Biden will meet Pope Francis amid rifts between US bishops

The intriguing subplot of President Joe Biden's meeting with Pope Francis is the following. Two of the most important Roman Catholics in the world will celebrate a common outlook on church teachings and important social issues, even though Biden is facing opposition from many U.S. Catholic bishops regarding his positions on abortion and LGBTQ rights.

Biden will meet Pope Francis amid rifts between US bishops

Three weeks less than Biden's Vatican visit on Friday, the American Bishops will meet in Baltimore. One of the agenda items was inspired by conservatives who believe that Biden should be disqualified from Communion because of his support for abortion rights. Although Biden is unlikely to be mentioned in any of the documents that emerge, it is possible there will be a clear message discrediting him.

Massimo Faggioli is a Professor of Historical Theology at Villanova University and has recently written a book on Catholicism and Biden.

Faggioli stated that some bishops consider it an act of intimidation against Biden. "And they have the pope who is protecting the Catholic president's access the sacraments -- it's been necessary for him to send a signal to the Vatican saying, ‘We don't believe this is wise.’"

While the pope supports Catholic doctrine against abortion and same-sex marital union, he has upset some conservative Catholics in America and elsewhere by emphasizing other issues which mesh with Biden’s priorities -- such as protecting the environment, fighting racial injustice, and poverty.

Faggioli stated that the pope and Biden "see each other on many issues." "But they are both really embattled and facing very strong headwinds... fighting against different types of ideologues."

Biden is the second Catholic president of America, following John F. Kennedy. He displays his faith openly by wearing a rosary regularly and going to Mass every day. He has always been a devotee of the rosary since childhood.

He wrote, "Wherever there are nuns, there is home" in his 2007 memoir, "Promises to Keep." His religion informed the way he views self, family, community and the larger world.

After his wife and their baby girl were killed in a car accident in 1972, his faith was tested but not shaken.

He told The Christian Science Monitor that he never doubted the existence of a God. However, he was furious with God.

Biden also explained why he believes he is a faithful Catholic, despite his views about abortion in the same interview.

Biden stated that his views were in complete agreement with Catholic social doctrine. "Some elements of the church believe that if you disagree with any teachings of Christ, then you are against the church. "I believe the church is larger than that."

Francis has already made it clear that he will not shun U.S. politicians who support abortion rights. He met with Nancy Pelosi (House Speaker), at the Vatican on Oct. 9, whose anti-abortion stance has drawn the ire of Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, the head Catholic in San Francisco.

Cordileone is urging the U.S. bishops to send a message "that would move their conscience" to Biden, Pelosi, and other members of Congress.

He told The Associated Press that they need to "understand the scandal that is caused by them saying they are faithfully Catholic but oppose the church upon such a fundamental concept".

Catholic policy allows bishops to decide whether or not to exclude someone from Communion. Cordileone discouraged Pelosi to receive Communion in his archdiocese. However, Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington has made it clear that Biden is allowed to receive Communion at any service there.

Francis was asked last month by Francis whether Biden or like-minded politicians should be denied Communion. He refused to answer with a "yes" and "no" answer. Instead, he said that bishops must show compassion and tenderness to such people and warned that politics shouldn't influence the decision about who receives Communion.

Biden isn't opposed to the U.S. episcops because of his opposition on abortion. Biden is a strong supporter for the Equality Act which would expand federal civil rights protections to LGBTQ persons across the country. The bill is currently in the Senate's deadlock. According to the bishops, it would violate the religious freedoms of individuals and churches that are opposed to same-sex marriage, and other transgender rights policies.

Biden will meet Francis for the first time this week, although he had previously met Francis three times: once in 2013, during Francis's inauguration as pope, and again in 2015, during Francis's visit to the U.S.A. Later, he visited the Vatican in 2016 for a conference about regenerative medicine. He spoke on cancer prevention.

Francis has repeatedly reiterated his opposition to abortion, calling it "murder" in recent weeks and defending the rights of conscientious objectors not to be involved in it. Francis has compared abortion to "hiring an agent to solve a problem."

Chad Pecknold is a professor of The Catholic University of America's theology department. He doubts that Biden will confront him over his support of abortion rights. However, he said that many Catholics, including bishops, may want that to happen.

Pecknold stated that "I believe the Catholic faithful have the right to hope for it, and to express concern for Mr. Biden's soul."

Pecknold shared via email that the Biden-Francis visit could "actually highlight the urgent need for bishops to unite around an clear and coherent view on how the bishops ought to respond to politicians who publically hold the Church's teachings in contempt while present themselves for Holy Communion."

Steven Millies, a professor at Catholic Theological Union, Chicago, is claiming that the meeting will influence the discussion over abortion and Communion in a way that will produce lots of heat and very few light. He doesn't think Francis will feel the need to discuss the issue with Biden.

Millies stated that "it's not going get anyone anywhere." "On the contrary, it's possible to accomplish a lot by focusing on areas that align with shared concern and shared interests.

Kennedy was the first Catholic president in 1960. Abortion wasn't the issue that divides today. Kennedy did not feel pressured to make a public statement until 1973 when there was a national right to abortion.

Kennedy's campaign was not without its share of anti-Catholic prejudice. Some Protestant ministers wondered if Kennedy could remain independent from the Catholic Church.

Kennedy, unlike Biden, received overwhelming support from Catholic voters. He won about 80% of their votes back in 1960 according to Georgetown University researchers. About half of Catholic voters backed Biden in the 2020 election.

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