Catholic leaders react to Biden pick; Bishops say he should refrain from Communion
The selection of Sen. Joseph Biden as Barack Obama’s running mate is drawing a chorus of disapproval from Catholic intellectual and pro-life leaders because of Biden’s longstanding support for abortion.
Most recently, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver has said that Biden should refrain from Communion.
Over the weekend, CNA spoke with several prominent Catholics regarding Biden’s nomination for the Democratic vice-presidential slot.
The well-known Catholic intellectual and author George Weigel explained to CNA that Obama’s choice was expected. “Barack Obama is a pro-abortion radical, so there's nothing surprising about his choosing a pro-abortion running mate,” said Weigel.
According to Weigel, an Obama-Biden ticket is “deeply disturbing” because “neither Senator Obama nor Senator Biden seems to have taken Catholic arguments about the first principles of justice seriously.” (I suspect both Biden and Obama have taken the Catholic position an abortion very seriously, they just don't agree with it.)
“The Church's pro-life position is not ‘sectarian;’ it can be engaged by anyone willing to work through a serious philosophical argument,” Weigel asserted. “Neither Obama nor Biden seems willing to do that -- which casts a rather large shadow over their claims to be the ticket of thoughtfulness and intellectual seriousness.” (Sounds like one can only be thoughtful and intellectual when they agree with Weigel.)
Weigel predicts that the choice of Biden will present the public with the sight of "‘Catholics for Obama’ tying themselves into even tighter theological pretzels, as they try to justify a vote for what seems likely to be the most radically pro-abortion ticket in American history.” (I'm not nearly as worried about tying myself into a theological pretzel over abortion as I am the over all future of this country.)
Deal Hudson, a Catholic political analyst, commented to CNA that the selection of Sen. Biden by Obama “has underscored his abortion extremism.” On the other hand, the tapping of the senator from Delaware may have some positive implications for Obama as well, noted Hudson, who called him “an affable, veteran politician who is unlikely to repeat the 2004 mistakes of Sen. John Kerry by overselling his ‘Catholic’ credentials.”
Fr. Frank Pavone, the head of Priests for Life, took a broader view of Barack Obama’s vice presidential selection, calling it “a wake-up call to the Church (clergy and laity alike).”
Among the steps that the Church needs to take, said Fr. Pavone, are: to “improve the way we hand on the Faith, be willing to exercise the spiritual work of mercy of admonishing the sinner, and to keep politically active so that such people are voted out of office.” (Personally I hope the Church keeps up with the 'spiritual work of mercy of admonishing the sinner'. The more the bishops do this the more their hypocrisy and power agenda is there for all to see.)
Politicians, Fr. Pavone underscored, are engaged in publicly expressing “their support for keeping abortion legal” while at the same time consistently refusing to admit what abortion is. He added, “if a politician cannot respect the life of a little baby, how is he supposed to respect yours and mine?” (It's entirely possible that some politicians are making a distinction between potential life, and actual life; and have decided actual life should take precedence over potential life.)
Austin Ruse, the head of the Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute, reacted to the news of Sen. Biden’s selection by saying, “The Democrats are slapping faithful Catholics right in the face. First, they will nominate the most pro-abortion candidate in history. Then they refuse to invite the beloved Archbishop of Denver even to offer a prayer at their convention. And now they nominate a pro-abortion Catholic as vice-president. Only self-hating Catholics could vote for this ticket.” (That's an interesting statement. I didn't know a Catholic who had concerns for more than one issue was involved in self hate. Glad that was cleared up for me. I'll have to work on my self hate.)
The president of the national Catholic advocacy group Fidelis, Brian Burch, interpreted the Biden pick as having “re-opened a wound among American Catholics.” He added that, “the American bishops have made clear that Catholic political leaders must defend the dignity of every human person, including the unborn. Sadly, Joe Biden's tenure in the United States Senate has been marked by steadfast support for legal abortion." (Maybe it was only a steadfast support for a woman's right to choose. Kind of like McCain's steadfast support to send troops to Iraq who had no choice--like Biden's son.)
Burch also highlighted the fact that, “Biden's own bishop, Bishop Michael Saltarelli of Wilmington, Del., has said that the issues pertaining to the sanctity of human life are the ‘great civil rights issues of this generation’.”
Bishop Saltarelli denounced the notion that politicians can 'personally oppose' abortion, but refuse to pass laws protecting the unborn. In fact, Bishop Saltarelli has made clear that pro-abortion Catholic politicians should refrain from receiving the Eucharist. (This is another interesting intellectual challenge. Why isn't it extended to Catholic politicians who personally oppose the death penalty or the Iraq war and then vote for them anyway?)
