As friction mounts between US Catholics and Biden, a visit to Ohio's Mount St. Joseph University draws fire

Cameron Knight Sharon Coolidge
Cincinnati Enquirer
  • The dissension over Biden's Ohio visit reflects growing friction between him and the church.
  • Biden is the nation's second Catholic president and attends Mass regularly.
  • The anti-abortion group said Biden is working to roll back restrictions on taxpayer-funded abortion.

A Cincinnati anti-abortion group is calling on people to contact a local Catholic university ahead of President Joe Biden's visit on Wednesday, a reflection of a broader debate raging within U.S. Catholic circles over abortion rights, the White House and who gets to call themselves a Catholic.

Right to Life of Greater Cincinnati said the suburban Cincinnati university, Mount St. Joseph University, is hosting the "most pro-abortion president in U.S. history" and asked the public to call the university in protest along with Cincinnati Archbishop Dennis Schnurr.

The Archdioceses of Cincinnati issued a statement Tuesday saying Schnurr would not have granted a visit by Biden to Catholic property —  but Wednesday's visit wasn't his call.

The statement said Schnurr has not been contacted about the visit. 

"Archbishop Schnurr has therefore not been asked for, nor would he have granted, his approval for any such event to occur on Catholic premises," the statement said, adding, "Mount Saint Joseph University operates independent from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati."

The dissension over Biden's visit reflects a growing friction between the president, only the second Catholic to hold his office, and the broader church in the United States, where many adherents are angered over some of Biden's pro-choice actions.

Mount St. Joseph University confirmed Tuesday it is hosting the president for a CNN town hall, which airs Wednesday at 8 p.m.

"The University has always been and will continue to be a diverse and inclusive place where people from different races, ethnicities, social backgrounds, beliefs, and religions can come together to discuss and share their unique perspectives," a statement from the school said. "We look forward to introducing the Mount to a nationally televised prime time audience."

Mount St. Joseph University photographed on Monday, June 29, 2021.

More:US Catholic bishops OK steps toward possible rebuke of Biden, politicians for supporting abortion rights

Biden is the nation's second Catholic president and attends Mass regularly. He says he personally opposes abortion but doesn't believe he should impose that position on Americans who feel otherwise. He has taken several executive actions during his presidency that were hailed by abortion-rights advocates. 

But his actions have angered fellow adherents of his religion. In June, for example, U.S. Catholic bishops overwhelmingly approved the drafting of a "teaching document" meant as a rebuke to Catholic politicians such as Biden who receive Communion despite their support for abortion rights.

And in May, Biden's invitation to speak at the University of Notre Dame prompted alumni to criticize the school, citing Biden's "pro-abortion and anti-religious liberty agenda." Biden declined the invitation due to a scheduling conflict.

Biden's Ohio visit Wednesday

"Tell them this is unacceptable for a Catholic university," an email from Right to Life of Greater Cincinnati read. "They should be ashamed to host a man responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent unborn lives."

They called on Schnurr to make it clear to area Catholics that "President Biden is not a Catholic in good standing until he does all in his power to put an end to abortion."

The group said Biden is working to roll back restrictions on taxpayer-funded abortion put in place by the Trump administration and referred readers to a list of Biden's "crimes against the unborn."

News of the venue, a small Catholic university tucked into the hills of Cincinnati's conservative West Side, had been a closely held secret, despite a Monday influx of satellite trucks outside the university's main auditorium.

Mount St. Joseph University is in Delhi Township, a community of 30,000 residents 15 minutes west of downtown Cincinnati. And while Hamilton County voters chose Biden 57% to Trump's 41%, it was a different story in Delhi Township, which opted for Trump by a margin of 67% to 31%.

Auditor Dusty Rhodes, a Democrat and Catholic from Delhi, agreed with Right to Life in social media posts. He called Biden the “most pro-abortion president we’ve ever had.”

He said Catholic nuns agreeing to host him is “unconscionable.”

“For the Sisters of Charity, an alleged Catholic order, to allow him to use their facilities is just sending all the wrong signals,” Rhodes said.

Contributing: USA Today, Jackie Borchardt, Associated Press