: What I don’t understand is why the Bishops did not explain the Catholic position on the issues and encourage Catholics to make sure to know what the Candidates themselves expressed publicly. For instance Joe Biden declared publicly that he would extend the legal time limit in which human babies can be aborted up until moments before birth and that he would also make it illegal for Religious communities like the Little Sisters of the Poor to pay for these abortion through their employee health insurance policies. Yes there are other issues like the border and climate change but nothing should given a priority over life…if a baby is not allowed to live then all the blessings of God and creation will not be enjoyed by him or her. And we must consider this: among those millions and millions of babies slaughtered the gifts and blessings that God sent through them for all human kind are rejected and sent back. Gifts and talents and blessings that we so dearly need now. All gone! May God forgive us and have mercy on us and may He help us to make things right. I worked with Mother Teresa in Calcutta and she used to say: If we would kill the innocent baby in the womb, what would we not do? Let us pray for each other for the grace and the courage to make this world God has given us a better and more welcome place for all of God’s children.

          • Florence Anita,

            If your local ordinary has been neglectful in this regard, perhaps you may wish to contact him about it. The laity must hold their bishops accountable if they are negligent in their duties.

    • The problem is that bishops don’t operate within their rightful sphere of authority because too many of them are incompetent in that arena. Instead, they venture into the political arena where they have NO authority and where they have even less competency.

      • At most they can address proposed laws that directly contradict Divinely revealed law. They have no special competence to judge human positive laws that are determined through reasoning about political matters.

  2. Interesting, the Catholic Church trashes Biden even before January 20, 2000. I don’t agree with Biden’s moral distortions, but I can give him a chance to transits even though Trump openly road blocks that transition. Even more interesting is the church’s adoration of Caligula (Trump), the abomination of evil, to seem to offer a “get out of jail free” card and to inevitably vote to continue his disgraceful conduct. WOW!

    • “Interesting, the Catholic Church trashes Biden even before January 20, 2000.”

      That is interesting. Also not true. Where did “The Catholic Church” “trash” Biden?

      • To be clear, many Catholics have pointed out that Biden’s “Catholicism” is not really Catholic at all, that he has a long history of going with the aggressively secular flow, and that he’s known for his strong discomfort with truth, logic, and goodness.

        None of that is “trashing”. If someone wants to understand “trashing”, they should revisit how Biden treated Robert Bork, to give one of numerous examples. That was ugly, nasty, low, and semi-human. But now, miraculously, Biden is an incredible statesman. Count me among the unconvinced.

        • We must not be the judge of our fellow men and women. There are Ten Commandments and we ALL have to observe every single one of them. I should point out that the murder of those on the death row by Trump should not be ignored either. Not forgetting the most recent practice of “herd immunity” during a pandemic that has killed thousands. Should a true Prolife supporter not pardon and give a life sentence to a criminal or protect others from the Coronavirus? Jesus forgave one famous criminal without hesitation. Why are righteous Catholics silent about those on death row and those deliberately infecting others by encouraging people not wear face masks? Murder is murder, as far as the Commandment goes. The whole continent of Europe (except Poland), Australia and New Zealand support some form of abortion. Targeting Biden is not going to solve the culture of death (euthanasia, abortion, do not resuscitate DNR) that is eroding the morale fabric of rich nations. As Catholics, we pray for our enemies and their conversion. Jesus spent a great deal of his Mission dining with sinners and He clearly stated that there is great joy in Heaven at the repentance of a sinner. My point being, a good disciple should pray continuously for sinners without ceasing. Pray for Joe Biden and Trump, both are equally worthy of our prayers. Heaven is indeed full of repentant sinners and murderers, St Paul, Moses, King David etc .It is important to remember that repentant sinners are welcome in Heaven, God’s Mercy is endless.

          • There is no conflict between judging public actions and deeds (as opposed to judging someone else’s soul) AND praying for people. Anyone acquainted with Scripture, Tradition, and Church history knows this is the case. Thanks.

      • Sorry. I really should have focused on the more than 300,000 poor souls lost by the coronavirus through the admitted act of one man. Get closer to reality!

        • Since you have, for years now, ranted against Trump here, you don’t have much ground to stand on. The topic was Biden. I addressed it. Stop moving the goalposts. Or, better, stop starting fights you are sure to lose.

          • Ouch. –stop starting fights you are sure to lose–. Why sure to lose because you don’t agree? Not very professional nor charitable. How does this help anyone looking for reason.

        • morganB –

          You had best not be standing outside when you are appealing to “reality”…you might conduct some electricity.

