Joe Biden … Catholic Statesman?

In a recent interview in America (October 12, 2015), in which the editor of the flagship Jesuit journal, Fr. Matt Malone, S.J., sat down with the vice president of the United States, Joseph R. Biden Jr., a series of soft balls were thrown and, to no one’s surprise, every blessed one was slammed right out of the park. The intended result, of course, was that the reader walks away covered with admiration for Joe Biden, whose wisdom and compassion are seen as very nearly unique among all the self-serving members of the political establishment.

Oh, yes, and a practicing Catholic, who looks to his faith as animating all that he believes and does in the world.


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Not every reader, however, is likely to work up an equal lather of enthusiasm for Mr. Biden.  Some will have actually seen the interview through other than rose-colored glasses, and so come away fairly appalled by the puerility of his replies. Especially on the matter of abortion, that pesky little issue that simply refuses to go away, concerning which the vice president shows neither wisdom nor compassion, only a craven acquiescence before those very forces that he tells us noisily and repeatedly he will never give in to.  Not to mention an ignorance of Church teaching that the poor Sisters who educated him as a child presumably could do nothing to overcome.

We must always act, he tells us—speaking in an accent so stentorian that it should probably adorn Mount Rushmore—on the principle that all human beings are equal. We must, therefore, treat others with dignity. Always. “Everyone’s entitled to dignity, that’s a basic tenet in my household.”  Ah, but apparently not in everyone else’s household. Or at least not in those where unborn children, God help them, do not survive very long. That is to say, where the parents are less than welcoming because, well, not having been instructed in the faith of Joe Catholic, they refuse to recognize their humanity.

Say what? That’s right. Unless you’ve been granted the gift of faith, says Biden, which alone confers humanity upon that child, it is hardly possible to expect non-Catholics to rally round the fetus. And, of course, no decent Catholic leader would dare want to impose the least stricture upon the practice of abortion since only the faith of the baptized may uphold it. I mean, do we pass laws enforcing the truth of the Trinity? Where will it all end?

Now just in case you missed the exploding non sequitur, here’s the warhead that set it off. Namely the question put to him by the kindly Jesuit, Fr. Malone, who, reminding the vice president that over the years “you’ve had to take positions that were at odds with the bishops … like abortion,” goes on to ask, “Has that been hard for you?”

Oh, yes, he admits, it has been very hard indeed. But watch how Biden has managed—ever so adroitly—to finesse these things.

I’m prepared to accept as a matter of faith, my wife and I, my family, the issue of abortion, but what I’m not prepared to do is to impose a precise view that is born out of my faith on other people who are equally God-fearing, equally as committed to life, equally as committed to the sanctity of life. I’m prepared to accept that at the moment of conception there’s human life and being, but I’m not prepared to say that to other God-fearing, non-God-fearing people that have a different view.

In other words, it is all a function of faith and, well, faith being a gift, some will simply not have it; which means we mustn’t try and adjudicate such matters as when does life begin and are babies in the womb really human. I mean, only people of faith can know such things, right? Good heavens, is it possible that our Catholic vice president is a blithering fideist? That nothing can ever be known or communicated to others with certainty unless it is first corroborated by Divine Revelation? Does he really think that? Is that why he has never raised his voice on behalf of innocent children in the womb? Because their putative humanity can only be validated by faith?

Ah, but not so fast.  No sooner has he relegated the humanity of the unborn child to the realm, not of reason or science, but of faith, than he’s telling us about a conversation he had with the outgoing Pope Benedict, who evidently made the problem go away.   “I had a wonderful meeting with him… It was like going back to theology class. And by the way, he wasn’t judgmental. He was open. I came away enlivened from the discussion.”

How I should like to have been a fly on that wall! In what way, I wonder, did the Holy Father enliven him? Did he point out perhaps the obvious connection between killing babies in the womb and, say, Jews in the crematoria?   Why does it require faith to vindicate the humanity of the one, but not the other? And, besides, even when the Nazis refused to grant them human status, did that keep us from doing all that we could to close the Death Camps? To win the war? What else was the bloody war about if not the imposition of our values against those of the nihilists?

And, then, near the end, there was this question, which Fr. Malone raised as a way (I suppose) of putting a period on the whole unpleasantness of the subject. “Is there a place in the Democratic Party,” he asked, “for people who are pro-life?” Biden’s reply was immediate, decisive: “Absolutely. Absolutely, positively. And that’s been my position for as long as I’ve been engaged.”

Engaged? In what, exactly? Marginalizing those who disagree with Democratic orthodoxy on the sacredness of ensuring absolute reproductive freedom? Ask Bob Casey about that. Who, as governor of Pennsylvania, was flat out prevented from speaking his mind when, at the Democratic Convention in 1992, it was made pretty clear to him, and to the country at large, that pro-life views were no longer welcome in the Party of Roosevelt, Kennedy, and Clinton.

So much for the politics of inclusiveness, that great buzz word with which the vice president likes to identify himself and his country. (“If you think about it,” he tells Fr. Malone, “the journey of this country has always been in the direction of inclusiveness, always been in the direction of acceptance, always been in the direction of expanding rights and recognizing differences … it’s a constant progression … it’s what makes America the unique country in the world.”)

Poor Joe Biden. He will never be ready for primetime. In the meantime, however, he might think about going back to bedrock, there to re-acquaint himself with First Things. Perhaps Fr. Malone could take some time off and join him there.

(Photo credit: America Magazine)


  • Regis Martin

    Regis Martin is Professor of Theology and Faculty Associate with the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. He earned a licentiate and a doctorate in sacred theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome. Martin is the author of a number of books, including Still Point: Loss, Longing, and Our Search for God (2012) and The Beggar’s Banquet (Emmaus Road). His most recent book, published by Scepter, is called Looking for Lazarus: A Preview of the Resurrection.

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