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Biden gets Pope’s welcome, abortion warning from US bishops

January 20, 2021 GMT
FILE - In this Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015, file photo, Vice President Joe Biden, left, and House Speaker John Boehner, right, listen to Pope Francis, foreground, address a joint meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, making history as the first pontiff to do so. Pope Francis officially congratulated President Joe Biden on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, urging him to help foster reconciliation in the U.S., as the Vatican welcomed a new administration more in line with Francis’ priorities on the environment and social justice issues. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)
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FILE - In this Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015, file photo, Vice President Joe Biden, left, and House Speaker John Boehner, right, listen to Pope Francis, foreground, address a joint meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, making history as the first pontiff to do so. Pope Francis officially congratulated President Joe Biden on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, urging him to help foster reconciliation in the U.S., as the Vatican welcomed a new administration more in line with Francis’ priorities on the environment and social justice issues. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)
1 of 2
FILE - In this Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015, file photo, Vice President Joe Biden, left, and House Speaker John Boehner, right, listen to Pope Francis, foreground, address a joint meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, making history as the first pontiff to do so. Pope Francis officially congratulated President Joe Biden on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, urging him to help foster reconciliation in the U.S., as the Vatican welcomed a new administration more in line with Francis’ priorities on the environment and social justice issues. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

ROME (AP) — Pope Francis congratulated U.S. President Joe Biden on Wednesday, urging him to help foster reconciliation as the Vatican welcomes a new administration more in line with the pontiff’s priorities on the environment and social justice issues.

Francis’ congenial message contrasted with a statement issued almost simultaneously by Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez, head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, warning that Biden’s support for abortion rights would “advance moral evils and threaten human life.”

The pope’s telegram and the bishops’ statement came as Biden was inaugurated as the country’s 46th president, and the second Roman Catholic one.

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Francis urged Biden to build a society “marked by authentic justice and freedom” that looks out especially for the poor.

“I likewise ask God, the source of all wisdom and truth, to guide your efforts to foster understanding, reconciliation and peace within the United States and among the nations of the world in order to advance the universal common good,” Francis wrote.

Such telegrams of congratulations are a formality observed at every U.S. inauguration. However, this one took on particular significance given that Francis and former President Donald Trump clashed repeatedly over his administration’s policies on immigration, climate change and other policies. Francis said in 2016 that anyone who builds a wall to keep out migrants isn’t Christian.

Indications that the Vatican views the Biden administration as a chance for a reset in relations came in an editorial Wednesday in the Holy See newspaper L’Osservatore Romano.

Noting that the United States was still reeling from the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol by a mob of Trump supporters, the Vatican’s deputy editorial director, Alessandro Gisotti, wrote that Biden is tasked with “the most arduous challenge” of trying to unite and heal a divided country in the midst of a pandemic and economic crisis.

But he also said that on the world stage, there are “great expectations for a ‘return’ to multilateralism in foreign policy and a recovery of the relationship of trust with international organizations, starting with the UN.”

Gisotti wrote that Biden’s intention of rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement, which the pontiff has championed, “converges with Pope Francis’ commitment in favor of the custody of our common home.”

Biden’s inaugural ceremony contained multiple nods to his faith, including a prayer by Father Leo J. O’Donovan, president emeritus of Georgetown University, an institution aligned with the same Jesuit tradition that the current pope hails from. The president also wove allusions to faith into his inaugural remarks, quoting from the Book of Psalms as he said that “weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.”

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Francis, who visited the U.S. during the Obama presidency and met with Biden at the time, also called him in mid-November to congratulate him after his election victory. When Biden moved into the Oval Office on Wednesday, a photo of himself with the pope was visible on his desk alongside a photo of his family.

The U.S. bishops conference was much less enthusiastic than the pope, noting Biden’s support for abortion rights at length in the statement Wednesday. The conference remains dominated by conservatives who have long declared abortion the “pre-eminent” voting issue for American Catholics.

While welcoming a Catholic president, Archbishop Gomez said Biden’s policies would “advance moral evils and threaten human life and dignity, most seriously in the areas of abortion, contraception, marriage, and gender.”

“My hope is that we can begin a dialogue to address the complicated cultural and economic factors that are driving abortion and discouraging families,” Gomez wrote.

Gomez has formed a “working group” of bishops to assess Biden’s stances on abortion and other issues. The group has yet to issue any public statements.

The tone of the bishops conference’s statement sparked criticism from one prominent cardinal: Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago tweeted that it was “ill-considered” and “came as a surprise to many bishops” who saw it only a short time before its release. Cupich called for a look at the “internal institutional failures involved” in its release.

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Associated Press writers Elana Schor in Washington and David Crary in New York contributed to this report.

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Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through The Conversation U.S. The AP is solely responsible for this content.