        • Where did you see that 300,000 souls lost their lives in America due to the Corona virus. Did you know that more than 6,000,000 babies lost their lives through abortion and that Biden declared that he will extent the time limit in which babies can be killed up until moments before birth and that he will force Catholic communities like the Little Sisters of the Poor to pay for these killings through their employee health insurance plans? No person, no candidate is perfect. Neither Biden, nor Trump is perfect…but Biden’s agenda is barbaric – the slaughter of innocent babies in the womb is barbaric and inhuman.

        • No mention of the other 1,331,336 deaths “attributed” to the Chinese virus, which no doubt you blame on Trump as well. You sound like a hegemonist, morgan.

          Will you be turning down a vaccine since were in not for Trump’s Operation Warp Speed wouldn’t exist or will you turn a blind eye to their derivation from aborted cells and get the shot anyway?

      • I would agree with your suggestion, Leslie. Trump got 3 conservatives on the Supreme court and many others on the lower courts. That is the first step toward stemming the tide of ultra liberalism which has brought us abortion, new sexed bathrooms and socialism. If nothing else he has brought back ‘Merry Christmas.’

        He and Bernie are the only politicians I can see that stick to their message and promises. If you think China is not a threat you’d better rethink

    • Yah…that’s right…I’d rather have an abortion zealot promoting the murder of the unborn in the White House than a mean tweeter. Get your priorities straight.

    • I can’t believe you’re defending someone who supports the killing of babies. I think you’ve mistakenly wandered onto a Catholic website.

  3. The term “conspiracy theory (ist)” is meaningless. It was created by the CIA in 1964, as a thought-stopper, to squelch discussion of the fraudulent Warren Commision report.

    Virtually every great crime and every great accomplishment in human history was the result of collaboration. Conspiracy!

    No competent, intellectually honest writer would be caught dead emitting this meaningless thought-jammer.

  4. Demagoguery? Let’s see, Mr. Condon. Let’s look at the facts. When did that “demagogue” Trump urge his base to riot, tear down statues, intimidate people wearing Clinton or Biden hats, throw democrats out of restaurants, harass and assault people who expressed support for Client or Biden? You never saw that once with Trump supporters. And had you listened and watched Trump, rather than being glued to MSNBC and CNN, you would have noticed that Trump would never tolerate that kind of behavior. But democrats and even some bishops did. Here’s the truth, Mr. Condon and US bishops: – Biden and Democrats do support killing unborn children, suing the Church for its beliefs, disqualifying Catholics from serving on courts. You can despise Vigano all you want, Mr. Condon. What he believes or says doesn’t even begin to compare with the evil that Mr. Biden espouses and pledges to act upon, yes, that “faithful and devout” Catholic Mr. Biden, according to even some bishops. Making believe that Mr. Trumps’ untoward, and yes, sometimes inappropriate tweets somehow can be equated with Biden’s morally outrageous convictions is shameful. And for the bishops to cowardly and silently stand by at best, and at worse, for some to even support Biden, is a betrayal of faithful Catholics who have stood by the Church in the worst of times. And laugh at and scorn it if you will, but if we keep going down this road of self-destruction, apocalyptic language will be the least of our concerns.

    • Dec. 18th: Well said JP! The liberal media is to blame for all the negative reports – often untrue – about Pres. Trump while hiding the seriously negative issues of the Bidens, Joe and Hunter. I had hoped and prayed that the illegalities of this election would be revealed but if there is no investigation then this will remain hidden. But God knows so there can be surprises ahead – good ones. We just have to keep praying and even if Biden is permitted to sit in the Oval Office – God is still in charge and can bring good out of evil. So pray and keep going. And don’t be discouraged. The Foundress of the Maryknoll Sisters, Mother Mary Joseph, used to say that ‘discouragement never comes from God.’ So don’t give in to discouragement or fear…for they do not come from God. Just pray – and trust God.

  5. Archbishop Vigano has been sent by God to act as replacement for Pope Francis who has forsaken his appointed role as spokesman for Christ. All Catholics should believe and do exactly as Archbishop suggests because he speaks the Truth. God Bless Archbishop Vigano and may God give him the courage to carry out his task.

  6. well – okay then – count me out of your head-in-the-sand, normalcy bias publication………….. I go with Archbishop Vigano ! Bishop Strickland ! God bless them both for the courage……….

