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Church analyst: The bishops are uneasy with Biden, but he could be good news

Francis Maier, a Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC), says that as pressure on faithful Catholics grows, “the tepid leave and the faithful grow a spine…”

President Joe Biden (Credit: mccv/Shutterstock)

CNA Staff, Apr 23, 2021 / 16:27 pm (CNA).

The majority of U.S. bishops in a recent survey were at best “uneasy” with the second Catholic president in U.S. history, said Catholic analyst Francis Maier, yet Joe Biden’s presidency could in an unexpected way be good news for the Catholic Church.

Maier, a Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC), spoke at the John F. Scarpa Conference on Law, Politics, and Culture at Villanova University on April 23.

“Over the past six months,” he said, “I’ve done confidential interviews with 29 bishops about the future of the Church for a project I’m pursuing through Notre Dame’s Constitutional Studies program. Twenty-eight of those men were American. These are mainstream guys. No cranks and no outliers. They come from very different backgrounds. They serve in a wide variety of pastoral conditions, urban and rural. And they lead dioceses in every region of the country, in 20 different states.”

“None was encouraged by Joe Biden’s election. Not one.”

“They had conflicting opinions about Donald Trump, but all were uneasy about Biden. And they were very critical of his vice president, Kamala Harris — especially given Biden’s questionable durability — for her track record as California’s attorney general and later as a U.S. senator,” he added.

“Several of the bishops I spoke with expressed concern about the Democratic Party’s shift to the left; its curious interpretation of constitutional rights; and its appetite for increased government controls fed by the COVID pandemic. None of this, by the way, translated into praise for the Republican Party. That’s another story.”

Maier said most of the bishops he interviewed felt that cooperation could and would occur between the new White House and U.S. bishops on at least some issues of mutual concern. But overall, their common view of Biden’s long-term impact on Church-related matters was strongly negative.

“One senior bishop compared Biden — unfavorably — with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo,” he said. “Cuomo makes no claim to being a good Catholic, and thus in some ways is more honest and easier to work with because of it. The problem with Biden is precisely the appearance — highlighted by the media — of his piety.”

Maier argued that “Biden’s rosary beads, his public nods to saints, and his attendance at Mass all serve to normalize his administration’s policies and actions that directly attack key Catholic beliefs on abortion, sex, family, and marriage. This has the effect of marginalizing bishops as ‘doctrinaire,’ out of touch, and seemingly aligned against the message of mercy preached by Pope Francis.”

“To the degree this is a conscious strategy, it works,” he continued. “It works, as several of the interviewees noted, because bishops may have the mandate to teach and lead, but in practice, in our current environment, they’re generals without armies.”

“We also need to remember that the civil war inside the Church over what Vatican II really meant, and which issues should have priority in working for the common good, is not over,” he said. “Quite the opposite: During the current pontificate, with its perceived ambiguities, the frictions have taken on new heat. Some of those frictions exist both among the bishops themselves and also within their staffs. And of course, civil authority and Catholic elected officials are happy to exploit that.”

Maier said that in his 43 years of working for the Catholic Church, “some bishops are mediocre or incompetent,” while “a few are bad guys with serious moral flaws, or toxic ambition, or simply a lack of real faith. But most — and I mean the great majority — are good and decent men doing the best they can for their people, and doing it pretty well, in a very difficult job.”

So he argued that “before we accuse our bishops of collaboration or cowardice in dealing with a Joe Biden or a Donald Trump, we’d do well to show them the same understanding we expect for ourselves. The idea that America’s bishops are in the pocket of the political right or anyone else, which seems to be a favorite theme of some commentators, is simply ignorant nonsense. And frankly the real concern we should have about any ‘Biden effect’ and its impact on the Church in the coming decades is us — those of us who are laypeople.”

Maier said that some of the Catholic bleed-out in the last 20 years can be attributed to the clergy abuse crisis, which “quite rightly shocked and angered a lot of people.”

“But it’s also too convenient an alibi, because the exodus started well before the crisis,” he said.

“The decline in our Catholic numbers is simply the truth forcing its way to the surface through layers of self-deception that we’ve accumulated as a Church over half a century or more. The truth can be painful, but it’s never bad. The truth makes us free: free to change; free to remember who we are as Catholics and why we’re here; and free to do better.”

This is why, Maier argued, “Joe Biden is good news — not happy or comfortable news, but good news — because in his appealing personality; his sunny smile; his reassuring words; and the duplicity of his administration’s actions, he embodies so much of our American Catholic moment.”

As pressure on faithful Catholics grows, “the tepid leave and the faithful grow a spine,” he said.

“God will handle the rest. That’s the central lesson of the cross and all of Christian history — God brings life from death, and victory from failure and defeat.”

Maier concluded: “We’re here in the world to share in the story of salvation and be seeds in the lives of others who carry the story forward. If we do that, we’ve done what we were created to do.”

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  1. “None [of the bishops interviewed] was encouraged by the election of Joe Biden. Not one”.
    The bishops, unlike some, were paying attention in the lead-up to the election.

