CNA Staff, Nov 17, 2020 / 01:40 pm (CNA).- The president of the U.S. bishops’ conference has announced the creation of a bishops’ working group to prepare for a Biden presidency.

Archbishop Jose Gomez told bishops Tuesday that a future President Biden, as a Catholic, would present unique challenges for the Church in the United States, especially regarding Biden policy positions at odds with Catholic doctrine.

“For only the second time, we are anticipating a transition to a president who professes the Catholic faith. This presents certain opportunities but also certain challenges,” Gomez said at the close of the USCCB Fall General Assembly on Nov. 17.

The archbishop said the bishops face “a unique moment in the history of the Church in this country.”

“The president-elect has given us reason to believe that his faith commitments will move him to support some good policies. This includes policies of immigration reform, refugees and the poor, and against racism, the death penalty, and climate change.”

“He has also given us reason to believe that he will support policies that are against some fundamental values that we hold dear as Catholics. These policies include: the repeal of the Hyde Amendment and the preservation of Roe vs. Wade. Both of these policies undermine our preeminent priority of the elimination of abortion,” said Gomez.

Biden, a former two-term vice-president under Barack Obama and a career senator, maintained a position on abortion regarded by Democrats as moderate for most of his political career. Biden supported the Hyde Ammendment, which bans federal tax dollars from funding abortions, while also supporting the premise of legal abortion.

But during the 2019 Democratic primary campaign, Biden dropped his long-held positions on abortion and called for the codifcation of Roe v. Wade in federal law, which would essentially preclude any state limitations on abortion at any point in pregnancy.

Gomez also told the bishops that Biden has signalled his support for “the restoration of the HHS mandate, the passage of the Equality Act, and the unequal treatment of Catholic schools.”

The HHS contraceptive mandate, initiated under the Obama Administration, required employers to supply coverage for contraception, including abortifacient drugs and sterilizations, under their healthcare plans. Only narrow exemptions were granted for religious groups and conscientiously objecting employers, resulting in a series of legal battles for groups including Catholic universities and the Little Sisters of the Poor.

The Trump Administration broadened religious freedom and conscience protections in the policy, but Biden has committed to reversing those protections.

The Equality Act, which stalled during the last legislative session, would add anti-discrimination protections for sexual orientation and gender identity to existing protections for race, color, national origin, sex, disability and religion. It has been consistently opposed by the U.S. bishops, who have warned it could be used to compel Cahtolic schools and institutions to, for example, grant males access to female bathrooms and changing facilities.

“These policies pose a serious threat to the common good, whenever any politician supports them. We have long opposed these policies strongly, and we will continue to do so.”

“But when politicians who profess the Catholic faith support them, there are additional problems. Among other things, it creates confusion among the faithful about what the Church actually teaches on these questions.”

Biden made his Catholic faith a centerpiece of his election campaign, releasing several videos in which he discussed his religion. Biden also quoted Pope Francis during the closing days of the campaign, despite the pope’s frequent and absolute condemnation of abortion.

“This is a difficult and complex situation,” Gomez told the bishops. “In order to help us to navigate it, [the conference] will appoint a working group, chaired by Archbishop Vigneron and consisting of the chairmen of the committees responsible for the policy areas at stake, as well as the committee on doctrine and communications.”

Gomez also noted that, although Biden’s public Catholicsm and opposition to core Catholic priorities and values was a unique problem for the bishops, a committee like to the one he was creating is not completely novel.

The creation and work of the committee “follows the precedent of four years ago, when Cardinal DiNardo – then president of the conference – similarly faced a transition to a new administration threating grave and imminent harm on critical issues,” Gomez said.

“Then as now, committees already existed to address those issues, and the goal was to emphasize our priorities and enhance collaboration.”

The U.S. bishops’ conference issued Nov. 7 a statement congratulating Biden and running mate Kamala Harris on their projected victory in the presidential election. The statement prompted pushback from Catholics who said it was issued prematurely, given that the Trump campaign has filed numerous legal challenges to election results, and by those who said the statement did not challenge Biden on his policies in support of legal protection and federal funding for abortion.

On Monday, Gomez said the congratulations was pro forma for the bishops’ conference; his remarks Tuesday indicated a shift in rhetoric from the conference.

Gomez said additional details regarding the working group would be released shortly after the conclusion of the bishops’ meeting, which adjourned into executive session shortly after the archbishop concluded his remarks.

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