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  • Reverend James Squire

A Catholic in the White House



Former Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput has recently said in the Inquirer (December 8) that President Elect Joe Biden should not be given the sacrament of Holy Eucharist because he is a Catholic who supports abortion. Chaput goes on to say that Biden is not in full communion with the Catholic faith.


Biden is the second Catholic president in the nation’s history. John F. Kennedy was the first. People may have forgotten the anti-Catholic bias that has existed in our nation and was evident when Kennedy was running against Richard Nixon in the 60(s). The fear expressed overtly was that the Pope would be running the nation. Nixon said that he would not make religion part of his campaign but secretly encouraged Norman Vincent Peale, a prominent Protestant clergyman who authored The Power of Positive Thinking, to a make religion an issue in the campaign. Peale stated: “Our American culture is at stake. I don’t say it won’t survive, but it won’t be what is was.” He was quickly joined in this effort by Billy Graham and the Evangelical Christian Community.


It was the harassment of Baptists in Virginia that led Jefferson to include the language for a separation of Church and State as he laid the foundation for our government. This was one of Kennedy’s points when he addressed the Greater Houston Ministerial Association where he made the now famous statement that “I am not the Catholic candidate for President. I am the Democratic Party’s candidate for President who happens to also be Catholic.” He went on to use the “slippery slope” ethical argument that if there is prejudice against his Catholicism, this could be opening a door to prejudice against such candidates who were Baptists, Quakers, Jews, and other faiths.


Let’s take a look at this issue through an ethical lens rather than a political one. What Chaput is doing is taking a “single issue ethical approach”. He is not alone in taking this view as many Conservative Christians have stated a similar view. For example, what if all of Chaput’s leadership of his archdiocese was judged on his complete failure and coverup of the sexual abuse scandal of his clergy? There were other aspects of his ministry that were noteworthy that should be part of his legacy.


Conservative Christians have supported President Trump focusing as well on his position against abortion which was not always his view but recently was politically expedient. They ignore one of the core doctrines of Christianity that is “When did we see you Lord?” The answer is, “When you have done service to the least of these, you have done it to me.” found in Matthew’s Gospel. I really don’t think that anyone can justify President Trump’s abrasive nature, bad language, constant assaults on others (particularly women), and moral lapses too numerous to mention. We have to look at the whole picture of anyone who is running for the Office of President. Most of the analysis of why Trump lost to Biden was not only his policies but more so his behavior.


There is a cultural ethical issue here as well. 76% of Catholics today feel that abortion should be a choice. I grew up in a working class town where we had three Catholic churches, one for the Irish, one for the Polish, and one for the Italians. I was in a unique position then and now to look at this issue of a Catholic President for half of my family was Protestant and the other half Catholic. The only time that religion came into play, however, was when on Thanksgiving Day the public school where I attended played the parochial school where some of my relatives attended. The tension wasn’t really about religion as much as it was about bragging rights at the dinner table that followed the game.


My neighborhood was mostly Roman Catholic and therefore so were my friends. I was Episcopalian so my Catholic friends would refer to me as a “second stringer”. When a hard fought basketball game was being played on a late Saturday afternoon, there was a time out so that the Catholic guys could go to confession. I don’t know what good the confession did as they returned with even sharper elbows.


There are some things that are bigger than religion for kids like a common intense football game. Later in life when I was asked to be on the altar for the burial office of the father of one of my students, the five Catholic priests present wouldn’t talk to me when I arrived until they learned that I was on the same football field as the leader of the group for that Thanksgiving Football Game. We became instant great friends.


When you have an intense shared experience with someone, other things go by the wayside. The American people shared in the President elect’s experience from his upbringing, compassion, soulfulness, loss of his son, and that he would be an American President not a Democratic President.


Abortion is a critical ethical issue in America. There are different positions. Catholicism has the system that believes in Natural Law which is for a natural continuum. There can be no abortion, no contraception, no mercy killing, and no capital punishment. Do nothing that interferes with the natural flow. Sanctity of life includes the sanctity of providing for a child once they are born. We can’t forget that second part.


There is an ethical position referred to as Via Media, the middle way, which states that abortion is “wrong but necessary”. The Women’s choice position is based in the theory of John Locke and “his primacy of property” ethical position where the woman’s body is her primary property and she should have the right to decide about anything related to her body. The Jewish Ethical view is based in the “Law of the Pursuer” where the fetus is seen as a possible threat to the psychological or physical health of the mother.


I think that everyone should know these above mentioned ethical positions and WHY people adhere to certain ideas about abortion. Many of the essential ethical issues are focused on the issue of abortion which it at the heart of much ethical debate. That is why there is such intense feelings about it.


Since I started with Archbishop Chaput’s statement, I would like to close with words from the present Philadelphia Archbishop, Nelson Perez. He did not immediately respond for requests for comment about Biden and communion. He previously told the Inquirer in a statement, “I pray God may grant President Elect Biden the wisdom necessary to govern in a manner that promotes liberty and justice for all as well as respect for the dignity and sacredness of life.”


Referring back to Archbishop Chaput’s comment, there is a great irony here. Joe Biden could be an example of what it means to be a “practicing Catholic”. He is regular in his church attendance. He sometimes carries with him the rosary beads of his son, Beau, who died in 2015. I doubt that there are very many politicians who do the same.


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