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Analysis: Who speaks for American Catholics?

Ed Condon

As partisan divides continue to deepen and solidify across the country, Catholics and Catholicism are being drawn into the political fray.

With an incoming Biden administration signaling its antagonism to Catholic institutions and values, and an increasingly vocal minority of Americans refusing even to accept the legitimacy of the election, many Catholics are looking to the Church for guidance. What they see and hear are wildly conflicting signals about where the Church stands, what its priorities are, and what even it means to be a Catholic in America.

Even before the election, both party conventions featured prominent Catholic speakers, including priests and religious sisters. As Trump sought to run on his staunch opposition to abortion, and Biden repeatedly invoked his own cultural Catholicism during the campaign, Catholic bishops, parishes, and families have been pulled in opposite directions.

While some bishops have shown themselves willing to engage with one or other particular side of the political divide, many Catholics are looking for leadership that brings a clear, distinctly Catholic voice in answer to the confusion and division, and articulates a vision for society that represents the entirety of the Church’s message, on its own terms.

During their online Fall General Assembly last month, the U.S. bishops acknowledged the unique “challenges” presented by the current political landscape, most especially the “confusion” caused by an incoming president who is personally at odds with the moral teaching of the Church and opposed to the religious freedom of Catholic religious orders.

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