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‘U.S. Catholic bishops have overestimates what is left of their authority,’ expert says

Religious studies scholar explains political folly of denying Biden communion

EVANSTON, Ill. —  The campaign by conservative U.S. Catholic bishops to deny President Joe Biden, a Vatican II Catholic, communion over his stance on abortion is a dangerous act of political folly shaped by Steven Bannon’s vision of a great Western revival to restore what they imagine as the grandeur of the 13th century, says Northwestern University religious studies professor Robert Orsi.

Orsi, a professor of history and religious studies, is the first holder of the Grace Craddock Nagle Chair in Catholic Studies. His studies focus on American religious history and contemporary practice; American Catholicism from both historical and ethnographic perspectives, with particular interest in Vatican II and its impact on political and social systems. He can be reached via Erin Karter at (cell) 312-273-0277 or

Quote from Professor Orsi

“As the partisan push to deny President Biden communion gains traction, it becomes clear that the U.S. Catholic bishops have overestimated what is left of their authority.

“Catholics around the country are asking why any man or woman of good faith would listen to these men now given what we know of their complicity in decades of sexual violence by priests against men, women and children, including the most vulnerable.

“These same bishops were silent when the Department of Justice under the Catholic William Barr went on a killing spree in the last weeks of the previous president’s administration, despite Catholic teaching against the death penalty. They were silent too about the danger that the previous administration’s environmental policies posed to the planet in this time of extreme climate crisis. Repeatedly, they have shown how out of step they are with the mainstream of U.S. Catholicism.

“The right wing of the U.S. Catholic bishops has fallen under the spell of Steven Bannon’s vision of a great Western revival spearheaded by a Catholic Church restored to what they imagine as the grandeur of the 13th century. This sort of grandiose fantasy is deeply divisive and dangerous.”