Massimo Faggioli’s new book Joe Biden and Catholicism in the United States comes just in time for those of us trying to make sense of the estuary where politics and religion meet in the U.S. at this moment in history. It is a moment in which so many foundational issues are implicated, a moment so pregnant with possibilities and so fraught with difficulties.
Faggioli’s book explores those foundational issues with depth and insight. He is excellent in elucidating the immediate context of this hopeful moment when a Catholic president and a profoundly pastoral pope can make common cause on a variety of issues. “Relations between the United States and the Vatican clearly suffered during the Trump administration, a result of the undeniable incompatibility of the worldviews of Pope Francis and the ‘Make America Great Again’ president,” he writes. “But equally obvious is the overlap that exists between support for Trump among practising Christian voters (including many Catholics) and the attempt by influential sectors of the American Catholic Church to delegitimise Pope Francis both ecclesially and politically.”
Nonetheless, he goes deeper. The heart of the book is an exploration of the fact that:
Both [Pope] Francis and Biden have the arduous task of exercising institutional leadership through a period of upheaval at all levels: environmental, economic, social, cultural and political. Their elections are both encouraging signs of the vitality of the institutional systems they lead. But it is not clear how much the institutional level can do to deal with the breaking of the balance at all other levels.
For both men, their task is both complicated and defined by the fact that the opposition to them tends to cohere in the same persons: The anti-Francis wing of the Catholic Church consists of the same cabal of the anti-Biden zealots who drafted or applauded the offensive Inauguration Day statement from the bishops’ conference.
Faggioli draws out the clear political implications of these theological contretemps — and the theological consequences of the political changes that are afoot. “The fate of Biden’s Catholicism in America is interwoven with the fate of Pope Francis’s pontificate (that is, its long-term fate, even after the next conclave); both depend on what will become, in the United States, of Francis’s proposal for an anti-ideological and anti-moralistic Catholicism.”
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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.