Joe Biden

Yo, New York Times editors: There are several Catholic angles linked to Joe Biden's abortion flip

Yo, New York Times editors: There are several Catholic angles linked to Joe Biden's abortion flip

As many pro-life Democrats and others have noted in social media: That didn’t take long.

After years of opposing the use of taxpayer dollars to fund abortion — supporting the Hyde Amendment — former Vice President Joe Biden bowed the knee to primary-season realities in this “woke” era of Democratic Party life and reversed himself on this issue. Thus, he erased one of his few remaining ties to his old role as a centrist, compromise figure in his party on moral, cultural and religious issues.

Needless to say, the word “Catholic” may have something to do with this story. That term even made it into the New York Times coverage of this policy flip. See this all-politics headline: “Behind Biden’s Reversal on Hyde Amendment: Lobbying, Backlash and an Ally’s Call.

The overture focused on the political forces that yanked Biden’s chain, from members of his staff to rivals in the White Race. The Planned Parenthood team called early and often. Then, down in the body of the story, there was this:

A Roman Catholic, Mr. Biden has spent decades straddling the issue of abortion, asserting his support for individual abortion rights and the codification of Roe v. Wade, while also backing the Hyde Amendment, arguing that it was an inappropriate use of taxpayer money.

But Mr. Biden, his allies acknowledge, had plainly misread what activists on the left would accept on an extraordinarily sensitive issue. For all his reluctance to abandon his long-held position on federal funding for abortion, Mr. Biden ultimately shifted in order to meet the mood of emergency within his party’s electoral base.

The big word, of course, is “base” — which usually means “primary voters.” The question is whether the “base” that turns out in primary season has much to do with the mainstream voters that are crucial in the Rust Belt and the few Southern states that a Democrat has a chance to steal in a general election.

So where, in this Times report, were the voices from pro-life Democrats and progressive and centrist Catholics who wanted to see Biden try to reclaim blue-collar and Catholic votes that, in 2016, ended up — #LesserOfTwoEvils — going to Donald Trump? I would imagine they are hiding between the lines in the following material:

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Democrat takes political stand against abortion: Wait a minute, isn't this governor a Catholic?

Democrat takes political stand against abortion: Wait a minute, isn't this governor a Catholic?

Let’s start here: Is it news when Democrats who are, to one degree or another, Catholic take actions that support abortion rights, especially with legislation linked to late-term abortions?

Well, ask Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Pretty soon, we may hear discussions of this issue linked to former Vice President Joe Biden.

So now let’s ask a variation on this question: Is it news when a prominent Democrat who is a Catholic takes actions to limit abortion rights, while openly linking his political views on a variety of progressive “life issues” to the teachings of his faith?

I would say a strong “yes.” Then again, I spent decades attempting to vote as a pro-life Democrat. (Confession: I gave up and registered with a third-party in 2016.)

The political desk at The Washington Post (mildly) agrees, on this point, when covering the current drama unfolding around Gov. John Bel Edwards, down in the complex political state that is Louisiana. The headline: “Louisiana’s Democratic governor just defied his party and signed an abortion ban into law.

How about The New York Times? Hold that thought. First, here is a key passage that is buried pretty far down in the Post coverage. It does contain a crucial word — “Catholic.”

In Louisiana, the nation is seeing some of the last remaining antiabortion Democrats, a class of politician that has grown obscure in recent decades.

Edwards has been a high-profile member of that group since he was elected governor in 2015. Like other antiabortion Democrats, he likes to say he’s “pro-life for the whole life,” because he opposes abortion and supports policies such as Medicaid expansion and a higher minimum wage. In his post-vote statement, he said he believes that “being pro-life means more than just being pro-birth.”

The Army veteran and Catholic has said he traces his long-held views on abortion to his faith — and so do many of his constituents, he said.

“That’s the way I was raised,” Edwards said in an October episode of his monthly radio show. “I know that for many in the national party, on the national scene, that’s not a good fit. But I will tell you, here in Louisiana, I speak and meet with Democrats who are pro-life every single day.”

Yes, it would have been interesting to have heard more about how these “consistent life” Democrats apply their beliefs to political realities linked to immigration, gun control, the death penalty and a host of other “seamless garment” issues discussed in Catholic circles.

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For your 2020 agenda: The Democrats’ Equality Act sets up a religion-news sleeper issue   

For your 2020 agenda: The Democrats’ Equality Act sets up a religion-news sleeper issue   

Following committee approval last week, the House of Representatives will soon vote on the “Equality Act” (H.R. 5, text here),  which would add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” protections under the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Crucially, the proposal would explicitly ban use of the conscience guarantees in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act signed by President Bill Clinton. Only two Democratic senators voted against that 1993 act, with names like Biden, Daschle, Feinstein, Kennedy, Kerry and Leahy in the yes column.  