    • Jon M: CWR if anything is about articles and comments about the truth, whether it is about commentary and discussion covering the mass readings, sacrements, saints, catholic history, current events that effect catholics etc. If you don’t like truth, there are a vast number of other sources that provide lies, distortion and good old BS, which frequently goes as news. By the way BYE BYE!!

  7. “The cardinal has said he prefers to “dialogue” with next president on areas of common cause, while accepting that they will “not agree” on some things, like the Church’s preeminent concern with ending legal abortion.”

    Why dialogue if you have already conceded that your dialogue will be fruitless?

  8. What troubles me most in this mess is the obvious fact that in the argument about giving Communion to individuals who are clearly at odds with Catholic dogma (not just doctrine), no one seems at all concerned with the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. That Presence is the reason that the Church has denied that sacrament to those who have put themselves, in effect, at odds with God. In the Eucharist, God Himself is at our mercy. Moreover, those who partake and are not in a state of grace condemn themselves–and clergy who knowingly give them Communion are in effect participants in a grave evil. This is in no way a political matter.

    • You have touched upon the heart of this whole issue. Christ Himself revealed that He is the Living Bread. He is truly present body soul and divinity in the Eucharist. To act openly that this is not so is denying Christ’s teaching.

    • Excellent point, JoAnn.

      The preeminent issue here isn’t politics or power.

      It’s desecration of the most unimaginable, intolerable, unconscionable sort.

    • I don’t know if Biden is personally for or against abortion. But doesn’t he or anyone in his position of president have to speak for all citizens of our country, Christian or not? As to receiving Communion. I know what the “rules” are for receiving Communion are. But I have often wondered if one believes Christ is truly present and has need of Christ in their lives, that Communion should not be withheld.

  9. I am forever mindful of the fact that Bergoglio chose Gregory to be the succesor of McCarrick and Wuerl in the Washington DC See. This is no reformer but a continuity with the past.

    I will always refer to this as the McCarrick-Wuerl-Gregory Axis of power. Nothing has changed.

    • I agree. Gregory was the secretary of the USCBC when McCarrick was its president. He would have known of Pope Benedicts letter to them about voting for a pro abort politician. He told them to condemn it and McCarrick hid that and told the bishops to decide and handle it either way. That lie suits Gregory to a tee. Look at him use it. He is not concerned about the True Church. He represents something or someone else. Perhaps his own notion of black empowerment and socialism, but not the teachings of the Church or the care of individual souls. Too me he is a sham Bosporus and should be ignored. We now have 2Catholic Churches in America. The true Church and the false McCarrick created church. Each has its own bishops, priests, laity and publishing groups. The division has already happened and is now more visible. With James Martins attack on our good bishops we will see the secularists using the is false McCarrick Church to marginalize the Tue Church. The left and their church by violence managed to frame the election as being about race the gender issues and not about the right of the pre born to live and religious freedom. That is precisely what McCarrick and Gregory wanted. Gregory will fall, they always do. Keep posting so fewer will be swept away by the false church. Thanks, Diane

  10. Deacon Peitler, Carl Olson, can you explain what the consequence is for denying one aspect of Revelation or a teaching of the Lord Jesus. I ask this since it appears to me this enters the subject matter in this article.

  11. Calling Biden the nation’s “most prominent Catholic layman” is not an endorsement – certainly of his (lived out) take on Catholicism. Yet most (including Catholic) will take his stance as “normal” Catholicism. The damage to the Church in America – already sorely bleeding – will only deepen.

    The bishops are only wounding the Church more by scarring their sight with the scapel of misplaced political politeness (frankly, in short, accessibility).

    Hiding from the faithful the truth about their “most prominent” fellow pewsitter does no one good, least of all the much advertised ‘common good’.

    Full disclosure, I can’t stomach the man – or his collaborating family. The messaging and videos Hunter’s laptop, in my view, has already cancelled out his father’s upcoming presidency. His administration will be an ecclastical version of the McCarrick scandal – tripled. Complicated, no less, by Pope Francis’ overwhelming joy in Joe’s ascendancy.

    And, this the best the Church can do! The coming horrendous political and moral failure of a Biden presidency will burst its boil of rot (and divine judgment) over the whole Church. Biden will make clear he has stirred “his” Catholicism in that pus. The nation will register his meaning. When the citizenry has had enough and rebels against his rule do not surprised if the Catholic Church suffers collateral damage.

