NEW YORK – As Joe Biden assumed the presidency, two of the country’s leading bishops clashed on how to respond to the new administration of the first Catholic president since John F. Kennedy.

Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in a statement that his prayers are with the new president and his family. But also made clear the policies Biden has pledged in the areas of abortion, contraception, marriage and gender “would advance moral evils and threaten human life and dignity.”

“The continued injustice of abortion remains the ‘preeminent priority,’” Gomez said. “Preeminent does not mean ‘only.’ We have deep concerns about many threats to human life and dignity in our society. But as Pope Francis teaches, we cannot stay silent when nearly a million unborn lives are being cast aside in our country year after year through abortion,” the archbishop continued.

“I am hopeful that the new President and his new administration will work with the church and others of good will. My hope is that we can begin a dialogue to address the complicated cultural and economic factors that are driving abortion and discouraging families.”

Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago issued a prayer for the Biden Administration as well, where he called on the country’s leaders to work together “for the benefit of all its people.” Later, he spoke out against the statement from the USCCB president in a series of tweets.

“Today, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued an ill-considered statement on the day of President Biden’s inauguration,” Cupich wrote. “Aside from the fact that there is seemingly no precedent for doing so, the statement, critical of President Biden, came as a surprise to many bishops, who received it just hours before it was released.”

“The statement was crafted without the involvement of the Administrative Committee, a collegial consultation that is normal course for statements that represent and enjoy the considered endorsement of the American bishops,” the cardinal said in another tweet.

“The internal institutional failures involved must be addressed, and I look forward to contributing to all efforts to that end, so that, inspired by the Gospel, we can build up the unity of the Church, and together take up the work of healing our nation in this moment of crisis,” Cupich concluded.

Many others in the American episcopacy reacted to the inauguration throughout the day – for the most part offering prayers to the new administration and outlining important areas for action.

“We pray that the President and Vice President enact policies that provide care for the forgotten and vulnerable, heal our nation from this deadly pandemic, welcome the immigrant, provide economic justice and opportunity for all, work to end systemic racism and promote peace across our country and throughout the world,” Cardinal Seán O’Malley of Boston said.

Bishop Robert Deeley of Portland noted that an “inauguration is a beginning. That really means that the work of all of us has just begun as together we build our nation.”

Bishop Michael Olson of Fort Worth quoted the first U.S. bishop, Archbishop John Carroll.

“As we pray for our incoming President, Joseph Biden, ‘We pray O God of might, wisdom and justice, through whom authority is rightly administered,” Olson said.

After his inauguration Biden made his first moves as commander in chief. He signed more than a dozen executive actions towards COVID-19, the economy, environment and immigration. Amongst them were rejoining the Paris Climate Accord, extending the eviction moratorium until at least March 31 and an action requiring non-citizens to be included in the Census.

Nothing was done with regards to abortion. Later in the evening, White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked if the president plans to repeal the Hyde Amendment – that prohibits the use of federal funds to pay for abortion – to which she replied, “I will take the opportunity to remind all of you that he is a devout Catholic.”

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