ROME – When then-candidate John F. Kennedy gave his landmark speech at the Houston Ministerial Conference in September 1960, he stressed that he was “not the Catholic candidate for President” . Rather, he insisted: “I am the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate who also happens to be Catholic. I don’t speak for my church on public matters – and the church doesn’t speak for me.
Two months later, JFK was elected the first Catholic president of the United States, fearing that his presidency would be guided by the Vatican and Pope John XXIII and warning that he could compromise the separation of church and state – none of this happened. Sixty years later, Joe Biden is the second Catholic to win the presidency, and this time the criticism is not coming from outside the Catholic Church but from within, with conservative American Cardinal Raymond Burke leading the charge. , portraying Biden as an anti-Catholic unfit to lead.
In the months leading up to the election, Burke was on a campaign of his own, quitting for the three-time-married outgoing President Trump while pleading that Biden is “not a Catholic in good standing” over his views on abortion and birth control. Burke said Biden shouldn’t receive Communion at Catholic Mass and shouldn’t brag about his faith. “I don’t understand why Catholics who are involved in politics can’t get this right in their heads, but they should,” Burke told the Catholic Action for Faith and Family Association, for which Burke is a spiritual advisor, in an interview that was run by popular conservative Catholic website Lifesite. “If someone says, ‘I am a devout Catholic’ and at the same time promotes abortion, it gives the impression to others that it is okay for Catholics to support abortion. And of course, that is absolutely not acceptable. It never has been. Will never be.”
Biden isn’t Burke’s only target. He also condemned Pope Francis for his recent remarks on extending civil rights to same-sex couples. Burke, whose office did not respond to multiple requests for comment, accused Francis last month of inciting “error and confusion with words that do not correspond to the constant teachings of the Church.” , when the Pope commented in a documentary that he supported the legal rights. for gays. “To speak of a homosexual union, in the same sense as the conjugal union of married couples, is misleading, because there can be no such union.
The Pope did not respond directly to Burke’s criticisms of himself or the president-elect, but he called Biden on Friday to congratulate him. In a reading of the appeal, which was confirmed by the Holy See press office, the Biden-Harris transition team said that Biden “thanked His Holiness for his blessings and congratulations and noted his appreciation for the leadership of His Holiness in promoting peace, reconciliation and the common bonds of humanity throughout the world. The two then discussed common interests, including “caring for the marginalized and the poor, tackling the climate change crisis and welcoming and integrating immigrants and refugees into our communities”.
The difference between the Pope’s reaction to Trump and Biden could not be more striking with the Pope and Trump clashing repeatedly. In February 2016, Francis said anyone who wanted to build walls was “not Christian” when asked about the southern border wall between the United States and Mexico. Francois also criticized Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement and expressed concern over when Trump reversed President Obama’s decision to restore trade and travel with Cuba. .
Steven Millies, associate professor of public theology and director of the Bernardin Center, Catholic Theological Union, has studied Catholicism in the American political spectrum for 30 years. He points to other emerging Catholics in the Democratic Party, including Julián Castro, Ted Lieu and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, as beacons of light. He says Biden’s presidency provides a moment of “opportunity to promote the diversity of Catholic social education rather than seeing it through the preeminent and unique prism of abortion.”
To be clear, Francis is not a supporter of abortion, and it may be this question that divides the two if Biden takes decisive action to protect women’s reproductive rights, although it is already clear that Francis has more tolerance for Biden than Catholics like Burke.
Millies says the church today under Pope Francis is not the same as it was under Pope John XXIII when the first Catholic president was sworn in six decades ago. “The Catholic Church today is very different from the one to which JFK belonged,” he says. “The church is more diverse, but it is also shrinking rapidly. And, more and more, the Catholic Church is a body at war with itself. Biden is a different kind of Catholic at the moment. In short, Biden is sort of a Catholic of Pope Francis.
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