Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 25, 2020 / 11:30 am
Archbishop Wilton Gregory announced in an interview yesterday that he will not deny Holy Communion to Joe Biden, and committed himself to working with the president-elect’s administration. But the soon-to-be cardinal’s pledge could put him in tension with the work of the U.S. bishops’ conference, as it tries to speak to the White House with a unified voice.
Last week, USCCB president Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles announced the formation of a special committee, tasked with coordinating the U.S. bishops’ response to, and work with, the incoming Biden administration.
Recognizing the unique “challenges” presented by a Catholic president pledged to several policies in opposition to Church teaching, the conference under Gomez set out to ensure a collegial and consensus approach to national issues for the Church.
But yesterday Gregory suggested he planned to dialogue directly with Biden on issues, without reference to the USCCB, raising the question: who will speak for the U.S. bishops at the White House, and with whom will President Biden choose to deal?
In his interview Tuesday, Gregory said he hopes to “discover areas where [he and Biden] can cooperate that reflect the social teachings of the Church, knowing full well that there are some areas where we won’t agree,” the very work the committee set up by Archbishop Gomez intends to do.
Gregory is not a member of the U.S. bishops' committee, but the Cardinal Archbishop of Washington is nonetheless a player: As the hometown cardinal, he may well receive a more ready audience from the president than, for example, the Archbishop of Los Angeles; especially so if he has publicly pledged to strike a balance in conversations between the Church’s support for areas of agreement with Biden, like comprehensive immigration reform, and points of opposition, like the immorality of killing unborn children.
“I hope that I don’t highlight one over the other,” Gregory said Tuesday. His stated aim of not “highlighting” one over the other itself appears to be at odds with the U.S. bishops’ official position that ending legal abortion is the “preeminent” social concern of Catholics, underlining the likely tension between Gregory’s personal contact with the incoming president and the conference’s efforts to represent to position of the bishops and Church at a national level.
As Gomez noted last week, a Catholic president committed to opposing Church teaching on a range of issues on the national stage presents a “difficult and complex situation.” It was for this reason that the conference formed its committee, to ensure coherence and collegiality in the bishops’ response. And it is for this reason that many may not warm to the idea of a soon-to-be Cardinal Gregory dialoguing on their behalf with a soon-to-be President Biden.