That’s a news story — right there. Journalists should compare such bipartisan unanimity with today’s stark party divide in this First Amendment battle, as on so many other issues. 

The clause states that the religion law “shall not provide a claim concerning, or a defense to a claim under, a covered title, or provide a basis for challenging the application or enforcement of a covered title.”

Need a local angle for coverage? Reporters will want to analyze the impact that would have upon federal funding and other benefits for colleges, health facilities and charities that hold to traditional religious teaching. Anticipate years of lawsuits and political infighting. 

The House will pass the Equality Act because it is sponsored by all but one of the majority Democrats. But a narrow defeat looks probable in the Senate, where so far Maine’s Susan Collins is the only member in the Republican majority backing the bill. Adding political fuel, the U.S. Supreme Court is set to rule next year on parallel questions.  

All that will play out as reporters cover voters pondering whether to re-elect President Donald Trump and keep Republican control of the Senate, thus determining appointments of federal judges and whether the Equality Act becomes law. Among Democratic candidates, Joe Biden backed a similar equality bill in 2015, and the 2019 version is endorsed by the seven others atop polls (Booker, Buttigieg, Harris, Klobuchar, O’Rourke, Sanders and Warren). 

The Equality Act would cover a broad array of businesses and agencies that provide goods or services to the public, forbid sexual stereotyping and make bisexuals a protected class. It would require access to rest rooms, locker rooms, dressing rooms and presumably women’s shelters, on the basis of self-identified gender rather than biological gender. 

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Attention reporters: Joe Biden's history with Catholicism an important element to his politics

Attention reporters: Joe Biden's history with Catholicism an important element to his politics

The 2020 presidential race is in full swing. The political press and its insatiable appetite for all things Donald Trump has subsided in as much as it needs to dedicate column space and airtime to the Democrats looking to replace him.

At last count, 20 people are running in the Democratic primary. Those include long-time frontrunners like Bernie Sanders, according to various polls and based on money raised, as well as those you may never have heard of before now like John Hickenlooper.

Overall, religion and faith, as expected, has gotten little to no coverage thus far. Only Pete Buttigieg has seen crossover coverage and that’s only because he injected his Christian faith (as a shot against Vice President Mike Pence) into the conversation.

The religion of these candidates and history with the dogma of their respective faiths — what they believe, why they believe it and, in some cases, when they changed their minds — is an issue many Americans care about. Journalists in the New York and Washington, D.C. bubbles may not think so (or even be aware of it), but the rest of the country (from the Bible Belt to the Western Plains) cares.

One candidate whose faith does need examination is Joe Biden. The former vice president has been in the news a lot recently — even before he announced a 2020 bid — but the faith angle (and his history with Catholicism over the decades) has sadly been overlooked.

For starters, Biden was born and raised a Roman Catholic. Were he to win the presidency, Biden would only be the second Catholic — after John F. Kennedy — to occupy the Oval Office. That’s no longer a big a story as when JFK did it in 1960. Nonetheless, Biden’s brand of Catholicism (past and present) is worth lots of news stories and TV segments. One can't run a Biden is running in 2020 story without including his faith and how it has influenced his life and politics.

It's true that Biden winning wouldn't make the same headlines JFK did in 1960. Or can they? After all, Catholics have come a long way in this country — both in terms of political clout and in overall population — that a Biden win wouldn't do much in the way of cementing Catholicism in any way. After all, a majority of the Supreme Court now features Catholic judges. Issues like abortion (Biden was once a pro-life Democrat) and religious freedom are at the center of the culture war being waged primarily by conservative Catholics, with help from Evangelical Christians, Mormons and other Protestants.

Overall, the Biden coverage has been devoid of any faith.

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New on the 2020 political agenda: Will a gay mayor (finally) rally the religious left?

New on the 2020 political agenda: Will a gay mayor (finally) rally the religious left?

Our January 31 Guy Memo ho-hummed National Public Radio’s latest example  of perennial wishful thinking in U.S. media about a substantial religious left (still lower-case) emerging to counter America’s familiar Religious Right (upper-case for years now). However, the Memo observed that, “President Trump remains unusually vulnerable to resistance on religious and moral grounds,” so journalists were advised to be “alert for surprises.”

