The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) issued a stark condemnation of President Biden's abortion agenda on the day of his inauguration, arguing that he would advance "moral evil" on the "preeminent priority" for the faithful.
"I must point out 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," said Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez, who serves as the USCCB's president. "Of deep concern is the liberty of the Church and the freedom of believers to live according to their consciences."
His comments came amid a broader debate about U.S. politicians, like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who identify as Catholic but pursue policies that conflict with Church teaching. Biden, during the campaign, reversed his decades-old position on the Hyde Amendment, which blocks most taxpayer funding for abortions. He's also pledged to codify Roe v. Wade, a move that conservatives say would allow abortion up till the moment of birth.
Prior to Biden's inauguration, he and Pelosi attended a mass held at St. Matthew's Cathedral in Washington, D.C. It's unclear whether they took communion but Archbishop Wilton Gregory said beforehand that he wouldn't deny Biden the sacrament.
During the campaign, then-candidate Biden was denied communion by a South Carolina priest and in August, Cardinal Raymond Burke, the former head of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, said the former vice president shouldn't receive communion and wasn't a Catholic "in good standing."
For years, Biden supported the Hyde Amendment with the rationale that religious Americans shouldn't have to pay for procedures they fundamentally oppose. He similarly argued that Americans shouldn't be forced to embrace his faith's view of abortion. He appeared to personally flout church teaching, however, when he officiated a same-sex wedding ceremony in 2016. He also picked a Health and Human Services secretary who previously sued nuns for opposing Obamacare's contraception mandate.
Regardless, Gomez welcomed Biden and said it would be "refreshing to engage with a President who clearly understands, in a deep and personal way, the importance of religious faith and institutions."
Gomez added in Wednesday's statement that abortion "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."
Both the Catholic Catechism and some clergy have indicated that politicians have an obligation to support anti-abortion legislation. The section of the Catechism discussing abortion says that the procedure and infanticide "are abominable crimes."
After Gomez's statement, Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich called it "ill-considered," alleging that bishops only received it hours before it was released and was crafted without involvement from the body's Administrative Committee.
"The internal institutional failures involved must be addressed, and I look forward to contributing to all efforts to that end, so that, inspired by the Gospel, we can build up the unity of the Church, and together take up the work of healing our nation in this moment of crisis," Cupich said.
Pope Francis, meanwhile, called on Biden to work towards a society that respected every human's rights.
"At a time when the grave crises facing our human family call for farsighted and united responses," he said, "I pray that your decisions will be guided by a concern for building a society marked by authentic justice and freedom, together with unfailing respect for the rights and dignity of every person, especially the poor, the vulnerable and those who have no voice."