  12. Gregory’s rationale is quite dumb. It’s medicinal precisely because of the leverage it employs. As Apb. Chaput rightly indicates, Catholics have a greater right to the truth than to Holy Communion. The truth involves sacrilege. It involves Biden “eating and drinking condemnation upon himself.” It involves giving a twofold scandal: Biden’s as a Catholic, and Gregory’s as a watch dog refusing to bark (Cf. Gregory the Great. The salvation of souls is the supreme law of the Church. Gregory needs to take his lead from great leaders like St. John Fisher, who refused to reduce the truth to the whims of political correctness.

    Bottom line: Abortion is demonic; it feeds innocent human flesh to Satan.

    Gregory has said that holding out the possibility of imposing the Church’s medicinal discipline would be like having a “gun on the table” when he meets with Biden. The cardinal has said he prefers to “dialogue” with next president on areas of common cause, while accepting that they will “not agree” on some things, like the Church’s preeminent concern with ending legal abortion.

    “I hope that I don’t highlight one over the other,” Gregory said.


    • Fr. Mann, God bless you! You are a faithilled priest with the courage to speak the truth. Continue being a good shepherd to your flock.

    • One might take it a bit further:

      “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. When I say to the wicked, ‘You wicked person, you will surely die,’ and you do not speak out to dissuade them from their ways, that wicked person will die for a their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood. But if you do warn the wicked person to turn from their ways and they do not do so, they will die for their sin, though you yourself will be saved.” (Ez 33:7-9)

      It seems likely that by neglecting his watchdog/watchman duties Gregory not only risks Biden’s salvation… but also his own.

      When he sits down with Biden, he doesn’t want to bring a “gun to the table?” If there is no “gun on the table” there is a hand grenade, ready to bring death to both.

      As a bishop Gregory cannot avoid bringing one or the other… and he’d best consider his choice carefully.

  13. Interesting that we’re nearing the 500th anniversary of the founding of the Church of England.

    Archbishop Gregory would seem to be in sympathy with all of those 16th century English Catholic bishops who, after a suitably somber period of hand-wringing and head-wagging, betrayed every principle they claimed to hold dear and confirmed the supremacy of their flawed and perfidious monarch over the church.

    I know that, by doing the same in America, Archbishop Gregory cannot gain the whole world.

    But I do hope that the adulation of the smart, stylish, cocktail-party set in DC is for him an at least somewhat satisfactory recompense for the possible surrender of his immortal soul.

  14. Pretty solid discussion going on here. I’ve studied the Bishops position on giving Communion to Biden and what he said and how he rationalizes it. But, I disagree with him. These highly visible professing political folks have to be reckoned with better than just some future dialoging ! First of all, it won’t happen because it has not happened. With Kain,Pelosi, Cuomo, etc., etc.,
    And, they make a mockery of the core beliefs of our faith while running on and using their faith to win elections.
    The church does not lead in this matter, in this arena and they have failed completely
    Faithful Catholic

  15. Almost everything about the church over the past twenty years has lent credence to the stance that Christianity is just a bunch of Harry Potter made up fantasy. The bishops don’t even believe in it, otherwise they’d act and speak much differently. They just want to preserve their status and their comfort.

    • You are not the only one to notice that. When the bishops don’t act like they believe what they say they believe, how on earth can we expect anyone consider the Catholic Faith in any sort of seriousness?

  16. The USCCB itself causes grave scandal, a mortal sin, by what it refuses to condemn. Most importantly they refuse to defend Jesus Christ in the Eucharist or defend his Church or his Sheep. Jesus had one question for St. Peter, which 99% of today’s Bishops and Cardinals would seem to fail as they do NOT feed his sheep but rather lead them down the path of spiritual confusion to be plucked by Lucifer and his demons.

    Looking at the Church today it does not take much imagination to consider why Jesus asked upon his return if he would find anyone faithful. He is abandoned by his priests, denied to his faithful, and blasphemed day in and day out by this group of men with very little supernatural faith.

    They would do better to put on sackcloth and ashes and do penance for their sins and all of those they helped lead to perdition, worrying more about the salvation of souls, then their tinsel here.

    They try to “dialogue” with the devil rather than cast him out, entrusting that Mary will defend us as she has already trampled on his head!

    May God have mercy on us all.

  17. Where did you see that 300,000 souls lost their lives in America due to the Corona virus. Did you know that more than 6,000,000 babies lost their lives through abortion and that Biden declared that he will extent the time limit in which babies can be killed up until moments before birth and that he will force Catholic communities like the Little Sisters of the Poor to pay for these killings through their employee health insurance plans? No person, no candidate is perfect. Neither Biden, nor Trump is perfect…but Biden’s agenda is barbaric – the slaughter of innocent babies in the womb is barbaric and inhuman.

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