Joe Biden supposedly will attract Catholics to the Democratic ticket, but not if he follows Pope Nancy Pelosi for doctrinal guidance. In a profile of Biden for the Christian Science Monitor, Biden credits his Catholicism for his focus on “abuse of power”, but shrugs off the abortion debate as a minor controversy. He even goes on to tell Gail Russell Chaddock that his views on social issues fall completely within Catholic doctrine:
“The animating principle of my faith, as taught to me by church and home, was that the cardinal sin was abuse of power,” he said in an interview with the Monitor. “It was not only required as a good Catholic to abhor and avoid abuse of power, but to do something to end that abuse.”
The issues that have most engaged Biden in public life draw on those teachings, from halting violence against women to genocide. At a personal level, his faith provides him peace, he says. “I get comfort from carrying my rosary, going to mass every Sunday. It’s my time alone,” he says.
But the interface of faith and policy has long been problematic for Catholic presidential hopefuls. Governor Smith faced withering criticism over whether Catholic politicians are obliged by their church to take policy orders from Rome. John F. Kennedy famously disavowed “outside religious pressures or dictates,” swept the Catholic vote, and won the presidency. By the time another J.F.K. from Massachusetts ran for president in 2004, the ground had shifted. Sen. John F. Kerry lost the Catholic vote because many of his faith questioned whether he was Catholic enough, given his strong support for abortion rights.
But Biden believes he can bridge much of that divide. “My views are totally consistent with Catholic social doctrine,” says Biden, a six-term Democratic senator from Delaware. “There are elements within the church who say that if you are at odds with any of the teachings of the church, you are at odds with the church. I think the church is bigger than that.”
Once again, Biden can indulge himself in whatever self-deception he desires, but he should check with his priest before essentially lying about the doctrine of the Church. Joe Biden is a self-professed pro-choice politician, and his record demonstrates it. He received a 100% rating from NARAL in 2006, 2005, 2004, and a 75% in 2007. He got zeroes from the National Right to Life committee in 2005-6 and 2001-2, getting a 17% in 2003-4. NARAL enthusiastically endorsed Biden this week for the Democratic ticket.
The Catholic Church is very, very clear about the issue of abortion, and it rises to the level of doctrine, not just opinion. In fact, a reading of paragraph 2272 of the catechism will demonstrate just how fundamental the issue of abortion is for the Catholic Church:
Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life. “A person who procures a completed abortion incurs excommunication latae sententiae,” “by the very commission of the offense,” and subject to the conditions provided by Canon Law. The Church does not thereby intend to restrict the scope of mercy. Rather, she makes clear the gravity of the crime committed, the irreparable harm done to the innocent who is put to death, as well as to the parents and the whole of society.
This means that anyone who formally cooperates in abortion places themselves in a state of excommunication with the church, not the other way around. The Catholic Church considers the sacred nature of human life and its relationship with the Creator so basic that one cannot facilitate abortions (ie, through legalizing and subsidizing them) and remain in communion with the Church.
The church finds this so important that the catechism — the compendium of Catholic doctrine available for anyone to peruse and educate themselves — makes this clear in three different places. In paragraph 2271, the doctrine of the Church notes “the moral evil of every procured abortion”. In paragraph 2322, abortion is called a “criminal” practice and reaffirms that every child has the right to life at conception.
This isn’t just “any teaching” of the Church. The catechism makes plain that this is fundamental doctrine, and that failure to abide by it makes one a de facto ex-Catholic.
Ironically, Biden rather presumptuously infers that his critics on this issue are just ignorant:
“There are those who say that Catholics should be robots: There’s a formula, and if we don’t follow that formula, we shouldn’t present ourselves for communion on Sunday morning, says Chris Korzen, executive director of Catholics United. “That’s an absolute misuse of Catholic teaching,” he says, referring to the call of several Catholic bishops in the 2004 campaign to deny communion to Senator Kerry and other Catholic politicians who did not vote in line with Vatican teachings on abortion.
Without taking a position on how Catholics should vote, Biden makes a case for staying connected to the church and its culture. “If I were an ordained priest, I’d be taking some issue with some of the more narrow interpretations of the Gospel being taken now,” Biden says. “But my church is more than 2,000 years old. There’s always been a tug of war among prelates and informed lay members.”
Abortion-rights advocates have used the gestalt argument for decades as a diversion. I addressed this in an earlier post:
Issues of [e]conomic fairness do appear in the Catholic catechism, although only in general terms. The teachings do not prescribe a certainty of policy as Catholic or un-Catholic. Paragraphs 1938, 1941, and 1947 emphasize the need for action by Catholics to reduce sinful inequalities between the rich and the poor, but generally casts this in rather stark terms, with little resemblance to the quality of life of those deemed poor in the US:
- 43% of the poor own their homes, and the average home is a three-bedroom house with a garage and 1.5 bathrooms
- Over two-thirds of households have two rooms per occupant, which belies the notion of overcrowding
- 80% of the poor have air conditioning
- Almost 75% own one car; 31% own two or more
- The average living space for the American poor is larger than the average space for all people in Paris, Vienna, and London, among other cities in Europe
Furthermore, the catechism talks mostly about personal work to resolve sinful inequalities, not the establishment of a government mandate that operates under a redistributionist policy. It doesn’t forbid it, either, and that’s really the point. Both [political] parties want to help Americans live well, but have different philosophies on how to get there. Voters in general should support the candidate who best represents their own approach to these issues, but that has nothing to do with Catholicism.
The Church calls us to action on social issues, but for the most part does not endorse or proscribe specific policies. Wide ranges of choices, from free markets to hard-socialist systems, can exist within Catholic theology. Faith can inform these choices in different ways.
However, abortion gets treated very differently in the Church. The teachings on this point are absolute: abortion is a grave and mortal sin, and excommunication happens automatically when an abortion is either procured or formally facilitated by a Catholic. All social issues are not equal in that sense, and the attempt to reduce the fundamental nature of Catholic doctrine on this point to a matter of ambiguous policy is dishonest in the extreme.
Biden either exposes his ignorance or his dishonesty when he claims that his pro-choice record falls completely within the doctrine of the Catholic Church. Like Nancy Pelosi, he either needs to learn Catholic doctrine or find a church which fits his perspective.
Addendum: Just to anticipate an argument that arose in earlier threads, the Catholic Church also opposes contraception, at least artificial methods of contraception. That gets two mentions in the catechism, paragraphs 2370 and 2399. Note, though, that the Church does not apply excommunication as a latae sententiae consequence of using contraception, and in fact never mentions a penalty at all, other than being in sin. That demonstrates the seriousness with which the Church takes abortion; it considers it a form of murder.
Update: I forgot to hat-tip Insight Scoop for the article.