Biden Could Redefine What It Means To Be ‘A Catholic In Good Standing.’Breaking News
tags: Catholic Church, John F. Kennedy, Joe Biden, abortion rights
Bishops have already created a working group to deal with the “difficult” situation of his presidency. Priests from Maryland to Fort Worth have preached that the president-elect isn’t even really a Catholic. But to many millions of Catholics who voted for him, Joe Biden and his focus on healing are a compassionate, Pope Francis-like model of their faith.
Catholics’ views on Biden seem to serve as a proxy for what kinds of Catholicism they think most urgently needs to be advanced. Should it be more focused on qualities like engagement and empathy or on purifying doctrine? Is it as interested in Catholic teachings on poverty, refugees and the environment as those on sexuality and reproduction, or should it continue to place abortion law above all?
“It’s potentially a game-changer in American politics,” said Kathleen Sprows Cummings, head of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism at the University of Notre Dame. When Biden has spoken in detail about his faith, he’s emphasized the values of welcome, decency and that the worst sin is the abuse of power. With those images in the White House, Cummings said, “there is a potential to expand our national conversation about faith in public life beyond the abortion question. When you look at the whole picture you see someone who is a person of faith in a way [President Donald] Trump is clearly not. Trump focuses on this world and on himself.”
To be sure, as America becomes increasingly secular, the impact of a public official’s faith in 2021 America is complex and more diffuse than in past generations. Biden is also not the first Catholic president, and follows Catholic Speakers of the House, Supreme Court justices, and celebrities like Stephen Colbert and Lady Gaga.
Indeed, the conditions and discussion around Biden’s election show how much has changed in the country since Kennedy ran in 1960. He famously had to appear before 600 clergy members — many Southern Baptist — and, in an effort to win their approval, had to explain his belief in an America “where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the pope” — and “in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.” In 2020, Biden had perhaps the most extensive faith-outreach operation of any Democratic presidential candidate ever.
Kennedy enjoyed rock star-like support among Catholics, winning 80 percent of their vote; Biden won Catholics by a narrow majority. While in the decades after 1960, Catholics of all political persuasions kept a photo of Kennedy on the wall, next to one of the pope, in 2020 nearly 2.4 million people have watched the Rev. Ed Meeks preach on YouTube an anti-Biden sermon called “Staring into the Abyss.” Meeks, of Christ the King parish in Towson, is among at least a dozen other U.S. priests who made news this fall with sermons challenging Biden’s Catholicism and saying his support of pandemic lockdowns and same-sex marriage are threatening to the American way of life.