A Church in Power but Divided | OP-ED

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On October 29, President Joe Biden met with Pope Francis privately for 78 minutes in the Holy See library.

The event was of great interest because, on the one hand, he is only the second Catholic President of the United States in history, and on the other hand, his visit took place in the midst of a strong divide within American Catholicism.

These are recent facts, but Massimo Faggioli knows the context of the story better than anyone. Writer, historian and theologian, he is the most qualified voice to speak about Catholicism in America, and his book published this year, Joe Biden and Catholicism in the United States, is perfect for putting what is going on in context.

Faggioli disentangles the relationship between the Catholic Church and American democracy in its history and today. He says the United States was born as a rejected Protestant religious project that rejected the Roman “papist”.

In fact, white Anglo-Saxon Protestant hegemony and power marginalized French and Spanish Catholicism, which occupied the land before the pilgrims arrived.

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The rejection then turned into violence against Catholic immigrants, whom they saw as a threat turned into votes unfavorable to their interests.

This distrust of Catholics only diminished in the period between World War II and Vatican Council II, well into the early 20th century.

But, as Faggioli points out, the mistrust was a two-way street, for the Catholic Church has always looked down on the American democratic project, and it was only thanks to pressure from European Catholics who arrived in the country after 1930 that the Catholicism began to recognize the moral importance of democracy and American civil liberties – all within a liberal and blatantly anti-Communist framework.

The book clearly shows that today the challenge is no longer to break into society. In addition, America is living a particularly Catholic moment, with key players in the high state powers. President Joe Biden, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Chief Justice John Roberts ….

This great Catholic “moment” contrasts with the abysmal split between neoliberal and neoconservative Catholics on issues such as the environment, race, immigration, sexual morality and abortion.

Will liberal Biden be able to build this bridge within the American Catholic Church? It seems difficult.


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