  2. We must remind ourselves continually that the mission of our Faith is a supernatural one. The Catholic Church is neither a political organization nor a social service entity with a cross affixed (despite the attempts of those at the USCCB who try to convince us otherwise.)

    The most telling comment by one of the bishops is that he is like a general without an army behind him. Why is that and what can be done about it?

  3. These statements by Maier are contradictory on their face and cannot both be true:

    “Maier said that in his 43 years of working for the Catholic Church, “some bishops are mediocre or incompetent,” while “a few are bad guys with serious moral flaws, or toxic ambition, or simply a lack of real faith. But most — and I mean the great majority — are good and decent men doing the best they can for their people, and doing it pretty well, in a very difficult job.”

    “The decline in our Catholic numbers is simply the truth forcing its way to the surface through layers of self-deception that we’ve accumulated as a Church over half a century or more.”

  4. Maier said that in his 43 years of working for the Catholic Church, “some bishops are mediocre or incompetent,” while “a few are bad guys with serious moral flaws, or toxic ambition, or simply a lack of real faith.
    Yes, there are some wonderful bishops, but many in authority knew for years, even decades, about McCarrick, Bransfield, Weakland, Ryan etc. and said or did nothing.
    Until they clean up their house they have little moral authority. I’m not looking for a witch hunt, but come on folks, lets try to get our house in order.

  5. I agree with Fran on the idea that in this current climate (pardon the expression) the “tepid Catholics will leave the Church, and the faithful will grow a spine.” The last thing we need in the Catholic Church is anyone, especially those in public leadership roles, diminishing our faith to “if you have a rosary, you can be a Catholic, too.” We have all equivocated in our faith at times, which is why we have the Sacrament of Reconciliation. When I disappoint Jesus, I have a remedy for being forgiven, and then I am given the strength to move forward. I just hope that in-the-pew Catholics won’t give up the faith because of a lack of leadership. I hope we all have spines that will be strong in professing the faith in Jesus Christ, sometimes in spite of our “leadership.” Thanks, Fran, for your wisdom and confidence in Catholics with spines!

  6. “The tepid leave and the faithful grow a spine.”

    Well said – it’s about time this statement was made – it’s been the case for years now.

    • Sorry many people who are far from tepid will leave the church. The people I have in mind are stolid in their faith in Christ. However they no longer have faith in a church riddled with scandal that was offered the chance to be a leader and beacon in the time of covid. What did they do? They tucked their skirts up, locked the doors and bowed to the state. There is nothing tepid about walking away from a church that was tried and found wanting.

      • It is not “a” church; it is “the” Church. There is, indeed, a problem with walking away from the Church established by Jesus Christ. St. Francis did not walk away; he stayed and helped to rebuild. Martin Luther walked away; he made the wrong choice.

  7. At this juncture the analyst perceives a pulse as a sign of hope in a crushed patient while souls are being lost. It is exactly this inherently fraudulent passive pious perspective along with an misplaced obedience to episcopal authority exercised in malpractice which has brought us to this moment.
    Anyone not performing his episcopal responsibilities in very well adequacy in accord with the perennial Magisterium of the Church needs to march his tail out and get a job at which he can support himself. If he isn’t doing this as a bishop he obviously was not doing it as a simple priest.
    We are engaged in a tragic theater performance. A flawless work has been diminished to a clownish parody by men with no grace. I can count less than ten members of the episcopate globally to whom I would provide any credence. The pope and my archbishop are not among them.

  8. Mr. Maier states that the bishops are “generals without armies.” I believe that it may be more accurate to say that we have had armies without generals – and armies without training. I suppose there is something hopeful about the bishops being “uneasy” with Biden. But, bishops should teach truth, not just be uneasy with what is false. Maier says that the bishops are doing the best they can for their people. If that is the case, I would see it as faint praise.

    I recently came across an old essay, “The Gay Priest Problem” by Father Paul Shaughnessy, listed as published in the November 2000 issue of “The Catholic World Report.” In it he says, “that the episcopacy in the United States is corrupt.” By corrupt he says, “that these institutions have lost the capacity to mend themselves on their own initiative and by their own resources, that they are unable to uncover and expel their own miscreants.” He stresses, “that this is a sociological claim, not a moral one.”

    If this was true in 2000, how much more so today. Biden is doing today what he said he would do when he was campaigning for president. Where were the bishops?

  9. In all of this, with the good, bad, and ugly bishops, something paramount is totally missing: Regular Forensic Audit(RFA) of bishops conduct by lay experts.
    Despite the many canon laws, how come no one is talking about this RFA, and why the Church only deals with issues after disasters, instead of proactively?

  10. Comparing President Biden to a congenital liar, misogynists, narcissist philanderer is a mortal sin of the highest order. Trump is such a con man that he tricked the hierarchy with his fake repentant support for life. Embarrassing compartmentalization in full daylight!

    “But it’s also too convenient an alibi, because the exodus started well before the crisis”. Yes, in perpetuity.

