Joe Biden and Catholicism in the United States
By Massimo Faggioli
Bayard Publishing, 2021, 161 pages
The debate over the status of self-described “devout” Catholic and abortion-supporter, President Joe Biden, currently dominates American Roman Catholic media articles.
When cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina was elected pope in 2013, conservative Catholics had no idea what they were in for. In 2016, pope Francis guilefully lifted the ban on communion for remarried divorcees and followed with such “reforms” as a condemnation of capital punishment in all circumstances and approval of civil unions for same-sex couples. In addition were a flurry of encyclicals championing immigration and environmental causes and strongly critiquing capitalism. The majority of the U.S. Catholic bishops were dismayed by their religiously and politically liberal pope, but took solace in the pro-conservative administration of President Donald J. Trump.
When Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election, the U.S. bishops were in a strange quandary. Biden was a “practicing” Roman Catholic, but he definitely was not the bishops’ kind of Catholic. The president-elect unapologetically supported abortion on demand and the LGBT agenda. Some bishops called for Biden to be excommunicated and denied communion, leading to a debate with liberal prelates that was quickly dubbed the “wafer wars.” In contrast, progressive pope Francis personally called Biden a week after the election and enthusiastically congratulated the president-elect on his victory. It was obvious that the pope and Biden were closely aligned on many views, both religiously and politically.
In this short book, theology professor and liberal Roman Catholic, Massimo Faggioli, expounds on the current internecine squabbling and the increasing polarization of the Catholic Right and the Progressive Catholic Left, especially in light of Joe Biden’s recent presidential election victory. The book is more of a rambling stream of consciousness than a structured, linear analysis, but evangelicals who have been objectively observing the Vatican and Catholicism since Francis became pope will find Faggioli’s candid thoughts refreshing (in contrast to conservative Catholic apologists who dishonestly won’t acknowledge the intensifying internecine tug-of-war). The RCC is currently experiencing what the author describes as a “soft schism.” Conservatives are in a Catch-22 as they are restrained from opposing Francis’ reforms more forcefully because of their absolute fealty to the papal office as a central tenet of their beliefs. This self-imposed restraint has prevented the emergence of a galvanizing conservative leader except for a few who Francis easily checkmated (i.e., cardinals Müller, Burke, and Sarah). Will soft schism eventually lead to hard schism? Conservative Catholics are anxiously waiting to see if 84-year-old Bergoglio’s successor is a progressive like his predecessor. Will Joe Biden’s dichotomous brand of Catholicism (clinging to a rosary while rallying for abortion and LGBT “rights”) become the overriding expression of American Catholicism? That is what the conservative American bishops strongly fear.*
This book would be of interest only to evangelical Vatican watchers like myself who are following the growing polarization within the RCC big tent. From start to finish of this book, there’s no sign of the genuine Gospel of salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone.
*A January 2021 survey of U.S. Catholics performed by Pew Research Center found 56% of U.S. Catholics believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases.
Below is an interesting article that’s pertinent to this discussion:
Joe Biden’s Presidency Has Highlighted the Rifts in the American Catholic Church