Nation’s second Catholic president splits some church leaders

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TOPSHOT – US President-elect Joe Biden (C) and incoming First Lady Jill Biden attend Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, DC, on January 20, 2021. – Biden is to be sworn in as the 46th US President at the US Capitol. (Photo by JIM WATSON / AFP) (Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — Leaders in the Catholic Church are reacting to the change of power in Washington and their statements have sparked a controversy among them. President Joe Biden is America’s second Catholic president, after John F. Kennedy.

Ahead of the inauguration, Pope Francis released a statement welcoming President Biden to office.

“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,” he said.

Pope Francis (C) waves, next to then Vice President Joe Biden (L), on a balcony after speaking at the US Capitol building in Washington, DC on September 24, 2015. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images)

Meanwhile, the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops put out a statement praising the president for his witness of faith but also pointing to some of his positions which conflict with Church teaching:

“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. Of deep concern is the liberty of the Church and the freedom of believers to live according to their consciences.”

Archbishop José Horacio Gómez

That statement sparked controversy among Catholic leaders. Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago also weighed in — admonishing Archbishop José Horacio Gómez for criticizing the president.

“Aside from the fact that there is seemingly no precedent for doing so, the statement, critical of President Biden came as a surprise to many bishops, who received it just hours before it was released,” he said in a series of tweets.

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.

— Cardinal Cupich (@CardinalBCupich) January 20, 2021

Ed Condon, editor of the Pillar, a group of investigative journalists focusing on the Catholic Church, said the relationship between the Church and U.S. presidents, especially Catholic ones, can be challenging.

“The bishops have struggled for some months to figure out how best to speak to and about a Catholic president who is at once very much, one of their own, one of their flock that they need to speak to,” he said. “Now there’s no shortage of areas with which the hierarchy of the U.S. Catholic Church agree with President Biden ending the death penalty, for example, the preferential option for the poor, certainly on immigration issues. All of these things are points of common cause, and I expect that the bishops will find it easy to work constructively with the incoming administration. But, of course, there is the tricky issue of abortion, which the U.S. Catholic Church has said repeatedly is their preeminent priority and concern in the realm of public policy”

President Biden has said he plans to expand abortion rights. During the presidential campaign, he said he would pass legislation making Roe v. Wade a federal law and he has promised to reverse Trump administration policies limiting abortion.

In her first briefing, White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked whether President Biden would take action to allow taxpayer funding for abortion and reverse the Mexico City Policy, which blocks U.S. funding for foreign organizations that promote and provide abortion.

“I think we’ll have more to say on the Mexico City Policy in the coming days, but I will just take the time to remind all of you that he a devout Catholic and somebody who attends church regularly,” Psaki said.

Before taking the oath of office, Biden and his family attended Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew The Apostle.

They were joined by congressional leaders including Mitch McConnell, Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.