Question: What is the significance of the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issuing a national statement "On the Inauguration of Joseph R. Biden, Jr. as 46th President of the United States of America?’’
Amid all the hoopla of the presidential inauguration and President Biden’s unprecedented flurry of Executive Orders, Archbishop Gomez’s important statement has not received the serious level of attention it merits.
First of all, when the head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) issues a statement representing 75 million American Catholics (23% of the total U.S. population) concerning the first Catholic president since JFK’s inauguration six decades ago, it is an important event. When the statement is filled with as much spiritual substance as Archbishop Gomez’s is, the statement deserves serious study and attention.
Archbishop Gomez, the Archbishop of Los Angeles, acknowledges that working with President Biden on moral, ethical, and social justice issues “will be unique,” since President Biden is only the second “Catholic” president in American history and furthermore, is a man who professes that his Catholic faith is, and has been, very important in his life.
I can empathize with the Archbishop’s conflicting emotions about this new relationship. I am not certain that I can explain all the reasons why, but there is something uniquely vexing about having someone from your own faith community in the Oval Office who is seriously at odds with your faith tradition’s convictional understanding about important, transcendent, moral issues. I have discussed this at length with both Catholic and fellow Evangelical pro-life leaders and there was virtual unanimity among such leaders that it is indeed particularly painful when one of your own is at odds with “the faith.” I can testify personally as a Baptist Evangelical that it was particularly troubling and traumatic when I was dealing with Baptist pro-abortion advocates like Presidents Carter and Clinton (both affiliated at the time with the Southern Baptist faith community) which I have embraced by moral conviction for now close to 70 years. It just “hurts more” when it is one of your own.
Archbishop Gomez, after expressing appreciation for President Biden’s profession of the Catholic faith’s importance in his life, declares, “When we speak on issues in American public life, we try to guide consciences” based on beliefs that “are rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the social teachings of His Church” which include “God’s plan of love for creation and revealed . . . truth about the human person, who is created in God’s image, endowed with God-given dignity, rights and responsibilities, and called to a transcendent destiny.” He then acknowledges that these principles “are reflected in the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights” and that as Christians we are to follow “Christ’s commandment to love God and love our neighbors by working for an America that protects human dignity, expands equality and opportunities for every person, and is open-hearted toward the suffering and the weak.”
Let me say at this point that as a Baptist Evangelical Protestant I have come to have a deep and abiding appreciation for the rich tradition of Roman Catholic social thought, to which I was first introduced as a Princeton undergraduate of the late, great, Dr. Paul Ramsey, who mined that tradition deeply and often, and made sure his students understood its tremendous contribution to Western Civilization. I might also add that Paul Ramsey was a great teacher and I, am merely one among many, of his students who has never forgotten him and his influence on our lives.
Having laid the moral predicate, Archbishop Gomez directly addresses the “elephant in the room.” The Archbishop explains that “the nation’s bishops are given the duty of proclaiming the Gospel in all its truth and power. . . even,. . . when the Gospel’s truths run contrary to the directions of the wider society and culture.” He then states unequivocally the painful truth that “our new president has pledged to pursue certain policies that would advance moral evils and threaten human life and dignity, most seriously in the areas of abortion, contraception, marriage, and gender.”
Then the Archbishop makes a very important, and I believe a very helpful, moral distinction. He explains that for the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops the “continued injustice of abortion remains the ‘pre-eminent priority’.” He then emphasizes that “Pre-eminent does not mean ‘only.’ We have deep concerns about many threats to human life and dignity in our society.” But he then emphasizes “we cannot stay silent when nearly a million unborn lives are being cast aside in our country year after year through abortion.”
The Archbishop’s prophetic witness to the incalculable and tragic damage abortion inflicts on the whole of society is a much needed and eloquent reminder that such sin has grievous consequences:
“Abortion is a direct attack on life that also wounds the woman and
undermines the family. It is not only a private matter, it raises
troubling and fundamental questions of fraternity, solidarity, and
inclusion in the human community. It is also a matter of social
justice. We cannot ignore the reality that abortion rates are much
higher among the poor and minorities, and that the procedure is
regularly used to eliminate children who would be born with
disabilities” (emphasis supplied).
The concentric circles of ever widening damage done by abortion has seldom been more directly and clearly explained. And seldom has so much of eternal import been said to so many in so few words.
Let us all pray that Joseph Biden is listening.
Dr. Richard Land, BA (magna cum laude), Princeton; D.Phil. Oxford; and Th.M., New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, was president of the Southern Baptists’ Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (1988-2013) and has served since 2013 as president of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, NC. Dr. Land has been teaching, writing, and speaking on moral and ethical issues for the last half century in addition to pastoring several churches. He is the author of The Divided States of America, Imagine! A God Blessed America, Real Homeland Security, For Faith & Family and Send a Message to Mickey.