Recently, Catholics in the United States of America were awarded a new patron saint. No, it is not Father Michael McGivney, founder of the Knights of Columbus, nor is it the heroic World War II chaplain, Father Emil Kapaun. America’s new patron saint will be President Joseph Biden. Mr. Biden has made no attempt to obscure his Catholic heritage. There are news clips of him coming out of his parish church after Sunday Mass. He is said to carry rosary beads in his pants pocket. Mr. and Mrs. Biden were married by a Catholic priest at the chapel of the United Nations in New York.
Whether Mr. Biden is a good Catholic is only the Lord’s to know, but he is indeed a practicing Catholic as the media have made abundantly clear. Certainly, there are going to be times when Mr. Biden’s executive conduct is in great accord with much Catholic teaching. Mr. Biden’s attitude toward the environment and toward immigration seems to be in great agreement with the thinking of Pope Francis on these contemporary issues. Mr. Biden’s post-election call for national unity was almost simultaneous with Pope Francis’ issuance of “Tutti Fratelli,” a Papal plea for international fraternity. So Mr. Biden’s church attendance and Mr. Biden’s liberal bent on social issues will no doubt endear him to many Catholics and to a number of socially conscious people in general. He will no doubt set a fine Catholic example in certain worthy areas. People will be influenced by his example. He will be a Catholic role model, a new patron saint, as it were.
Alas, Mr. Biden’s views and Mr. Biden’s conduct in a number of other areas have departed greatly from traditional Catholic values. Mr. Biden is boldly pro-abortion. In 2019, he reversed his former support of the Hyde amendment which prevented federal funds for foreign abortions. Mr. Biden has great sympathy for so called same-sex marriage, presiding himself at the so-called marriage in 2016 of two of his male office clerks in Washington. More recently, in 2020, Mr. Biden kindly opined that children who have determined their own sexual re-orientation should be spared any discrimination. And let’s not forget that Mr. Biden was part of an administration that aggressively challenged the Little Sisters of the Poor to include contraceptives in employees’ work contracts.
Mr. Biden’s obvious and, I suspect, somewhat sincere practice of the Catholic faith and his earnest inclinations toward issues in accord with recent Papal directives might lead some Catholics to grant Mr. Biden’s less orthodox stands on other moral issues the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps there are two sides to every story; perhaps there are legal and medical concerns that alter circumstances; perhaps as president Mr. Biden knows more than the average voter: “Who are we to judge?”
Law Professor Helen Alvare in a recent article observed that supporters of particular federal programs and of the current sexual expression regime — politicians, political parties, the media and interest groups — will not fail to use Mr. Biden’s self-professed Catholicism to their advantage. Over these next four years, she insists, Catholic voices will have to be particularly articulate in all public discussions. She warns that the alternative is to allow the Oval Office to set the standard for what it means to be a good, practicing Catholic in modern America.
Our own ordinary, Bishop Thomas J. Tobin, has openly expressed great misgivings with the example Mr. Biden has set as a Catholic in public life. The archbishop emeritus of Philadelphia recently wrote in the magazine First Things: “By his actions during the course of his public life, Mr. Biden has demonstrated that he is not in full communion with the Catholic Church.” On the other hand, the Cardinal Archbishop of Washington was much more reserved in his estimation of Mr. Biden’s Catholicism, viewing the public reception of Communion by any dissenting Catholic as a personal rather than pastoral question.
Miss Alvare is correct, of course. Mr. Biden’s wearing of his Catholicism on his sleeve is bound to cause confusion. Louder and sharper Catholic voices must be raised in defense of the true faith. In this Sunday’s Gospel, the crowds are amazed at Jesus’ firmness: “All were amazed and asked one another, “What is this? A new teaching with authority.” The Catholic Church in America must speak with equal Divine authority for the instruction and perhaps amazement of today’s Catholic community.
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