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Catholic professors mostly silent on how bishops should handle Biden’s support for abortion

UPDATED

Those who did respond criticized Biden for supporting abortion

Theology chairs and professors at Catholic universities are largely silent about how bishops and other religious leaders should approach Joe Biden’s presidency, particularly when it conflicts with doctrine on issues such as abortion.

The College Fix reached out to 14 professors for their thoughts on how the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic leaders should engage with Biden’s actions. The USCCB represents American Catholics and often issues directives and statements on political issues.

However, only two professors offered comments on Biden. The bishops’ organization did not respond to three emailed requests for comment in the past month from The Fix.

The Fix specifically gave the hypothetical of Biden rescinding the Mexico City Policy, which forbids taxpayer funds from going to foreign nonprofits that pay and promote abortion. The Fix also asked about the hypothetical of Biden codifying Roe v. Wade into law, a position that both he and Vice President Kamala Harris have supported.

According to media reports, Biden plans to rescind the Mexico City Policy within the first few days of his presidency.

President Biden “has already indicated by his advocacy of abortion that he is not in full communion with the Catholic Church,” C.C. Pecknold (below), an associate professor of theology at the Catholic University of America, told The Fix via email in December.

Catholics looking for guidance from their bishops are left without clear advice. The USCCB established a group in November to explore the issue of Biden’s politics and faith clashing but would not provide additional details in response to questions from The Fix.

The USCCB did not respond to three emailed requests to its media relations email for comment on the working group it established to determine how to respond to Biden.

But for Pecknold, the case against Biden is clear.

“He has already stated his intention to codify Roe in such a way as to prevent any seeking to challenge the law, and he will most certainly reverse the Mexico City Policy as the Obama-Biden administration did before,” Pecknold said.

“All of this amounts to what is a kind of de facto ‘excommunication,’ a penalty which is incurred automatically — technically an excommunication latae sententiae,” Pecknold said.

An excommunication latae sententiae means that a person is barred from receiving the sacraments, including Communion, without any formal judgement being issued by a bishop or pope.

Pecknold said “it’s harder to say what Biden will do that agrees with Catholic social teaching.” While Biden “has appealed to the principle of solidarity” he “has evinced very little respect for the 80 million Americans who did not vote for him.”

“That being said, Catholics are called to pray for our leaders, and even for those who persecute us — from within or without. So I will be praying for President-Elect Biden, most especially for his conversion on abortion,” Pecknold said.

Others disagreed on the issue of excommunication but said Biden is in conflict with the Church.

Professor Nathan Schlueter (below), who teaches theology and philosophy at Hillsdale College, said “excommunication is not really an option for pro-abortion politicians,” in an email to The Fix. Hillsdale is not a Catholic university, but Schlueter is Catholic. He clarified in a follow-up email that “excommunication of Catholic pro-abortion politicians may not be an option,” and pointed to an essay by a canon law expert, Ed Peters, who described the difficulties of excommunicating public officials.

Peters declined to comment to The Fix on the issue. Peters teaches at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Michigan.

“However, clear public statements of Church teaching and the denial of communion under Canon 915 are both necessary and proper responses to the sorts of issues you raise,” Schlueter said.

As for Biden improving at all on Trump in terms of promoting Catholic values, Schlueter said he could not think of an area. “I’m afraid I don’t see any issues where Biden will improve on Trump – religious liberty, abortion, marriage, care for the poor, etc. – although I do hope that Biden will speak with more civility and care, which is not nothing.”

“I think Biden’s biggest conflicts relate to the exceptionless moral norms in Church teaching which are particularly grave: marriage and abortion (perhaps assisted suicide, which is coming down the line), and in close proximity to these, religious liberty,” the theology and philosophy professor said.

Schlueter and Pecknold are the only professors who provided substantial answers to questions from The Fix. All others declined to comment or did not respond, including the theology chair at the Catholic University of America, located in D.C.

“Father Morozowich forwarded your request on to our office. He is not currently available for this interview,” Mary McCarthy, a university spokesperson, told The Fix via email on December 15. Morozowich is a Catholic priest.

