It is our constitutional right to judge every candidate and their ability to hold office based on their actions and proposed policies. In that process, we are allowed to use our faith to inform these decisions and to cast our votes in support or in defense of those who may conflict or comply with aspects of our faith. However, judging the validity of the candidate’s faith and their adherence to its tenets is un-American.
The loudest voices from the right have tagged the phrase “Catholic in name only” onto our current president and other Catholic Democrats.
Over the past four years, many American christians have religiously exalted former President Donald Trump to a pedestal, sometimes viewing his authority as God-given. It was white Catholics that gave him a seven-point edge among Catholics overall in the 2016 election. Maybe it was his weaponization of religious nationalism that spurred the Catholic rallying cry, but still, I wonder why he is regarded as a “better” Catholic than President Joe Biden. Not to mention, you do know that Trump is Protestant, right?
The man who had peaceful protesters and clergy driven away with concussion grenades, tear-gas and police in riot gear outside St. John’s Church for a photo is not the savior of our country. Never mind the fact Trump is ignorant to Catholic teachings on maintaining the Earth, aiding the poor and welcoming immigrants (to name a few).
Whether or not you believe Biden was sent from God to be our president, he is a practicing believer of the Catholic faith, and this is something we are not entitled to diminish. Rosary beads peek out of his pocket in the Oval Office and his seat in the pew is filled each Sunday, yet many bishops and laypeople alike have turned a blind eye and instead denied him communion.
No, Biden is not just “Catholic in Name Only,” and therefore he should not have to add proving his faith to his task list alongside ending a global pandemic and addressing climate change. Religion is non-measurable, for we as temporal humans are not the judge.
The church, with its moral authority suffering due to its pervasive presence of clerical sexual abuse cases, still has the opportunity to once again rejoin national affairs with a Catholic president as their figurehead. As only the second Catholic president in history, Biden’s culmination in political prominence allows for his Catholicism to be placed at the forefront, and for that, the faithful should be hopeful rather than divisive. Yet, this push for religious and political unity will prove to be a difficult attempt at reconciliation.
No matter if he is caught in prayer or signing an executive order, the conservatives have placed a mark on Biden and his spirituality — a mark that appears to be permanent. Marjorie Dannenfelser, Catholic activist and president of the Susan B. Anthony List states, “The church itself has not changed in its view, ever, on the dignity of human life and the need for its protection” and “[Biden] can’t bring the Catholic church along with him because of his political needs.”
In contrast, Cardinal Joseph Tobin told a forum that “a person in good conscience could vote for Mr. Biden,” and that he would have a harder time voting for Trump. The question is not which religious representative we should believe, for there is no question that Biden is a man of faith and, according to the catechism of the Catholic Church, a rightful receiver of the sacraments due to his baptism. Although Biden’s view on abortion has changed over the years, what remains true is that his beliefs regarding the right to life cannot be imposed on all of his constituents, for it is his duty as president to uphold and defend the constitution of the United States — not his religious dogma.
On inauguration day, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops reaffirmed the church’s view of Biden, citing Biden’s “piety” as evidence. However, they also did express “deep concern” about his potential political initiatives that “would advance moral evils.”
Again, what many need to understand is that the maintenance of faith is not in the job description of the highest office in our country. But to give peace of mind, Biden’s policy is not inherently sinful to those who wish for policy to be combined with the church’s moral code. I urge Catholic readers to have an open mind and an open heart as the Bible instructs us, for believers in the faith can also believe that our fellow follower has grace and mercy shaped in his policies. Already, the Biden administration has prepared to reverse the Mexico City Policy, which prevents U.S. funding for abortions in other countries, as the policy was found to increase the abortion rate in some countries due to its reduced access to contraception. With this policy initiative only being a small example of how our president intends to improve our nation and our world, please set down your verbal weapons and Bible quotes and research his policy proposals instead.
Biden is not alone in his inability to gain validation by religious leaders and defenders of the faith. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Ca., Justice Amy Coney Barrett and U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., are three fellow Catholics holding office. Just the mentioning of these three names in one sentence reveals that the church is just as divided as the nation, for out of that list, only Coney Barrett is referred to as a true Catholic versus a “Catholic in name only.”
This wrongly casted name has infiltrated every political race since Roe v. Wade, creating Catholic archetypes: the “social justice” Catholic and the “pro-life” Catholic. Biden is seeking to restore the soul of the nation, yet it is American Catholics that are seeking to restore the soul of the church, allowing for this issue to turn vicious rather than virtuous. There should be no archetypes within one faith.
In this process of healing that our nation is set to undergo in the next four years, recognize that Biden’s faith is non-debatable, non-editable and non-refutable. We are not entitled to cast our vote on whether or not he is a rightful member of the church. In his own words, the American people, regardless of color, orientation or religion, possess “a calling to serve, not to be served. A calling toward justice, healing, hope — not hate. To speak the good news, and followed by some good deeds. It’s not just enough to speak the good news, but good deeds.”
It is words like these that show healing can extend far beyond a one-sided confessional and that the American people are open to the challenge. You can choose not to like him — it is your constitutional right. What you cannot choose is determining the validity of his faith. Biden is not just a “Catholic in name only.”
Julia Maloney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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