Archbishop Gomez Rock-Solid in His Inauguration Day Message

COMMENTARY: As the bishops work with a new administration, Archbishop José Gomez, not Cardinal Blase Cupich, is emerging as the authentic interpreter of Pope Francis in the U.S. on life, liberty and immigration.

US President Joe Biden signs a series of orders in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, after being sworn in at the US Capitol on January 20, 2021.
US President Joe Biden signs a series of orders in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, after being sworn in at the US Capitol on January 20, 2021. (photo: Jim Watson / AFP/Getty)

The inauguration of the second Catholic president made clear the challenge before the U.S. bishops, evident in the pointed and public criticism by Cardinal Blase Cupich of the statement of USCCB president Archbishop José Gomez.

The controversy indicates how the U.S. bishops plan to address the unique situation of a Catholic president who has been at odds for generations with their long-standing positions on the sanctity of life, marriage and religious liberty.


The Inauguration Statement

While the inaugural address of President Joe Biden called repeatedly for “unity,” the first day of his administration marked a sharp division among Catholic bishops in the U.S. — or at least between one cardinal and his brother bishops. 

In his capacity as USCCB president, Archbishop Gomez of Los Angeles had prepared an Inauguration Day statement that praised the Catholic president’s “piety” and “long-standing commitment to the Gospel’s priority for the poor,” while also stating clearly that Biden’s position on abortion, gender and religious liberty were incompatible with the Catholic faith.

Archbishop Gomez’s statement included nothing out of keeping with what U.S. bishops have said for years. Nevertheless, Cardinal Cupich of Chicago strongly objected to both the tone and timing of the statement. While he was not successful in rallying brother bishops to his side, he apparently managed to get the Vatican Secretariat of State to delay the archbishop’s statement from morning until afternoon. Thus the statement was released after a congratulatory message from Pope Francis to the new president; that papal message was a generic goodwill statement.

Why did Archbishop Gomez want to act on Inauguration Day? Likely because incoming Biden officials had indicated that the new president would sign dozens of executive orders in his first 24 hours — some of them precisely on the very issues that Archbishop Gomez raised, including a far-reaching order that redefines the meaning of “sex” in federal law.


Cupich Wanes, and McCarrick Is Gone

Cardinal Cupich, having been unable to persuade any of his brother bishops to join him publicly, sent out several tweets expressing his displeasure at the “ill-considered” Archbishop Gomez statement and issuing his own statement of good wishes. Cardinal Cupich further expressed his view that there should be a review of the USCCB’s “internal institutional failures,” which resulted in neither the cardinal’s view being sought nor his objections carrying the day.

Was this anything more than a prominent cardinal’s pique that his influence among his brother bishops is not what he would like it to be?

Yes, because Cardinal Cupich was sent to Chicago by Pope Francis to succeed Cardinal Francis George, the de facto leader of the U.S. bishops before his death in 2015. His mission was to articulate, persuade and lead the U.S. episcopate in the priorities of Pope Francis. It was a tall order; Cardinal Cupich is neither the sophisticated theological mind nor the astute cultural observer that the late Cardinal George was. No one is, in fact. Yet the contrast is more noteworthy in a successor who lacks both the pastoral experience and the fraternal esteem his predecessor enjoyed. 

It would have been difficult for anyone to succeed a figure of the stature of Cardinal George; it has been especially difficult for Cardinal Cupich. Despite repeated signs of favor from Rome, his influence in the USCCB has not had the impact that he would like, despite — or perhaps due to — being one of the most frequent interveners at their meetings.

At the same time as the public dispute showed how much Cardinal Cupich’s influence has waned, it also made clear that no one, not even Cardinal Cupich, has picked up the McCarrick mantle. The former cardinal now dismissed from the clerical state, Theodore McCarrick was the go-to man to give prominent Catholic liberal politicians cover for their embrace of the unlimited abortion license. 

In 2004, McCarrick, then serving as the archbishop of Washington, came to the defense of pro-abortion-rights Democratic nominee John Kerry, and in 2009, he presided over the burial of Ted Kennedy, pretending that the routine Vatican acknowledgement of a letter was a posthumous blessing from Benedict XVI for the senator’s long career of liberal politics.

Had McCarrick not disgraced and disqualified himself, he no doubt would have had a prominent role in the inauguration, health permitting. But he is gone, and no cardinal in the United States is willing to follow his ostentatious public embrace of liberal Democratic politics. 


Biden and the Jesuit Scissors

Joe Biden, who was elected to the Senate before Roe v. Wade was decided, does not need a cardinal to provide Catholic cover for him. Over decades of service, he is a master at the politics of making his Catholic faith prominent while simultaneously being at odds with it in his political positions. 

On his first day, Biden’s presidential approach was clear. He would apply a scissors maneuver to the U.S. bishops — Jesuit scissors, to be specific. 

The scissors close from above in the person of Pope Francis, as Biden presents himself as the Holy Father’s ally, even if that is disingenuous. Indeed, in redecorating the Oval Office, Biden put a photograph of himself with Pope Francis on the table behind the desk. (He changed many other pictures and busts, including adding both Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, the president and first lady when Biden was born.)

The papal photograph was more than incongruous the afternoon of Inauguration Day, as Biden signed his transgender executive order, with the Holy Father looking over his shoulder, as it were. There is no more prominent voice than Pope Francis against what he calls “gender ideology.”

The scissors close from below with the Jesuits, friendly for generations to liberal U.S. politicians, including extreme abortion advocates. While the president is clearly using the Holy Father, here it is the case that the Jesuits are eager to be used.

On Inauguration Day, the morning Mass at St. Matthew’s Cathedral and the inaugural invocation were both given by Jesuits, and on the Sunday after the inauguration Biden attended Mass at Holy Trinity, the Jesuit parish near Georgetown University. 

It was Georgetown that famously covered up its patronal emblem, the “IHS” monogram for the name of Jesus, during President Barack Obama’s visit in 2012. There will be no doubt that American Jesuits will provide as much Catholic cover as Biden desires. It is only a matter of time before Jesuit Father James Martin is at the president’s side at an Oval Office signing ceremony.


Rock, President, Scissors

It falls to Archbishop Gomez to lead the U.S. bishops in the face of Biden’s attempt to apply the Jesuit scissors. He seems more than up to the task. 

For decades, the two greatest public-policy priorities of the USCCB have been the pro-life agenda and more generous immigration policies. Over the past decade, there is likely no bishop in the world more identified with the immigration agenda than Archbishop Gomez — save for one, Pope Francis. 

Archbishop Gomez knows that he will often support the Biden administration on immigration matters. That’s partly why he took an early stand on life and religious liberty, to avoid being manipulated and misrepresented down the road.

As the U.S. bishops work with a new administration, Archbishop Gomez himself will emerge as the authentic interpreter of Pope Francis in the United States on life, liberty and immigration. He may be the rock that breaks the scissors.