    “duplicity of his administration’s actions”. I would agree that Biden is surly spiritually duplicitous, but his administration? Needs explanation.

    The weeping and gnashing of teeth would be rendered mute if our “fathers” would convert Biden with counseling… especially educating him on the Hyde Amendment.

    • Biden’s administration is so hate -filled against the previous President that they dismantled all sorts of policies without regard to the impact on the nation. The scandalous issue on our southern boarder being overwhelmed by illegals is first and foremost. Terrorists were caught crossing recently but I would bet several more terrorists entered undetected. The cessation of the keystone pipeline is another. This makes us again energy dependent upon enemies and flies in the face of what he promised the fool unionists who believed in his promises not to shut it, and voted for him. Promises to work ‘across the aisle” was a total lie. The recent disgusting use of the death of officer Brian Sicknick, who clearly was NOT killed by Trump supporters, and died of a STROKE two days later according to the Medical EXAMINER ( who knew this months ago but conveniently chose not to release the info) is yet another example of duplicity. Nor, according to the ME, was he subjected to “bear spray” the lie they used when the head bashing lie was uncovered.They constantly use false information, as they have since the fake Russia probe of President Trump. As they continue to use the narrative of an “Insurrection” to describe the night of jan 6th, which was arguably MUCH more peaceful than the last year of BLM riots, looting and burning.After all, congress resumed their deliberations in the building mere hours after the halls were cleared. All political theater, and it would be just another leftist lie if it were not for the immense damage being done to the country. Freedom of religion , speech and assembly have already been badly compromised by the powerful lies pushed by the left and their media minions who control most discourse at this point. Church leaders have already been fined and confronted at some churches for attempting to continue services. . Compromised Joe is the leader of this pack. He is no Catholic.

      • LJ. You know that is not just what Trump did, it is disastrous what he failed to do. He knew that he could have nipped the insurection in the bud. Instead, after his fiery speech, he returned to the White House to watch the event unfold on TV. Kevin McCarthy called him and begged him to appear at the Capitol. He refused!

        ABC News Jan. 7, 2021 “Many who participated in the chaos at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday came straight from an event held by President Donald Trump.
        Trump’s “Save America Rally” included the president telling supporters to “stop the steal” of the election, urging them to head to the Capitol to demonstrate against Congress certifying President-elect Joe Biden’s victory. Among the crowd’s battle cries was, “Fight for Trump! Fight for Trump! Fight for Trump!”
        Trump spoke at the event for nearly an hour at the Ellipse, a park near the White House. After he spoke, thousands of attendees, many of them without masks, marched toward Capitol Hill as federal law enforcement vehicles raced to beat them there.
        “I hope Mike is going to do the right thing. Trump, “I hope so. I hope so because if Mike Pence does the right thing, we win the election.”

        Just the facts please. Bravery in support of democracy.

    • Be careful that your words don’t contradict your actions. St. Augustine to mr. rosary pro death pro homo pro trans gender pro communist pro evil biden.

    • Your unrestrained, absurd comments continue to embarrass you, Morgan. However, you are too obtuse to realize it.

  11. Nonsense – Biden self excommunicated himself from the Catholic Church – Canon Law. He is not a Catholic, period.

    • For good or bad, excommunication does not make one an ex-Catholic; it makes one a Catholic not in communion with the Church.

  12. Well, that’s about as happy a spin as could possibly be put on the current situation. I respect Maier a lot and am glad he is doing this work, but the situation remains a very complex and bad one, and it wouldn’t hurt if there were some men of eloquence speaking in the public square among the mostly good bishops, calling a spade a spade rather than nuancing everything into a foggy cloud of niceness and hopefulness. Jesus said things that made people want to crucify Him.

    • “…want to crucify Him”? Even the nineteenth-century Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) got it wrong when he wrote: “If Jesus Christ were to come today, people would not even crucify him. They would ask him to dinner, and hear what he had to say, and then make fun of it.”

      Today we grab some fast food (“fast,” a good word!), listen to nothing He actually said, and now-and-then express our “concern.”

      Maier gets close to the point when he writes: “But most — and I mean the great majority [of bishops] — are good and decent men doing the best they can for their people, and doing it pretty well, in a very difficult job.” Most bureaucracies are chewed up 90 percent of the time dealing with internal friction. Meanwhile, Rome burns and Pope Biden jingles his rosary beads.

  13. You all gotta be kidding! The whole Biden family appears to be as corrupt as

    the old Tammany Hall bunch of the ‘thirties re the Harry Truman presidency. And
    what of Biden’s catasrophic handling of the southern border? Have any of you heard or seen anything like his super-botched oversight of that fisco, in American history? NOT! (I’ll wager!} Then, there’s his stance on abotion; he should be ROUNDLY condemned for it. So why have so few of the members spoken out in the USCCB in all this? it’s their turf, so to speak, why have’nt thier members spoken out? I believe that Cdl. Burke HAS, and I believe he’s advocating EXCOMMUNICATION for Biden; don,t blame me, I’m just saying.

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