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The Washington Post is displeased that Catholic bishops are even suggesting that Joe Biden, who never tires of flaunting his Catholicism, approaches his faith inconsistently with core Catholic doctrine, making it questionable whether he deserves to receive Communion. In a subtly dishonest article, it assures its readers that Biden is right and that it’s only conservatives, out of line with both Biden and Pope Francis, who are wrong. In fact, Biden has abandoned a core Church doctrine and should be willing to accept the consequence.
Matt Viser’s article opens by telling us that Biden is so darn Catholic he even wanted to become a priest. Even now, he’s just…well, so darn Catholic:
Biden is arguably the most observant president in decades, and his faith is a core part of his identity. He rarely misses Mass. He crosses himself in public. He quotes scripture, he cites hymns and he clutches rosary beads ahead of key decisions.
Only two paragraphs later, though, when discussing the bishops’ actions, Viser assures readers that Biden, despite his obsequious public observations “rarely discusses his Catholicism.” It’s apparent that, when you’re a young(ish), college “educated,” Democrat WaPo writer, you can hide behind Emerson’s statement that “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” That way, you don’t need to sweat the details in any article you write.
Viser frames the fundamental problem as one between the liberal and conservative sides of modern Catholicism:
The move puts Biden, who rarely discusses his Catholicism, at the center not only of a political fight between conservatives and liberals but also a church battle between traditionalists and reformers. In that sense he is aligned with Pope Francis as world-renowned liberal Catholics, a phenomenon that presents a challenge to traditionalists.
Biden has long looked up to Francis, who traditional Catholic priests consider too liberal.
The two men — an Argentine Jesuit and a Scranton-born pol — in some ways share similar philosophies, aligned on climate change, social change and economic disparities. Each is attempting to break with a more rigid predecessor in ways they believe are more inclusive, but which anger those who view the changes as too permissive.
The article has several more paragraphs intended to ensure that readers know that Biden is Catholic, unlike Trump who wasn’t really Christian at all but just pretended to be so for political reasons.
This is disingenuous. Why? Because the real issue, of course, is abortion, something Viser eventually gets around to discussing:
The debate among the U.S. bishops often views Biden’s faith through the lens of abortion rights, a topic that has been divisive for the church and problematic for Biden. During the 2012 vice-presidential debate with Republican nominee Paul Ryan, also a Catholic, Biden said he personally accepts the church’s position on abortion, “but I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews.”
But of course, the issue is not whether Biden is personally preventing pro-abortion people from having abortions, which is how and the WaPo frames it. Instead, Biden is aggressively promoting abortion. It is a core political stance for him.
Meanwhile, Biden’s alleged icon – Pope Francis – for all that many of his values seem more closely aligned with Marx than Paul or Jesus, has continued to insist that the value of fetal life is a core doctrinal stance for the Church.
A vast moral and intellectual chasm separates them so that they are polar opposites. Just as the Pope has no say over American politics (although he can give doctrinal and spiritual advice that the faithful apply to their politics), Biden doesn’t get to have a say in Church doctrine. If his political calculation calls for him to be ardently pro-abortion, that’s his right. However, he must then accept the strictures of his faith, one of which is that he no longer qualifies for Communion. Biden doesn’t get to eat his cake and have it simply by crossing himself whenever it’s convenient for him to do so.
Forty-five years ago, my Dutch mother took me to see a Dutch movie called Max Havelaar, based upon the famous (in Holland) book of the same name by Eduard Douwes Dekker, who wrote the book in 1860 under the nom de plume Multatuli. The book was a scathing attack on the cruelties of Holland’s colonial system in the Dutch East Indies. What I remember is that the movie opened with Sunday churchgoers mouthing platitudes about the brotherhood of man, only to leave church and, for profit, fiercely abuse the Indonesian people.
That movie reminds me that, just because people drape themselves in the trappings of faith, that doesn’t mean that the substance of faith has any meaning for them. To the extent that Biden actively promotes policies violating a core principle animating Catholicism, the bishops are right when they say his freely made choice should deprive him of one Catholicism’s core benefits. The WaPo, as always, is wrong.