Panelists at Jesuit-run Georgetown University converged Friday in the common belief that a Biden administration will see eye-to-eye on many issues with the Vatican of Pope Francis.
“There’s great opportunity for overlap there,” said the director of Georgetown’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, Shaun Casey, in an online webinar, “And I really do think the Vatican wants to get down to business and I am confident that our new president-to-be — the Roman Catholic Joe Biden — is eager to find ways to collaborate together.”
“There’s reason for great hope and great progress here despite the fact that he is a pro-life [sic] Catholic,” Mr. Casey said in reference to Biden with an evident slip of the tongue. “That will never be transcended in the relationship. It’s just a fact and there’s going to be noise and there will be implications of that over the length of Biden’s term.”
“However, when you look at the foreign policy priorities of the impending American administration, and that of the papacy of Francis, there is a tremendous overlap between their priorities,” he said, enumerating “climate change, rebuilding global refugee resettlement networks, seeking Middle East peace, combatting anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, confronting global populist movements all around the planet, and reducing nuclear arms.”
Casey also praised the Vatican for its controversial 2018 agreement with China on the naming of bishops, pointing to it as an example of successful diplomacy that the United States could learn from.
“Whatever that agreement contains or doesn’t contain, the Vatican diplomatic corps are really one of the few among the 200 or so sovereign states that can say they have been in modestly successful long-term negotiations with the Chinese,” he said.
Casey also said that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had missed an opportunity by criticizing the deal.
“If I were secretary of state, I would have said, ‘I know you can’t tell us the details, we don’t want to know the details, but can you give us any clues, any hints, any insights in how to engage China on a diplomatic basis?’”
“The Trump administration’s diplomacy with China is a mess,” Casey said. “We have receded in the last four years and they seem to be clueless and here you have a sovereign state, tiny though it may be, that actually has some defensible success in engaging them.”
“They’ve done what nobody else seems to be able to do,” he said.
Journalist Josh McElwee, Vatican correspondent for the progressive National Catholic Reporter, substantially agreed with Casey, suggesting that there will be significantly greater understanding between the Vatican and the U.S. under a Biden presidency.
“I think going forward, this could be an area where we see a big difference between Trump and Biden’s engagement with the Vatican,” McElwee said. “Biden’s future ambassador will be able to speak more to the pope’s core diplomatic concerns, things like climate change, strengthening international institutions like the U.N. or the E.U., the continuing migration crisis, arms control, and other issues.”
“I think for Catholics the wild card might be the U.S. bishops’ conference,” McElwee cautioned. “There is a small minority of U.S. bishops who have been increasingly open about being critical about Pope Francis and they may protest if the Vatican is working too closely with the Biden administration or isn’t critiquing Biden on his stance on legalized abortion.”
Jesuit Father Drew Christiansen, Georgetown professor of ethics and human development, also praised the pope’s diplomatic relations with China.
One thing that makes China open to Francis is that “the Catholic Church understands that they are a distinctive culture and has honored that,” Father Christiansen said. “I think a great respect for the culture is a way to build up the relationship.”
Just last week, Pope Francis chose Joe Biden’s slogan “build back better” to describe his vision for the great reset after the coronavirus pandemic, saying he finds the expression “quite striking.”