Biden Expected to Cooperate with Pope over Climate, Refugees

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Saho Matsumoto poses for a photo in Nagoya.

The Yomiuri Shimbun asked Nagoya City University Prof. Saho Matsumoto for her thoughts on the incoming U.S. administration. The following is excerpted from the interview.

The Yomiuri Shimbun: Joe Biden will become the second Roman Catholic president of the United States since John F. Kennedy.

Matsumoto: Among Christian people in the United States, there was a time when Protestants went on the offensive against Roman Catholics by questioning who they would obey, the president or the pope. Kennedy did not make a point of his being Catholic, but Biden won the election this time by putting it at the forefront. It shows that things have changed in the United States.

While white people who are also Evangelical Protestants overwhelmingly supported Donald Trump, Roman Catholics, who comprise more than 20% of the U.S. population, were split down the middle. Yet Democratic candidates won more votes than last time, and even some white workers in the Rust Belt voted for Biden.

Within the Catholic bloc, Hispanic people hate socialism and retain conservative family values. The majority of them still support the Democrats, but Republican supporters are increasing. Since the Hispanic population is expected to increase, this shift deserves close attention.

In the long term, the United States is becoming more and more secular. Most nonreligious people support the Democrats. Still, it is not rare for people to be converted and find religion in the United States, so the rise in secularization will not necessarily be linear.

The Yomiuri Shimbun: What will become of the division in U.S. society under the Biden administration?

Matsumoto: It won’t necessarily come to an end. The status of Black people did not improve at all during the Obama administration. There’s a serious division over people’s sets of values in the United States. The Roman Catholic church is opposed to abortion, but Biden is one of those who tolerate it. Opinions among Catholics are divided over the issue.

The presence of U.S. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris is encouraging. She is a Protestant and goes to a Black Baptist church run by a disciple of Martin Luther King, Jr., who advocated the civil rights movement. There are high expectations that she will implement measures to improve the status of Black people while maintaining law and order.

The Yomiuri Shimbun: What do you expect of Biden’s diplomacy from the viewpoint of religion?

Matsumoto: Biden has personal contact with Pope Francis. The Pope is warning that climate change is bringing about social crises such as poverty. Biden is flying the banner of taking measures against climate change. He has also voiced his intention for the United States to return to the Paris Agreement. I think they will build a collaborative relationship, including on their handling of immigrant and refugee issues. In that sense, the Biden administration won’t become inward-looking.

Yet the Pope is conciliatory toward China. The Vatican, which has no diplomatic ties with China, is trying to get into China even by a millimeter and has extended the temporary deal with China on the appointment of Roman Catholic bishops in China.

The Democrats are fundamentally responsive to human rights. When rebuilding economic relations with China, the Biden administration will face questions on whether it can take a strict stance on human rights issues.

(Interview conducted by Yomiuri Shimbun Senior Writer Shigeru Ueda)

■ Saho Matsumoto

Matsumoto, 55, obtained a master’s degree at Keio University and a PhD at Britain’s Warwick University. She is a specialist in the history of international politics with a focus on religion and politics. Her publications include “Nekkyo suru ‘Kami no Kuni’ America” (America, the enthusiastic ‘country of God’) and “Vatican and Kokusai Seiji” (The Vatican and international politics). Her new book, “America no Shukyo Nationalism” (The religious nationalism of America), is scheduled to be released in February next year.

■ Pope Francis

Born in Argentina, he became the first South American to become the pope in 2013. He belongs to the Society of Jesus, which is historically keen on missionary activities in Asian countries. The Pope is known as a liberal in the Roman Catholic church and has expressed a view that the church should recognize a system that offers homosexual people more or less the same rights as married men and women.