In a phone call last April with 600 Catholic leaders, including Archbishop Gomez, President of the USCCB, and Cardinal Dolan of New York, President Trump referred to himself as the “best [president] in the history of the Catholic Church.” While none of those on the call positively confirmed this distinction, neither did they demur, nor did they challenge Trump’s warning that if he were defeated in November “You’re going to have a very different Catholic Church.”
And so it came to pass. With the inauguration of Joe Biden on January 20, the nation had its first glimpse of that “very different Catholic Church.” For many Americans, it wasn’t so bad: an appealing image of a devout Catholic whose faith, nurtured by prayer and the Sacraments, has sustained him through personal tragedies, fostered his capacity for compassion and inspired a lifetime of service to the common good.
Assuming office in the midst of a pandemic that has claimed more than 400,000 U.S. lives, and on the very ground where only two weeks earlier, a murderous mob had tried to overturn the election, Biden simply spoke from his heart about healing, justice, truth, care for the earth and the most vulnerable among us, and cited St. Augustine’s teaching that a people is “a multitude defined by the common objects of their love.” And then, as he does every Sunday, he attended Mass.
It was, of course. naïve to think that Biden’s words would heal a bitterly divided nation. But perhaps, for one day, this spectacle of faith and civic devotion—under such unprecedented circumstances—might have passed without a reminder of the divisions in the American Catholic Church. But that was not to be.
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Robert Ellsberg is the editor of the works of Dorothy Day and the author of many books on saints, mostly recently A Living Gospel: Reading God’s Story in Holy Lives.
With thanks to Go, Rebuild My House, a publication of Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut, United States.