WASHINGTON — Sen. Barack Obama’s choice of Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., as his running mate for was lauded by many Democrats who were attracted to his Irish Catholic roots. Biden was described by both press and pundits as a “fighter” with a “working-class background” and foreign policy expertise who could attract voters to support the young Illinois senator.
If Obama is elected in November, Biden would be the first Catholic vice president.
Biden has long served in the Senate, accruing significant influence, particularly in his position as chairman of the Foreign Policy Committee. Although he voted in favor of the Iraq war, he has since been a sharp critic of the Bush administration. His foreign policy credentials were recently highlighted when he held discussions with leaders in Georgia during the conflict with Russia.
“The animating principle of my faith, as taught to me by Church and home, was that the cardinal sin was abuse of power,” he said in an interview with the Christian Science Monitor in 2007. “It was not only required as a good Catholic to abhor and avoid abuse of power, but to do something to end that abuse.”
As a Catholic, Biden has referenced his faith as helping him overcome personal tragedy in 1972 when his wife and young daughter died in a car crash. He has also sharply criticized political opponents who have questioned his faith. “The next Republican that tells me I’m not religious, I’m going to shove my rosary beads down their throat,” he said bluntly in 2005.
Catholic Democratic activists believe that Biden’s faith will be an asset to the Obama campaign — particularly in Pennsylvania, his native state.
Chris Corzen of Catholics United stated, “Senator Biden’s selection as vice presidential candidate is a positive development for Americans who respect leaders who have strong religious, family and personal values.”
But Stephen Dillard, the founder of a new blog, Catholics Against Joe Biden, disagreed. “I think Obama’s selection of Biden may help him with cultural or cafeteria Catholics,” he said, “But I don’t see faithful Catholics voting for the most pro-abortion presidential ticket ever simply because Biden grew up as a Catholic.”
In spite of Biden’s Catholic faith, he has remained a supporter of Roe v. Wade and the abortion industry’s view of abortion. Pro-life activists were quick to weigh in on his record after Biden accepted the vice president slot on Obama’s ticket.
“Biden has a strong pro-abortion record going back decades,” said Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee. “He took the position of a number of Catholic politicians during that period, saying he was personally opposed to abortion, but he voted to support Roe v. Wade.”
In spite of his record, Biden has voted for some limitations on abortion, supporting the partial-birth abortion act, which was recently upheld by the Supreme Court, defending his vote as an “extraordinary circumstance.” He also supported the Hyde Amendment, banning the use of federal funds to pay for abortions (though he voted to allow abortions at military hospitals), and supported the federal Born Alive Infants Protection Act, to protect the rights of children born after a failed abortion attempt. The Senate vote was unanimous.
Johnson pointed out that Biden’s support for these three pieces of legislation is a stark contrast to Obama’s record, which has been recently highlighted. He opposed legislation to give medical care to babies who survive botched abortions.
Pro-lifers also criticize Biden for his tireless efforts opposing Supreme Court justice nominees who might threaten Roe v. Wade.
After Obama announced Biden as his running mate, Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL (National Abortion Rights Action League) Pro-Choice America, praised the Delaware senator’s judicial activism.
“Sen. Biden has a strong record of opposing judicial nominees with hostile anti-choice records,” Keenan wrote in a statement. “He voted against George W. Bush’s two anti-choice nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court, John Roberts and Samuel Alito, and he opposed anti-choice Justice Clarence Thomas’ nomination to the Court as well as multiple anti-choice nominees to lower federal courts.”
Pro-life activists are concerned that Biden’s record on judges will strengthen Obama’s willingness to appoint activist judges who would enshrine abortion rights.
“Senator Biden has played a leading role in trying to block Supreme Court nominees who were not committed to extending Roe v. Wade, and he’s boasted about that,” said Johnson.
NARAL Pro-Choice America gives him high marks for his abortion support:
Biden’s presence as a pro-abortion Catholic on a pro-abortion ticket guarantees that the issue of whether pro-abortion Catholics should receive Communion will be highlighted throughout the election.
In 2004, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., attracted significant attention as American bishops stepped up warnings about pro-choice candidates receiving Communion.
Everywhere John Kerry traveled across the United States, his Catholic faith was juxtaposed with his public support for abortion, said Josh Mercer, a spokesman for Fidelis, a Catholic political lobby group. “It caused a lot of controversy.”
Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput has already weighed in on Biden. He told the Associated Press that Biden should follow the teachings of the Church by opposing abortion or voluntarily refrain from receiving Communion.
“I certainly presume his good will and integrity and I presume that his integrity will lead him to refrain from presenting himself for Communion if he supports a false ‘right’ to abortion,” the archbishop said.
His words echo Biden’s own Bishop, Michael Saltarelli, who wrote a 2004 column embracing the U.S. bishops’ “Statement on Catholics in Political Life.” In it, he asked politicians who support abortion laws not to present themselves for Communion.
“The promotion of abortion by any Catholic is a grave and serious matter,” he wrote. “I ask Catholics in this position to have the integrity to respect the Eucharist, Catholic teaching and the Catholic faithful.”
And before he became Pope, Benedict XVI wrote to Cardinal Theodore McCarrick that Catholic politicians who promote abortion or Euthanasia should not receive Communion.
Fidelis president Brian Burch acknowledged that Biden’s selection would bring unwanted criticism to the campaign.
“Barack Obama has re-opened a wound among American Catholics by picking a pro-abortion Catholic politician,” he said in a statement. “The American bishops have made clear that Catholic political leaders must defend the dignity of every human person, including the unborn.”
Charlie Spiering is
based Washington, D.C.