In addition to popular YouTube conspiracy theorists, religious figures from across several denominations spoke at the event, including Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, and the former papal nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano.
Throughout the day, attendees and viewers online were told that Trump would serve a second term and that this had been confirmed to speakers via divine revelation. Archbishop Vigano, who lives in hiding and has seemed recently to call into question the validity of Vatican Council II, appeared by video link, telling the crowd to pray that God dispel “the lies and deceptions of the children of darkness.”
While not explicitly endorsing claims that Biden’s victory had been achieved by some sort of national or international voter fraud campaign, Vigano led the rally in prayer that “truth will triumph over lies, justice over abuse and fraud,” and that “the walls of the deep state, behind which evil is barricaded, will come crashing down.”
Also appearing via video was Bishop Strickland, who himself did not address the explicitly partisan agenda of the rally, and who did not actually turn to face the camera during his appearance. Strickland led a prayer “for our nation at this time,” which “proudly proclaims that we are one nation under God.”
While neither bishop acknowledged the other speakers at the event, many Catholics will have understood their decision to share a platform with them as a tacit endorsement; speakers who insist that “God rose up [sic] Donald Trump to stand against the enemy,” and that “this is the beginning of the great revival before the antiChrist comes.”
While many American Catholics, and indeed American Catholic bishops, will likely find themselves equally uncomfortable with the apparent moral equivocation being offered to Biden, and the conspiracy-laden, apocalyptic rhetoric swirling around Trump, what has not emerged is an evangelical and episcopal voice, or cadre of voices, that can rival the potency of either.
The work of the USCCB and its various committees has and certainly will continue to play an important role in articulating a coherent Catholic message and response to different political issues as they arise. But statements and press releases, however well crafted, simply cannot compete with the striking imagery of a president in the Communion line, or a bishop sharing a stage with a demagogue.
Unless and until bishops emerge to challenge both sides, offering a distinctly and wholly Catholic voice for unity in and with the Church, American Catholicism risks appearing less like a united flock and ever more like the divided country it is called to evangelize.