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75 Days After Election . . . USCCB Finally Confronts Biden On Abortion

January 23, 2021 Frontpage No Comments

By CHRISTOPHER MANION

On the morning of January 20, USCCB President José Gomez released a statement on the inauguration of Joe Biden, promising prayers and repeating many of the conference’s familiar buzzwords regarding its Social Justice agenda.
Pope Francis, never a fan of President Trump, had also sent a warm message to Biden, and we expected that Gomez would continue in the same vein on his own.
But after his generic greeting, the archbishop of Los Angeles made what must be seen as a stunning departure from the Conference’s usual aversion to confronting absolute evils: “I must point out,” he wrote, “that our new President has pledged to pursue certain policies that would advance moral evils and threaten human life and dignity, most seriously in the areas of abortion, contraception, marriage, and gender. Of deep concern is the liberty of the Church and the freedom of believers to live according to their consciences.”
Note: We should not let the archbishop’s mild-mannered prose distract us: “concern” is the USCCB’s most emphatic noun of choice.
No, the archbishop’s statement is historic: After more than a year, he has finally said out loud what bishops promised in November 2019 to make their Prime Mandate.
We recall how that “preeminence” came to pass: It was the result of a heated debate that found a third of the American hierarchy, led by Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich, opposing it.
Having won the vote in 2019, the USCCB majority immediately went silent for over a year — until Wednesday, January 20.
Today Archbishop Gomez perseveres. “For the nation’s bishops, the continued injustice of abortion remains the ‘preeminent priority’,” he writes. But he quickly attempts to soften his bold resuscitation of the abortion issue with the mandatory reaffirmation of the Conference’s Social Justice agenda: “Preeminent does not mean ‘only’,” he writes. “We have deep concerns about many threats to human life and dignity in our society. But as Pope Francis teaches, we cannot stay silent when nearly a million unborn lives are being cast aside in our country year after year through abortion.”
Archbishop Gomez’s statement is striking not because it is so powerful — it is clearly not — but because it is so rare. This is true not only for the USCCB’s statements during the Trump years, but those in earlier times as well. Long before Trump, the USCCB was so enamored of Obama’s open-borders policy and the launch of Obamacare that the abortion issue didn’t just take a back seat, it was put on ice.
With the election of Donald Trump four years ago, our bishops were confronted with a president who reversed Obama’s anti-life policies and made great strides in defending religious liberty and positive positions on abortion, contraception, marriage, and gender — precisely the advances that Archbishop Gomez today fears that Biden will reverse. But during the Trump years, the bishops fired a senior USCCB official who had dared to praise Trump’s pro-life policies, while they focused on opposing the president on a host of issues, from refugee policy and Cuba to sanctuary cities and foreign aid.
Meanwhile, despite abortion’s “preeminence,” the Conference left it on the shelf as bishops zealously advocated their “Social Justice” agenda.

Tempestas Surgit

Archbishop Gomez’s cautious prose wasn’t soft enough for Cardinal Cupich. Within hours, the Chicago cardinal publicly registered his disapproval with a statement of his own:
“Today, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued an ill-considered statement on the day of President Biden’s inauguration,” he wrote. “The statement was crafted without the involvement of the Administrative Committee, a collegial consultation that is normal course for statements that represent and enjoy the considered endorsement of the American bishops.
“The internal institutional failures involved must be addressed,” he continued, “and I look forward to contributing to all efforts to that end, so that, inspired by the Gospel, we can build up the unity of the Church, and together take up the work of healing our nation in this moment of crisis.”
Cupich followed up with his own statement on the inauguration:
“The Catholic community of the Archdiocese of Chicago joins our prayers with those of Pope Francis for the new President and First Lady, Vice President and Second Gentleman, and we extend our warmest wishes as they assume their new service to the nation.
“Only two weeks ago, the world watched as our democracy was attacked,” Cupich continued. “Today, we proved its resilience. The new administration begins in a time of global pandemic, economic peril, and deep division, when millions of our brothers and sisters have been brought low by illness, poverty, and racism. We pray that the way forward will be inspired, as the Holy Father asked, by dreaming together.”
Cupich’s statements fail to mention the threat that Biden poses with regard to abortion, contraception, marriage, “gender,” or religious freedom.

A Memorable Day
For The American Church

On the surface, Cupich bases his disagreement on Gomez’s alleged end-run around the Conference’s “Administrative Committee.” Given the USCCB’s frequent invocation of policies, procedures, protocols, and platitudes in their day-to-day operations, his objection has legitimacy on those grounds. But as his own official statement shows, his disagreement is based on substance. He fought “preeminent” fourteen months ago and he is fighting it now.
Catholics, take note: On this historic day, Cardinal Cupich made clear the profound division that exists among the American hierarchy and the American Church. That division is based on principle, not procedure. Cupich’s faction not only supports the Social Justice agenda, it supports nothing else. For them, Biden’s support of the entire anti-life agenda is of no more importance than his views on tax rates, deficit spending, or mail-in voting. Good Catholics — like Joe, like Cupich — can disagree. Don’t get bogged down in the “rabbit hole” of objective evils. The point is, as Pope Francis puts it, “dreaming together.”
Cupich doesn’t mention it, but we should note with approval another rare but equally revealing and vital affirmation in Gomez’s statement. After addressing objective evils like abortion and euthanasia, he refers to the bishops’ other political agenda items. There, he says, “our duty to love and our moral principles lead us to prudential judgments and positions that do not align neatly with the political categories of left or right or the platforms of our two major political parties.”
Objective evils versus prudential positions: This is a major distinction that Social Justice bishops rarely acknowledge. In fact, many react with scorn to the charge that the conference’s “prudential judgments and positions” aren’t just as magisterial as those dealing with objective good and evil.
That’s because they would have to append a critical sentence at the end of each of the thousands of letters and official statements on dozens of prudential issues that incessantly flow from the USCCB staff offices in Washington: “Of course, the views expressed here reflect the prudential judgment of bishops; good Catholics can disagree and are encouraged to propose other positions equally informed by the faith.”
The Cupich faction wants to eliminate that crucial distinction for good. The battle is on, and meanwhile — back to business as usual.
Surprise! Right on cue, on Thursday, January 21 the USCCB palaver machine returned to autopilot, announcing the bishops’ delight that Biden will go whole hog on Global Warming. “Catholic Leaders Express Hope with President’s Announcement that U.S. Will Rejoin the Paris Agreement on Climate Change,” the headline reads. Another welcomes Biden’s “Commitment to DACA and the Call for Legislation on Immigration Reform.”
So our shepherds demand higher energy prices and lower entry-level wages. So much for their celebrated “Preferential Option for the Poor.”
Archbishop Gomez’s sober moment has passed, as the USCCB drifts back comfortably into its familiar oblivion.

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