The news that the leadership of the U.S. bishops’ conference shut down the working group on dealing with the Biden administration, first reported here at NCR by my colleague Christopher White, suggests the leadership of the conference now recognises that their confrontational stance was, — hmm, what is the word? — shall we say, ill-considered.
Last month, when the working group drafted, and conference president Archbishop José Gomez issued, that regrettable statement about Biden, the culture warriors in the church were elated, none more than George Weigel. He took to the pages of First Things to characterise the election of our nation’s second Catholic president as “this unprecedented challenge to the Church’s sacramental and moral coherence.” Twice he called Biden’s win “an inflection point” and asserted that “the Church’s evangelical credibility was at stake.”
The storming of the U.S. Capitol? The attempt to overturn the results of an election? The four years of anti-immigrant policies and rhetoric? The coddling of racists and white supremacists? None of those posed an inflection point for Weigel and his friends in the bishops’ conference. But, elect a Catholic who holds an admittedly confused position on abortion? That requires not only a rude and ill-timed statement, but a new document reflecting on “eucharistic coherence,” code for denying Communion to pro-choice politicians.
In the middle of this saga is Archbishop Gomez. I do not know him well, but I do not think you need to know him well to recognize that his is a gentle soul. The Inauguration Day statement, in its timing and its truculence, did not sound like him. I wish he had not allowed himself to be bullied into issuing it, or had consulted widely before doing so. Nonetheless, it is to his credit that, having recognized how many of his brother bishops were distressed by the statement, he seems to have understood the need to shut down the working group before it did any more harm.
So the bishops’ conference has stepped back from the brink. I hope Gomez has learned that there are bullies around him who believe, as Weigel put it, “Maintaining a false façade of episcopal unity is not worth the sacrifice of the truths which the Church must speak.” In fact, there are no truths of political strategy that the “Church must speak.” Weigel’s approach is rooted in strategy, not theology.
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Michael Sean Winters covers the nexus of religion and politics for NCR.
With thanks to the National Catholic Reporter (NCR) and Michael Sean Winters, where this article originally appeared.