Surprise! South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg has since soared from obscurity. And his substantive interview for a March 29 Washington Post  article by Sarah Pulliam Bailey raises the prospect that the  religious left could achieve new impact by rallying behind his persona. Such a 2020 scenario could replicate 1980, when triumphant Ronald Reagan boosted the early Religious Right -- and vice versa.

Pundits quickly reinforced the Buttigieg religion angle, including Father Edward Beck on CNNKirsten Powers  in USA Today,  Andrew Sullivan of New York magazine and The Atlantic’s Emma Green.

Buttigieg has never run statewide and is merely the mayor of Indiana’s fourth-largest city (South Bend of Notre Dame fame). But the Harvard alum,  a boyish 37, has already been a Rhodes scholar at Oxford, businessman and Navy intelligence officer serving in Afghanistan. His golden tongue in rallies and TV appearances is inspiring early success.

The mayor could aid Democratic designs in the Big Ten states that are likely to (again) determine whether Donald Trump wins. The amiable Midwesterner ranks third behind East Coasters Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders in Emerson’s latest Iowa poll and well outpaces Amy Klobuchar from neighboring Minnesota. Focus on Rural America’s polling of Democrats who plan to attend the Iowa caucus puts him at 6 percent, tied with Klobuchar and another fresh face, “Beto” O’Rourke.

Journalists take note: Buttigieg is a religiously significant figure who underwent a spiritual turn at a Catholic high school and at Oxford. He became a devoted and articulate Episcopalian, came out in 2015, and married his gay partner in church last year.  That, and his social-gospel outlook, mesh with leaders and thinkers in “mainline” Protestantism’s liberal wing, alongside Catholics of similar mind.

Among Buttigieg’s numerous religious comments in the opening phase of his campaign, the most remarkable came April 7 before a packed LGBTQ Victory Fund rally. He admitted that as a youth “I would have done anything to not be gay,” said his same-sex marriage ‘has moved me closer to God,” and challenged “the Mike Pences of the world” with this: “If you’ve got a problem with who I am, your problem is not with me. Your quarrel, sir, is with my Creator.” (Notably, some media lower-cased his C.) 

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Death penalty doctrine: Francis builds on insights of St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI?

Death penalty doctrine: Francis builds on insights of St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI?

Have you ever noticed that the amount of news coverage granted to the writings of Pope Francis tends to rise or fall based on the degree to which his pronouncements mesh with the editorial pages of The New York Times?

Notice, please, that I said the "amount" of coverage, not the "quality." This pope has made important, and complex, statements on hot-button topics that led to the spilling of oceans of ink and pixels in coverage that missed the point of his words. His comments defending traditional Catholic teachings -- think gender, for example -- often draw little or no response.

Then again, who am I to judge?

The news, today, is that Rome has changed the Catholic Catechism on an important issue linked to the defense of life, from conception to natural death. We are, of course, talking about the death penalty (confession: which I have always opposed, with no exceptions).

So far, the coverage has been good -- since this is a change welcomed by the religious left. However, let me note some information that really needs to make it into the coverage, to show readers how this change came to pass. So, here is a question: Who said the following?

"A sign of hope is the increasing recognition that the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil. Modern society has the means of protecting itself, without definitively denying criminals the chance to reform. I renew the appeal I made most recently at Christmas for a consensus to end the death penalty, which is both cruel and unnecessary."

That would be the late St. Pope John Paul II, of course, in a 1999 sermon. That wasn't the only time that he signaled that the death penalty didn't align with pro-life doctrines.

Did the words of John Paul II make it into the early coverage that you read?

I am pleased to note that the evolving Times story about this issue now includes the following. Yes, this language pushes a political button, but that button is real:

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Looking at past and into future: Will Democrats consider compromises on religious issues?

Looking at past and into future: Will Democrats consider compromises on religious issues?

Let's take a trip into my GetReligion folder of think-piece guilt, shall we?

In this case, I would like to point readers toward a piece at The Atlantic by Michael Wear that ran about a month ago. The headline: "Why Democrats Must Regain the Trust of Religious Voters."

We could, after the narrow Doug Jones victory in the Alabama Senate race, change that headline to something that would look like this: "Why Democrats Must Regain the Trust of Religious Voters, when Running Against Candidates Other Than Roy Moore."

As I have said several times: Imagine if the Democrats had, in Alabama, selected an African-American pro-life woman as their candidate. The cultural conservatives who either boycotted Moore or wrote in a third-party candidate would have had a valid choice on the other side the ballot. Moore would have been the walking (or horseback) dead against a culturally conservative Democrat.

