What Happened to the USCCB Working Group on Joe Biden?

The working group, formed in November, met twice and produced two recommendations by the end of the year 2020.

President Joe Biden is sworn in during his Inauguration ceremony at the U.S. Capitol on January 20, 2021.
President Joe Biden is sworn in during his Inauguration ceremony at the U.S. Capitol on January 20, 2021. (photo: MCCV / Shutterstock)

WASHINGTON — A source at the U.S. bishops’ conference (USCCB) has disputed the notion that a special working group formed to deal with new President Joe Biden was terminated prematurely this week.

Reports earlier this week at the National Catholic Reporter indicated that the USCCB’s working group on dealing with new President Joe Biden was “disbanded,” just three months after it was formed in November after the presidential election.

According to a USCCB source with knowledge of the situation, however, it is “not really accurate to say ‘disbanded’” when referring to the working group—as the group was always intended to be temporary and had reportedly accomplished its assignment.

 Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles — president of the conference — stressed the need for the group as he announced it in November. Archbishop Gomez noted the “unique” circumstance posed by Biden’s position as a prominent Catholic in public life who has taken public stances against Church teaching. He said the group would help bishops “navigate” this “complex situation.”

Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit, vice president of the USCCB, was asked to chair the working group. According to the USCCB source, Archbishop Vigneron “apparently feels he‘s done what’s been asked of him. He has made a proposal that the full body of bishops issue a pastoral statement later this year on the general issue of worthiness for communion.”

The working group, formed in November, met twice and produced two recommendations by the end of the year 2020.

CNA has confirmed that the group advised Archbishop Gomez to send an open letter to President Biden before his inauguration on Jan. 20, 2021, outlining areas of policy agreement and disagreement with the conference and presenting the Church’s teachings on those matters. The letter should clarify that not all policy issues share the same gravity, and that some issues are more important than others, the group noted.

Those concerns were included in Archbishop Gomez’s Jan. 20 statement on behalf of the conference, on the day of Biden’s inauguration. Archbishop Gomez offered prayers for Biden, stated the bishops’ role as pastors in forming consciences and not acting as partisan players, and detailed areas of agreement and disagreement between the conference and Biden’s policy positions.

That statement was initially withheld on the morning of Jan. 20, and then released later in the day around the time Pope Francis issued his statement.

While some bishops commended Archbishop Gomez in their own inauguration day statements, others — including Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago and Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington, D.C. — criticized Archbishop Gomez’s statement as “ill-considered” and “ill-timed,” respectively, implying that it was too critical of Biden on his first day in office.

In addition to this statement by Archbishop Gomez, the USCCB working group called for a teaching document on the Eucharist, CNA has confirmed.

The document should instruct the faithful about worthy reception of Holy Communion, the working group said, and it should also clarify that Catholic politicians have a special responsibility to uphold the Church’s teachings in public life. Catholic holders of public office should not present themselves for Communion if they contradict Church teaching on grave moral issues, and have been warned already by a pastor, the working group stressed.

According to the USCCB source, that “pastoral statement” will be accompanied by “individual bishops” who “are going to issue their own statements on eucharistic coherence.”

One of these bishops is Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, who discussed the topic of “Eucharistic coherence” in a Jan. 28 interview with EWTN Pro-Life Weekly.

Asked when it is necessary for a pastor to deny someone Communion for the sake of their soul, Archbishop Cordileone responded that “private conversations” must first take place between pastor and communicant.

However, he added that this topic needs to be considered within the larger situation of worthiness to receive Communion. If Catholics do not understand that they must be in the state of grace to receive Communion, then a bishop denying Communion to a pro-abortion Catholic politician would not “make sense,” he said.

“So for that kind of action [denial of Communion] to make sense to a lot of people, we need to reclaim this sense of what it means to receive [Communion],” he said.

Archbishop Cordileone also cited the working group’s efforts to promote Church teaching on the Eucharist.

“At the USCCB, we’ve formed a working group to focus on what we call ‘Eucharistic coherence.’ So it’s a very important issue, but it’s part of this bigger picture,” Archbishop Cordileone said.

Archbishop Cordileone did not say, as it was reported, that denying Holy Communion to pro-abortion politicians such as Biden “makes ‘sense to a lot of people.’” Rather, he said that in order for any denial of Communion to make sense to the broader faithful, Catholics must be aware of the Church’s teachings on worthiness to receive Communion.

When he announced the formation of the working group in November, Archbishop Gomez noted that Biden’s election as just the second Catholic U.S. president presented a “unique” circumstance.

Biden, a prominent Catholic in the highest public office, supports “some good policies” but also advances other policies that “pose a serious threat to the common good” on abortion, gender ideology, and contraception, Archbishop Gomez said.

Biden’s problematic policies lend to “confusion among the faithful about what the Church actually teaches on these questions,” Archbishop Gomez said, stressing the need for the working group to help “navigate” the “difficult and complex situation.”

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers his inaugural speech after being sworn in on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 20 in Washington.

The Challenge of Unity

EDITORIAL: Sustained and driven by our own faith and convictions, the Catholic faithful of America should now collectively gather alongside Archbishop Gomez in striving for national unity and reconciliation — and in reminding our new president that these laudable goals are attainable only if he is willing to moderate his own political extremism in the crucial areas of life, sexuality and religious liberty.

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