Joe Biden, the second-ever Catholic U.S. president, was greeted on his Inauguration Day with contrasting messages from his church: A warm blessing from Pope Francis — and a statement by the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops saying that Biden “will advance moral evils,” including contraception, abortion and same-sex marriage.

The statement by Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez immediately set off a debate among the dozens of U.S. bishops, who, like U.S. Catholics, are bitterly divided on the direction of their extensive denomination and its entanglement with partisan politics. Those divisions are coming to a head in the figure of Biden, who makes it clear with his weekly churchgoing, his frequent references to Catholic teachings and culture, and his use of Catholic symbols that he will not accept the view of conservative Catholics that he is not part of the church.

Wednesday’s dispute over how to contend with the new president included dueling comments from leading bishops.

“In a time of growing and aggressive secularism in American culture, when religious believers face many challenges, it will be refreshing to engage with a President who clearly understands, in a deep and personal way, the importance of religious faith and institutions,” Gomez wrote in his statement. At the same time, he added, “I must point out that our new President has pledged to pursue certain policies that would advance moral evils and threaten human life and dignity, most seriously in the areas of abortion, contraception, marriage, and gender. Of deep concern is the liberty of the Church and the freedom of believers to live according to their consciences.”

Gomez called “the continued injustice of abortion” a “preeminent priority.”

Within hours, Cardinal Blase J. Cupich, the archbishop of Chicago and an ally of Francis, issued a sharp rebuke to Gomez and his supporters in putting together the statement.

“Today, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued an ill-considered statement on the day of President Biden’s inauguration. Aside from the fact that there is seemingly no precedent for doing so, the statement, critical of President Biden came as a surprise to many bishops, who received it just hours before it was released,” Cupich wrote, challenging the idea that Gomez’s words were endorsed by or represent U.S. bishops. “The internal institutional failures involved must be addressed, and I look forward to contributing to all efforts to that end, so that, inspired by the Gospel, we can build up the unity of the Church, and together take up the work of healing our nation in this moment of crisis.”

USCCB statements about previous presidential elections and inaugurations took a more positive and collaborative tone. In 2016, the conference put out a statement congratulating Donald Trump, saying it “looks forward to working with President-elect Trump to protect human life from its most vulnerable beginning to its natural end.”

A request for comment from Gomez was directed to the USCCB.

Other bishops put out more subtle rebukes of Gomez.

San Diego Bishop Robert W. McElroy said he was “echoing Pope Francis’ message to President Biden and calling for dialogue, not judgment; collaboration, not isolation; truth in charity, not harshness. … It is a pathway of reconciliation that places the healing of our society ahead of any specific policy issue, in the recognition that repairing the soul of our country is the pre-requisite for any sustainable effort to advance the common good. … Most importantly of all, Pope Francis’ message to President Biden fundamentally speaks to him in his humanity, a man of Catholic faith striving to serve his nation and his God.”

Hours earlier, Biden attended Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, a soaring cathedral in downtown Washington and one of several where Biden attended Mass as vice president. It is also where the funeral for the first Catholic U.S. president, John F. Kennedy, was held. There, Biden heard a homily by the Rev. Kevin O’Brien, a friend and former official at Georgetown University who heads Santa Clara University.

“My deepest prayer for you today, as a priest, citizen and friend, is that you always remember that the Lord is near and no matter the sound and fury around you, that God wants to give you peace, a deep-seated peace that will sustain you. Let all of us hear the good news today: The Lord is near, so no need to worry or to be afraid,” O’Brien said during the Mass.

Biden also received a message Wednesday from the pope.

“Under your leadership, may the American people continue to draw strength from the lofty political, ethical and religious values that have inspired the nation since its founding,” said Francis, who had called Biden on Nov. 12 to offer his congratulations and to discuss working together on issues including poverty, climate change and integrating immigrants and refugees.

Like Biden, Francis focuses on Catholicism’s broad call for the disenfranchised and suffering, and less on Catholic doctrine about topics such as abortion, gender identity and sexuality. Biden’s Catholic image has angered many U.S. bishops, who last year created a special committee in response to the reality of a Catholic U.S. president who supports abortion rights and same-sex marriage.

The chairman of that group, Detroit Archbishop Allen Henry Vigneron, on Wednesday directed questions back to the USCCB.

Thursday morning, the USCCB put out four statements — an unusually busy morning for the Conference — praising actions Biden took the day before, including lifting the Muslim ban, and fortifying the “Dreamers” program that allows young immigrants to stay in the U.S. for work and school.