Who Are the Real Catholic Politicians?


Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill., speaks at a press conference on the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade on Capitol Hill.
Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill., speaks at a press conference on the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade on Capitol Hill. (photo: 2013 CNA)

As Catholics, we know that Christ’s kingdom is not of this world. But as citizens of a representative democracy, we are also called to participate in our country’s political process, one important expression of which is by voting.

The process of casting our vote requires serious discernment, and as we discern, we might consider what a courageous Catholic politician might look like. An example of the sort of challenges we face as Catholics in navigating our current political landscape is already evident in the 2020 presidential campaign.

Different factions and media outlets have suggested different standards for Catholic politicians in the Democratic Party. Some have proposed presidential nominee Joe Biden, others Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC). I do believe that there are notable Catholics serving or seeking to serve our country, but I would strongly caution against labeling either Biden or AOC as exemplars of Catholicism.

Some are fascinated that former Vice President Joe Biden is a baptized Catholic and that he could be the second president baptized into the faith. But does that really make him a “Catholic candidate”?

For Catholics, faith and works are both important measures of one’s Catholicity. And Biden’s works include running what experts are calling the most pro-abortion campaign platform in U.S. history. His choice of Sen. Kamala Harris as his vice-presidential pick hardly reassured his co-religionists. Not long ago, Harris proposed a religious test for a practicing Catholic nominated for a court appointment. That is a clear violation of the Constitution. The California senator drew fire from every part of the Catholic spectrum, including from liberals. Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter and the editors at America magazine were among those who spoke out. So did Democratic Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. And the entire U.S. Senate spoke unanimously when it passed a resolution in favor of the Knights of Columbus (of which the persecuted nominee was a member) and against religious tests.

Harris has yet to apologize for this blatant anti-Catholicism. So what are Catholics supposed to think of Biden’s decision to pick her?

As Biden’s political thinking has evolved over the years, his record has drifted farther and farther from the Catholic positions on abortion and marriage, despite the fact that for a time he seemed to prioritize Church teaching more than party orthodoxy. In 1981, Biden actually voted to overturn Roe v. Wade, and during a Meet the Press interview in 2007, Biden acknowledged a “dilemma” in reconciling what he called his “religious and cultural views” with his “political responsibility” when asked about his change in position on abortion.

Biden no longer appears to be wrestling with any such dilemma.

During his current campaign, Biden has stated support for efforts to codify Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide. He has also reversed course on the Hyde Amendment, calling for this long-standing federal policy that prevents the use of taxpayer dollars to fund elective abortion procedures to come to an end. Biden has also defended abortion as “an essential health-care service” amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Biden’s public advocacy for abortion is so contrary to the Catholic Church’s teaching on the matter that he was denied Holy Communion at a South Carolina parish last year. Biden has been denied Communion for his abortion position before — in his hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania, by its bishop in 2008.

Biden seems to have prioritized abortion over faith and morals, or perhaps better stated, political views over religious ones.

Should Biden succeed in becoming the 46th president of the United States, he would be only the second Catholic to hold the office. The effect on the Church and its unity could be devastating.

Biden’s increasingly permissive stance on abortion may have been influenced by a younger generation of pro-abortion politicians in his party. Unfortunately, that includes another politician who was baptized Catholic.

A much-discussed article in the National Catholic Reporter recently praised Ocasio-Cortez as the future of the Catholic Church after the freshman representative from New York issued a rebuttal to crude remarks made by one of her colleagues in the House.

The article praised her for speaking against the “dehumanizing” of others and claimed, “if there is to be a future for the Catholic Church in the United States — it must also resemble Ocasio-Cortez in her passion for justice and human dignity, and in her courage and integrity, even in the face of vulgar attacks.”

Of course, this article’s effusive praise did not stop to address Ocasio-Cortez’s very public commitment to unrestricted legal abortion, a practice that is perhaps the ultimate and most widespread dehumanization of others in our era.

Ocasio-Cortez’s commitment to abortion is also demonstrated by her endorsement of Marie Newman’s primary challenge to Rep. Dan Lipinski of Illinois, one of the few remaining pro-life Democrats in Congress — and himself a Catholic. After surviving other well-funded challenges in previous elections, Lipinski lost the Democratic primary in Illinois’ third district to Newman in March.

And that brings us to a man who we might actually consider to be both a brave legislator and a committed Catholic.

Lipinski stands in sharp contrast to both Biden and Ocasio-Cortez in two ways. He stands by his Catholic beliefs concerning the right to life and has not abandoned his beliefs even at the cost of his career.

Mother Teresa used to say that God had called her to be faithful, not successful. It’s a sad day in America when, for political elites, the difference between successfulness and faithfulness is whether one is willing to support the legalized killing of helpless children.

Despite constant challenges from within his own party, including the latest that cost him his career of public service in Washington, Lipinski was the Democratic Party’s conscience on abortion, a reminder that once men like Ted Kennedy, Jesse Jackson and even Joe Biden, among others, had stood tall in support of life. Lipinski remained an unapologetically pro-life Democrat at great personal cost.

He wasn’t one of the loudest voices in Congress, and he didn’t make his party’s presidential ticket, but he held to his beliefs and his knowledge that every person — born or unborn — matters. Whether they know it or not, both Congress and the Democratic Party will be diminished by the loss of Lipinski’s presence and witness in his congressional role.

I hope and pray that our nation might be blessed with more Catholic politicians like him who  would rather pay a political price than compromise their principles and, most importantly, their faith.

God bless you!