It is no secret that America’s Catholics are deeply divided. Even before the Dobbs ruling last month, the Pew Research Center discovered deep divisions on attitudes towards abortion, but with some correlation between Mass attendance and opposition towards the practice. After the Supreme Court ruling, Pew found that 51 per cent of American Catholics disapproved of the decision, with 34 per cent strongly disapproving. Against this, Pew found that 48 per cent of Catholics did approve, although just 28 per cent did so strongly. In addition, Pew discovered that just 39 per cent of Catholics believe abortion should be illegal in some or all cases (9 per cent in all cases). This is against 60 per cent who feel abortion should be legal (23 per cent saying in all cases).
The divisions among American Catholics in the run-up to November’s midterms were somewhat confirmed by a recent EWTN News/RealClear Opinion Research poll which found a majority of Catholics now disapprove of President Biden’s performance but are split in their support for the Democrats and Republicans (although Mass attendance correlates somewhat with support for the GOP). Yet race was also a factor: while 59 per cent of Catholics believe the country is on the wrong track, this jumps to 68 per cent for White Catholics but just 45 per cent for Hispanic Catholics. Biden’s approval rating among White Catholics is just 36 per cent, but jumps to 59 per cent for Hispanic Catholics and 72 per cent for Black Catholics.
Perhaps with some justification, the Pope has sought to maintain some distance from the US abortion debate – which has become more heated over time – following the Supreme Court ruling. Speaking this week on Spanish television, Pope Francis again turned to the subject of Communion for Catholic office-holders who support abortion access, stating that this was an issue of conscience and that clerics should remain pastors. The Pope has accused conservative bishops of politicising office-holders who oppose abortion personally but support it for others. While publicly condemning abortion, Pope Francis has recently instructed new archbishops to welcome everyone into the Church.
Yet, in a rare rebuke, the Pontiff appeared to question the US President’s coherence on the subject of abortion access given Biden’s Catholic faith. Pope Francis described it as an “incoherence” that Biden is in favour of abortion access in the interview with Univisión and Televisa. The Pontiff said he leaves it to Biden’s “conscience”, advising the President to “talk to his pastor”. For its part, the Biden administration recently said healthcare providers must offer abortion services if the life of a mother is at risk, and that procedures conducted under such circumstances would be protected under federal law regardless of state bans. Biden has already signed an executive order to guarantee abortion access, protecting women against penalties if they cross state lines for an abortion.
The Pope must see his flock in the US is increasingly divided, although the more faithful tend towards the conservative end of the spectrum and opposition to abortion. On the other hand, he has shown by his recent greeting of US House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, as well as criticism of clerics who ban office-holders from partaking in Communion, that he respects the position of the other side in the debate, or at least does not wish to antagonise them. But, as in Europe, where central and eastern European Catholics increasingly feel alienated by the more liberal position taken by the Pontiff on issues like migration, is there a risk of the Church showing different faces to different sides? As the debate becomes more polarised and positions more irreconcilable, how sustainable a position can this really be?
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