Catholics divided as bishops examine Biden's abortion stance

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FILE - In this Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2019, file photo, Archbishop Jose H. Gomez, right, of Los Angeles, with Bishop Michael F. Burbidge, left, of Arlington, Va., and Cardinal Joseph William Tobin, of Newark, N.J., exits a news conference after being elected president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops during their Fall General Assembly in Baltimore. On Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020, Gomez addressed an online national meeting of bishops. During the previous week, Gomez congratulated Joe Biden on his presidential election victory. Now, Gomez is sounding a different tone, saying some of Bidens policy positions, including support for abortion rights, pose a difficult and complex situation for the church. (AP Photo/Steve Ruark, File)

Catholics split almost evenly in supporting Donald Trump or Joe Biden in the presidential election. Now they’re sharply divided over a declaration by the head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that the president-elect's support for abortion rights presents the church with a “difficult and complex situation.”

The USCCB’s president, Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez, made that statement Tuesday near the close of the conference’s national meeting and announced the formation of a working group of bishops to assess the dilemma. Some experts said it's possible the group will discuss whether Biden — a practicing Roman Catholic — should be barred from partaking in Holy Communion.

Catholic anti-abortion activists hope the bishops follow through with tough words and action, making clear that Catholic politicians who support abortion are in breach of church teaching.

Biden’s policy agenda “is incompatible with the Catholic position on abortion and the protection of innocent human life,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, a leading anti-abortion group.

But others criticized the USCCB as setting the stage for potential conflict with the president-elect just days after he received a congratulatory call from Pope Francis. Biden said he hopes to work with the pontiff on issues such as climate change, poverty and immigration.

“The USCCB leadership simply can’t embrace the idea of engagement and goodwill that Pope Francis has asked of them,” said David Gibson, director of Fordham University’s Center on Religion and Culture. “That the pope called to congratulate Biden and discussed working together while the American bishops capped their meeting with plans to do battle with the incoming president says it all.”

Natalia Imperatori-Lee, a professor of religious studies at Manhattan College, also was dismayed by the USCCB.

“It seems they’d like to start an antagonistic relationship with only the second Catholic to be elected the president of this country,” she said via email. “This is appalling.”