There are so many journalism stories -- local, regional and national -- linked to this issue, in religion and in politics.

In a way, this is similar to this question: Would Joe Biden have defeated Donald Trump, especially if he had shown a willingness to seek compromises on religious-liberty issues and abortion? I think I know the answer to that one, too. Hillary Clinton was just about the only candidate on earth Trump could defeat, in large part because of her loyalty to the cultural, political and, yes, secular/religious left (key Pew Forum data here).

So here is Wear's overture:

Democrats ignored broad swaths of religious America in the 2016 election campaign and the nation has suffered because of it. Yet calls for a recommitment to faith outreach -- particularly to white and other conservative or moderate religious voters -- have been met in some corners of liberal punditry with a response as common as it is unwarranted. Some quarters of the Democratic party would rather maintain rhetorical and ideological purity than win with a more inclusive coalition. For the sake of the country, the party must turn back to people of faith.

But here is the crunch paragraphs in this analysis piece:

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Chidin' Biden: Did bishops err in scolding Joe for gay wedding? Did RNS err in its guesswork?

Chidin' Biden: Did bishops err in scolding Joe for gay wedding? Did RNS err in its guesswork?

Did three American bishops defy a cardinal in criticizing Vice President Joe Biden? The Religion News Service sure makes it sound that way in a weekend story about Biden officiating at a same-sex marriage.

David Gibson of RNS has apparently been watching for Catholic reaction since Biden officiated at the wedding of two White House staffers. When that reaction came, it wasn't where he expected:

The Catholic hierarchy was notably quiet, however, until Friday (Aug. 5) when three leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops posted a statement clearly directed at Biden and criticizing him for presenting "a counter witness, instead of a faithful one founded in the truth."
"When a prominent Catholic politician publicly and voluntarily officiates at a ceremony to solemnize the relationship of two people of the same-sex, confusion arises regarding Catholic teaching on marriage and the corresponding moral obligations of Catholics," wrote Louisville Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who was joined by Buffalo Bishop Richard Malone, and Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski.
Malone is chair of the bishop’s Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth and Wenski is chair of the bishop’s Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

Heavy hitters all, to be sure. (Full disclosure: I freelance for the Miami edition of The Florida Catholic, published by the state's bishops including Wenski.) But as the article notes, the list does not include Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, D.C., and Biden's shepherd. 

The RNS story is alert and respectful (the last is not always a given these days in mainstream media). But it just may take one or two guesses too many, in an article not marked "opinion" or "commentary."

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Does Stephen Colbert's progressive Catholicism still make some journalists nervous?

Does Stephen Colbert's progressive Catholicism still make some journalists nervous?

Forget, for a moment, whatever you are thinking right now about American politics.

Just think about journalism, for a moment.

Forget what you think about Vice President Joe Biden. If you are, like me, one of America's surviving pro-life Democrats, or you are a traditional Catholic, try to forget what you know about Biden's political career on legislation linked to abortion and how he has tried to mesh his actions with his acceptance of core doctrines in his Catholic faith. For a moment, forget his loyal-soldier work in the current administration.

Now, also try to forget for a moment what you think of the laugh-to-keep-from crying humor of funny man Stephen Colbert.

Lay aside, if you can, whatever you think he does or does not believe when it comes to the fine details, especially on moral theology, of the Catholic Catechism he taught as a leader in his New York-suburb parish during his Comedy Central years. If you are a traditionalist, when it comes to Catholic doctrine, go ahead and assume that Colbert is a "progressive," whatever that term means these days.

Then again, be honest and wrestle with the content of the nights when Colbert embraced and riffed with Catholic conservatives or shredded some liberals, on his old talk show.

Now, after saying all of that, watch the Late Night interview between Biden and Colbert and ask yourself a question about journalism: How would you deal with the content of this chat without facing the fact that its intimacy and depth (unless they are both really good fakers and I've seen people on CNN suggest that) is rooted in the fact that this is a pair of Catholic guys talking about faith and family?

Looking at Colbert, is it possible -- whether his work inspires you or troubles you -- to deal with his talent, his brain and his heart without taking into account the content of his Catholic faith and its role in his grief-haunted life? This was the subject of one of my recent On Religion columns ("From John Henry Newman to Stephen Colbert: Ancient truths on suffering and death") and the topic surfaced again in a follow-up post here at GetReligion.

Well, this past week kept adding layers of news content on top of this topic -- leading up to the Biden interview -- and provided the hook for this week's "Crossroads" podcast, with host Todd Wilken. Click here to tune that in.

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