The Fix offered to give Morozowich more time to respond and asked for an explanation on the refusal. “Father Mark is booked up for the rest of the week wrapping up the semester, and then will be away for our winter break for several weeks,” McCarthy said.

A handful of other professor-priests were silent on the issue of Biden’s presidency. Georgetown University Professor Ladislas Orsy, a Jesuit priest and canon lawyer, did not respond to two emailed requests for comment in the past month. Neither did Joseph Rossi, a Jesuit priest and theology professor at Loyola University Maryland.

Other theology professors in the D.C. area were equally silent.

Georgetown University’s chair of theology, William Werpehowski, did not respond to two emailed requests for comment in the past month.

Two professors feared Trump’s presidency but now won’t comment on Biden

Other professors who strongly denounced President Trump in 2016 were silent or provided little in way of comment when asked for their concerns about Biden.

“Trump will round up and deport million of immigrants. Muslim Americans will be put under repressive scrutiny,” Stephen Schneck, a former Catholic University of America theology professor, said in November 2016. The former leader of Catholics for Obama told the National Catholic Reporter thatWomen, the disabled, nonwhites, those who are different, and a broad category Trump calls simply ‘losers’ must this morning look to their country with fear.”

“Will his political enemies be locked up, like some tin-pot dictator? That’s what he promised,” Schneck said.

This time around, Schneck, who now is a director of the Franciscan Action Network, did not have as many words about Biden.

“Thanks for reaching out. I’m a bit overwhelmed with end of year paperwork. So, I think I’ll pass on this,” he said on December 16. He did not respond to a follow-up request for a better time to discuss the matter and his comments in 2016. The Fix also asked him if he had any concerns about Biden nominees, such as Xavier Becerra, who prosecuted pro-life groups as attorney general of California.

Cathleen Kaveny, who was also profiled as a “Catholic scholar” by the Reporter, said she had “nightmares” about a Trump presidency in 2016. Kaveny teaches both in the law school and theology department at Boston College, a Catholic university. Her bio lists a number of publications on the convergence of religion and public life.

“I am as yet unable to imagine the future — I can’t think about the Supreme Court, the fate of immigrants, race relations, Obamacare, the economy, or any other issue,” Kaveny said in 2016. “I cannot get Donald Trump’s Twitter feed and the nuclear codes out of my nightmares.”

Kaveny did not respond to two emailed requests for comment from The Fix in the past month seeking comment on the Biden presidency and conflicts with Catholicism.

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Other theology professors did not respond.

Michael Murphy, a theology professor and director of the Catholic Studies program at Loyola University Chicago, did not respond to two emailed requests for comment in the past month.

Rebekah Eklund, the chair of theology at Loyola University Maryland, declined to comment. “I’m actually not Catholic, but I’ll forward your email to a few Catholic faculty in our department who might be interested,” Eklund wrote on December 10. The Fix asked theology professors to confirm that they are Catholic as part of this article.

Eklund did not respond to a follow-up email telling her she was welcome to comment regardless since she is a chair of theology at a Catholic university. None of Eklund’s colleagues ever reached out for comment.

Charles Camosy, a professor in theology and ethics at Fordham University and a former board member of Democrats for Life, declined to comment. “I’m in the middle of finals grading at the moment…going to have to let this one go,” Camosy said in an email to The Fix on December 16.

He did not respond to an email two weeks later offering him a chance to comment.

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Editor’s note: Professor Schlueter sent additional comments to clarify his previous remarks. Those comments have been added.

IMAGES: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons; EWTN; Hillsdale College

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About the Author
Matt is assistant editor for The College Fix. He previously worked at Students for Life of America, Students for Life Action and Turning Point USA. While in college, he also wrote for The College Fix as well as his college newspaper, The Loyola Phoenix. He holds a B.A. from Loyola University-Chicago and a M.A. from the University of Nebraska-Omaha. He lives in northwest Indiana with his family.