There are many Catholics bashing former Vice President Biden as election day draws near, including members of church hierarchy. Perhaps it is simply an effort to even the playing field where the left-leaning media monopoly has been bashing President Trump most days. But more likely, it is merely because Catholics want fellow-Catholics to show a public persona that represents our faith with integrity. Though many admit that the former vice-president stands strong on some tenants of Catholicism, from issues of immigration to health care to the environment, they are more concerned about the preeminent sanctity of life issues that he does not defend publicly, even if he may honor them personally.
When JFK was elected president sixty years ago, the Catholic community was very proud that one of our own had risen to such an exalted status in our nation. But that was long before the 24-hour news channels, paparazzi, social media, sex scandals, and constant political punditry. The moral behavior he and other family members displayed gradually caused Catholics to distance themselves from the Kennedys and other Catholic politicians who do not carry basic principles of our religion into their public service or their private relationships–which always eventually become public. Even as Joe Biden gets hammered by fellow Catholics as weak or hypocritical, they admit that he is an amiable and nice guy, saying, “At least he’s not as bad as the Kennedys.” Or more poignantly, they compare his personality to the incumbent’s crude, brash, arrogant, and often mean-spirited style, and say, “At least he’s not Trump.”
Someone recently accused me of adhering to only about 85-90% of church’s teachings and pronouncements; as I received the assessment, I thought 87½% acceptance is not bad. It’s true that I don’t agree with everything the church puts out. By way of examples, I recall that Cardinal William Baum, when serving as a priest in Kansas City, challenged a certain prayer in the Mass as being heretical. It essentially stated that we are to make up for whatever was lacking in the sufferings of Christ. Of course, nothing was lacking in the suffering that Christ endured for us. Yet that prayer remains in our Mass lexicon. The church sacramentalizes priesthood (holy orders) and marriage (holy matrimony) but doesn’t include equally important vocational choices (single, religious, vowed life…) as being sacraments. To me, that is not right. There have been some horrible pronouncements made by bishops and other ecclesiastics that have denigrated women, endangered children, or ostracized minorities. For many people, we are viewed as the “Church of No” because of all the people we have cast out or who have felt discarded by us. There are a million things I agree with in the church and a hundred things that I believe have room for improvement; it seems to me that 87½% is about what any logical, faithful, critically thinking person ought to hold.
I mention this because leaders instruct us that, when voting, we (Catholics) need to think with the church. I agree. But even more, we need to think with God, for the church is not always right—and there is much in history to prove it. I am saddened that the democratic party, which so many Catholics grew up in, has failed to uphold the values we dearly treasure. Like most Americans, I am also saddened by the vitriol of election time and the fact that many rich and powerful influencers tilt political decisions at other times when the voices of the lowly are not heard. I fear that our nation is losing moral ground and is content to accept a downward spiral of civility resulting in disrespect for human persons. Biden and Trump are not villains; but they are the faces of what we have become. Fortunately, the American spirit has a history of rising from the ashes of despair or defeat. I pray that we, as Catholics, will also allow the Holy Spirit to rise and guide us to not only hold fellow Catholics, but all people, starting with ourselves, accountable to uphold sanctity of life issues; and I pray that we will think not just with the church but with God.