Joe Biden and Catholicism in U.S. Politics

March 11, 2021

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Joe Biden speaks at Georgetown University

The election of U.S. President Joe Biden—the second Catholic to lead the nation, after President John F. Kennedy—has reignited debate on the role of the Catholic Church in American public life. Biden appealed to his faith during the presidential campaign, and many commentators have suggested how Catholic social teaching might influence policy and leadership under Biden. At the same time, however, other Catholics have clashed with the president on the issue of abortion, overlaying larger divisions within the Church and within the nation. The administration has already experienced criticism from the U.S. Catholic bishops, who issued a letter to Biden criticizing the president for promising to expand access to abortion and contraception. Pope Francis issued a more cordial letter to Biden, in a move said to reflect a growing tension between the U.S. bishops and the Vatican. The recent controversy highlights the complex politics in the relationship between Biden, the U.S. bishops, and Pope Francis.

There is also the potential to find common ground between the White House, the U.S. Catholic Church, and the Vatican. Internationally, President Biden and Pope Francis share a number of policy concerns, ranging from environmental health to racial justice to nuclear arms control. There is also hope for a closer diplomatic relationship between the United States and the Holy See, after Trump-era turbulence related to China. At home, there is opportunity for the administration to work together with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on immigration and refugee policy, as well as other issues such as COVID-19 relief. As the new administration settles into office, the Berkley Forum invites a wide range of experts to consider Catholic engagement in American domestic and foreign policy.

This week the Berkley Forum asks: What are some of the biggest challenges and opportunities when it comes to Catholic engagement in American domestic and foreign policy at the start of the Biden administration? How might the new administration affect diplomacy between the United States and the Holy See? What lessons from the history of Catholicism in American public life are significant for understanding where the Church and the nation are today? How does Catholic moral theology intersect with Biden policy concerns, ranging from multilateralism to racial justice? Is it possible for conservative and liberal voices in the U.S. Church to find common ground on specific policy areas? If so, how? 

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