The Holy See sees in the election of Biden a great opportunity to improve relations with Washington marked by hostility between the Pope and Trump
On November 22, 1963, the Vatican said goodbye to the last Catholic president of the US The assassination of John F. Kennedy interrupted for 57 years an idyll between the world’s greatest political power and its spiritual counterpart. The election of Joe Biden, a practicing Catholic, is called to radically change the dynamics of the confrontation opened by Donald Trump with the Holy See. The Pope, who already knew Biden and had a great relationship with the Barack Obama Administration, is aware that he has a golden opportunity to forge valuable alliances. So much so that on Thursday, contrary to the slowness and prudence of the Vatican, he himself called him to congratulate him.
The relationship between the Vatican and the Trump Administration has been disastrous for the past four years. None of the actors, starting with Francisco himself, has avoided confrontation and criticism, and diplomatically grotesque situations have been reached. The last one was carried out a month and a half ago by the Secretary of State himself, Mike Pompeo, enraging the Holy See with his public pressure against the agreement with China during his visit to Rome. In the last four years, problems have surfaced on the social agenda, on migration, on the environment, on politics in the Middle East. Also fierce power struggles within the Church itself between the most conservative sector and the one closest to Francisco. Any change, in short, would have been greeted with optimism. But Biden brings more, they believe in the Vatican.
The president-elect is a devout Catholic, much more so than Kennedy was. He attends mass regularly and takes his faith very seriously. It has always been placed in the reformist orbit of John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council. An active spiritual life, also marked by the death of a son. But Biden is not a conservative on social issues. Tolerance of abortion, for example, will greatly separate you from the Holy See. But, above all, from the most conservative sector of the American Church. Sexual issues, which obviously neither he nor Kamala Harris will limit, are the main fear.
The Pope’s call, unveiled by Biden’s transition team, also reveals the relief with which the election is viewed. The Holy See welcomes the foreseeable return of the United States to the Paris climate change agreements or a different approach to immigration (opposition to the wall with Mexico was a workhorse of the Pope). Massimo Faggioli, Church historian and professor of Theology at Villanova University (Philadelphia), adds some nuance. “A realignment scenario opens up on some issues. But there are also unknowns because Biden has a very classical vision of international politics. In the Middle East, for example, he voted in favor of wars. He is a man of the last century. So tensions will emerge over specific issues. Also about China ”.
The Vatican signed a historic agreement with the Asian giant two years ago for the integration of the Church in a legal framework and agreed with the Chinese Government. A first step, moreover, to reopen diplomatic relations frozen for 70 years. The void in cultural and religious hegemony left by the Trump Administration undoubtedly helped Beijing to embrace negotiation more eagerly. Will anything change now?
Marco Ventura, a professor at the University of Siena and an expert in Law and Religions, considers: “Biden is, first of all, American. And today Francisco is someone with few sympathies in the North American capitalist habitat ”. The last encyclical of the Pope –All Brothers– it is difficult to digest for the American culture, founded on the free market. But yeah, Biden toned it down a bit. “
The core of the opposition to the Pope is found in the American Church, divided into two clear blocks, as Ventura recalls. In the heat of the Trump Administration and the media orbit that has supported it – even from the beginning with Steve Bannon and Breitbart– A powerful current has been organized whose force reaches the Vatican. Father James Martin, editor and author of the religious magazine America, believes that the majority of American Catholics support the Pope. “The list of those who do not, which sadly includes priests and bishops, are well organized but, above all, financially supported. Also, they are extremely loud. The irony is that they are the same people who, during the pontificates of John Paul II or Benedict XVI, said that a Pope could not be criticized ”. In Rome they trust the Biden era to bring about change.