On Monday morning in Denver, where the Democratic National Convention is underway, Archbishop Charles Chaput told the Associated Press that because of support for abortion, Biden should refrain from taking Communion.
During his tenure in the senate, Joe Biden has voted numerous times in support of abortion and has characterized himself as a strong supporter of Roe v. Wade.
Biden also revealed at a Democratic presidential primary debate in Las Vegas last November that his criteria for selecting nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court would include a pro-Roe test.
“I would not appoint anyone who did not understand that Section 5 of the 14th Amendment and the Liberty Clause of the 14th Amendment provided a right to privacy,” Biden said. “That's the question I'd ask them. If that is answered correctly, that that is the case, then it answers the question, which means they would support Roe v. Wade."
Personally I think Barak Obama made a great choice in Senator Biden. Rather than seeing Biden's selection for VP as a slap in the face to Catholics, I tend to see it as a statement to Catholic Bishops. If the Democrats really felt the bishops had as much power as the bishops think they do, the democrats would never have selected Joe Biden. I suspect Obama understands that deep down inside most Catholics will start really thinking of who they want as president when they are at the gas station. The hope must be that they will start asking questions like "what kind of future are we really bequeathing to the unborn when our country is on the brink of an ecological and economic melt down."
If the issue is about potential life and protecting it, one would think the first and foremost priority should be about leaving a potential future in which to nurture that life. Unfortunately the pro life movement seems to be very strong on opposing Roe v Wade and very weak on providing any kind of environment for that potential life when it becomes actual life. Future and potential thinking is so much easier than dealing with actual reality. Dealing with actual reality is never so black and white as the fantasy thinking about potential and futures.
Catholic ethicist Christine Gudorf wrote a succinct and insightful piece back in 1988 about the Hierarchy and it's 'consistent life ethic'. She stated that while the Vatican uses an ABSOLUTIST version of Natural Law when it comes to abortion and birth control, calling both intrinsically evil and brooking no discussion; when it comes to matters of war, it shifts to a CONSEQUENCE based ethic that carefully balances conflicting values and allows for discussion from many quarters. In matters of war the Vatican relies on persuasion, not legal sanctions, ultimately leaving the question to the minds of individual consciences.
Where as members of the hierarchy feel free to deny communion to pro choice politicians and even threaten excommunication, none has ever denied Communion to a pilot who has bombed innocent civilians, or a scientist who is engaged in nuclear armaments research, or an executioner who administered a lethal injection. Where as the Church has strongly pressed for criminal sanctions against women who have abortions and abortion providers--Ecuador is the prime example--the same bishops have been busy dodging criminal prosecution for pedophile clergy and waving the flag of patriotism for the war in Iraq.
Being the self hating Catholic I guess I am, I can't help but notice that the absolutist Natural Law positions are taken with women's issues and gay (effeminate) men. George Weigel is undoubtedly using Catholicism to promote the neo con agenda, but the bishops are underscoring their authority on the backs of women and gays.
Rosemary Ruetherford makes the point that this attempt to shore up their authority on issues pertaining to women and gays is really about a recidivist attempt to keep the male prerogative in the dominant position by forcing the submission of women to this male prerogative and their masculine definition of God. It's hard to dispute her contention when one looks at how deferential and wishy-washy the hierarchy is when it comes to issues of male power and choice, like war and economic exploitation. I guess this is why it's acceptable for men to pop Viagra but women can't pop birth control pills, amongst other issues separating the sexes in the minds of the bishops.
I pray that as this campaign gets into full swing, and more bishops come out swinging against Joe Biden, that Catholics take a real look at what this posturing is really about. It has nothing to do with the Good News, and everything to do with maintaining the position of women relative to men. The complementarity of the sexes is just spin for the submission of women to the function of their wombs, leaving men free to choose to kill the fruits of those wombs with highly suspect moral justifications for wars and economic exploitation. Kind of like what happened to the Fruit of Mary's womb. It's sad to think the Church which establishes it's moral authority on the teachings of Christ has apparently missed the point of those teachings. But then it's not really about Jesus at all, at it's core it's about using Jesus to maintain male power over self defined 'others'.
Hopefully, Obama and Biden may rerpesent a sign that this system of male dominance is finally changing. For millenia all it's given us is war, exploitation of one group at the expense of another, more war, domination of the many by the few, more war, huge levels of poverty, and more war. It really is time for a change before it's ecologically too late to make a difference.