When an Episcopalian cleric–cum-Dartmouth professor criticizes the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, it’s a safe bet our prelates have done something right. Indeed, such a man—one Randall Balmer—wrote an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times titled, “In What Moral Universe Does Biden Require a Catholic Task Force when Trump Got a Free Pass?” No need to read the article; I’ve already won the bet!
At face value, of course, the bishops’ committee established to develop policies combatting Joe Biden’s radical social policies—his near-unconditional support for elective abortion, his professed intention to bring the Little Sisters of the Poor back to the Supreme Court, his desire to force religious organizations to provide their employees with contraceptives—seems practically moderate. Many Catholics (myself included) would argue that the bishops ought to be more forceful. But the bishops’ quick movement on this front is surely a cause for cautious optimism.
Perhaps the most easily overlooked aspect of this development is its basis, in part, on a long-overdue rejection of Seamless Garment theology. The Seamless Garment is an attempt to place liberal opinions on prudential issues (such as immigration and health care) on the level of doctrine, thereby giving them equal weight as, say, the Church’s categorical rejection of abortion as an intrinsic evil.
Shortly after Election Day, USCCB President Archbishop José Gomez stressed that the bishops’ “preeminent priority” in political matters is the elimination of abortion. He emphasized Mr. Biden’s desire to restore the Obama HHS mandate, which requires employers to provide contraception as part of their health care plans. He decried the former Vice President’s commitment to the “Equality Act,” which stands in direct contradiction to Catholic teaching on homosexual acts and on the unchangeable reality of the two biological sexes. He also made note of the Democrats’ “unequal treatment of Catholic schools.”
The Archbishop argued that unequivocal repudiation of Mr. Biden’s ideas is needed to avoid creating confusion as to Catholic beliefs. He even made clear that his earlier message of congratulations to Biden on his (then presumed) victory in the presidential election was merely pro forma.
Archbishop Gomez’s intervention represents an unambiguous break from the American bishops’ reluctance to involve themselves in party politics. In doing so, His Excellency sends a message that others within the ecclesial hierarchy will not fail to notice. He also constitutes a not-so-subtle rebuke with Wilton Cardinal Gregory, the Archbishop of Washington, and ordinary of the U.S. presidents. Commenting on such issues as immigration and abortion, Cardinal Gregory publicly stated: “I hope that I don’t highlight one over the other.” His Eminence also recently said that he would allow Mr. Biden to receive communion.
A further positive sign is the selection of Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit as head of this new committee tasked with confronting the prospective Biden Administration. Though not a prominent fighter in the mode of Cardinal Burke or Bishop Strickland, Archbishop Vigneron has made clear that advocates of same-sex “marriage” should not receive communion. He threatened to dismiss, from the clerical state, any of his priests who took part in a Mass celebrated at a conference being held by the dissident “American Catholic Council” (and at which the notorious Hans Kung was scheduled to be a speaker). He also gave an oratory in his archdiocese to the Institute of Christ the King, and canonically erected the Canons Regular of Saint Thomas Aquinas, an order devoted to the Traditional Latin Mass.
Considering that the USCCB is always inclined to adopt policies that attract a broad consensus of support from its members, these developments show that the bishops are prepared to act in defense of the Church and of the rights of American Catholics. It also means that a sizeable proportion of our prelates might be willing to progress to firmer action, should it be needed.
This increasing radicalism (and increasing success) of the political Left is forcing bishops to choose sides. Gone are the days when bishops could align with Democrats on prudential issues, such amnesty for illegal immigrants, in hopes that the Left would accommodate the Church on grave matters like abortion. Today, most bishops’ preferred policies on immigration, welfare, and capital punishment can only be obtained at the cost of unborn children’s lives, the moral fabric of our country, and the liberties of Holy Mother Church. Let’s pray fervently that our bishops refuse to make that deal with the Devil.
[Photo credit: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images News]