By Christopher R. Altieri for the Editors
US President Joseph R. Biden has assumed office under some of the most trying circumstances in living memory. He shall have our prayers, and – we hope – those of persons of good will around the world, for whom American leadership is indispensable.
He has those of Pope Francis, who wrote to extend “cordial good wishes” along with “assurance of … prayers that Almighty God will grant you wisdom and strength in the exercise of your high office.”
“Under your leadership,” Pope Francis also prayed, “may the American people continue to draw strength from the lofty political, ethical and religious values that have inspired the nation since its founding.”
The Catholic bishops of the United States likewise offered prayerful good will to Mr. Biden, the second Catholic to hold the office: “In a time of growing and aggressive secularism in American culture,” wrote Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, President of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, “when religious believers face many challenges, it will be refreshing to engage with a President who clearly understands, in a deep and personal way, the importance of religious faith and institutions.”
Seeing one of their coreligionists in the White House, Catholics in the United States rightly hold their heads high. Our common baptismal faith is an added inducement to support him whenever we can, and to look for opportunities to offer him every possible aid.
There are many opinable questions on which discussion is necessary to the crafting and execution of right policy. There are many others on which debate is inevitable. Citizens must judge singly of the opportunities to support, or the need to oppose any officeholder. All of us do well to remember charity as well as justice in making such determinations, especially when it shall prove impossible to give our support.
On abortion, Catholics must oppose President Biden.
If abortion is not wrong, then nothing is wrong. Inaccurately attributed to St. Teresa of Calcutta, the sentence is accurate in its substance, nonetheless. It is possible in theory for a man to be confused, misguided, or otherwise mistaken in that regard. Mr. Biden has no such repair. He does not say he disagrees with his Church on the question. He says he may not impose his moral judgment on the nation.
President Biden is not wrong on the point. If he were, the Constitution and other officers of other branches would keep him from it in any state of affairs enjoying a tolerable degree of order. Meanwhile, the American people – who elected Mr. Biden – demand that he impose his moral judgment on himself: that he be guided by it; that he surrender it to no other agent or proxy, or cause.
If actions speak for a man, then President Biden’s long record of service in the legislature must prove to candid minds that he has not practiced what he confesses. If it does not, then his campaign promises to advance the abortion interest in the United States and around the world must give significant pause even and especially to the great many citizens – many of them Catholics – who supported his candidacy.
President Biden’s promise to restore Obama-era rules requiring religious nonprofits to provide the “full range” of “preventive care” options including abortifacients and other contraceptives is particularly disconcerting — not because of any particular likelihood of his making good on the promise, but because of what it may reveal regarding the political character of the man who made it.
The Obama-era regulation mandated that all employers, including non-profit employers, offer the “full range” of preventative care options including sterilizations and abortifacients. It created a narrow “accommodation” for churches (inter alia), but also treated religious non-profits as though they were not religious at all – as if any advancement of the common good accomplished through their work were somehow incidental to their religious convictions, rather than the motor of it.
The Obama-era policy, in other words, was based on a surreptitious presupposition: that the corporal works of mercy are not properly religious activities at all, precisely because they serve the common good.
Neither the US Constitution, nor the understanding of religion’s role in civil society that has until very recently obtained in America will support such a construction, which is frankly unreasonable. Not only: It is a relegation of religion to the “private” sphere more radical than anything found in any fundamental law of the former Soviet Union.
“The Church,” opined the editors of an eminent Catholic publication in the United States at the time the Obama-era rules were being worked out and implemented, “cannot function peacefully in the United States under the current regulatory framework.” A return to anything like that framework would be repugnant to the Christian ethos Biden mellifluously praised throughout his campaign for the presidency.
President Biden has already begun the undoing of Trump-era executive orders. His decision to rescind – on Day 1 of his presidency – the absurd “national emergency” that let Trump divert federal funds into construction of his pet border wall has met with different measures of joy, relief, and mere acquiescence. Likewise his reinstatement of DACA protection, his steps to renew US participation in the Paris Agreement, and his rapprochement with the World Health Organization.
Despite the expected reversal – next week – of the Mexico City Policy that blocks federal funding for non-governmental abortion providers, it may well be that President Biden intends to focus most of his energy on pressing crises like the coronavirus pandemic, and spend political capital on other parts of his ambitious program, much of which is laudable.
In any case, citizens who supported President Biden’s candidacy despite his alarming promises will feel the duty to oppose the noxious elements of his legislative and policy agenda. Citizens who supported his candidacy because of those noxious elements should nevertheless ask themselves what sort of man professes one creed and acts according to another.
Mr. Biden has dedicated himself to the cause of healing and reconciliation in the body politic, profoundly lacerated, and still reeling from the appalling display of rioters breaching and ransacking the US Capitol.
It is not hyperbole, but mere description to say the mob that day assaulted the temple of American democracy and violated her sacred precincts. Nor was President Biden mistaken to say, on the day he took the oath of office, that the American people celebrated “the triumph not of a candidate, but of a cause, the cause of democracy.”
He was certainly correct on that day and in that place to say: “[O]n this hallowed ground where just days ago violence sought to shake this Capitol’s very foundation, we come together as one nation, under God, indivisible.”
“Few periods in our nation’s history have been more challenging or difficult than the one we’re in now,” Mr. Biden went on to say, introducing a litany of trials facing the country, beginning with a virus that has already claimed as many lives as the nation lost in the II World War, put millions of people out of work, and forced hundreds of thousands of businesses to close.
“A cry for racial justice some 400 years in the making moves us,” he said. It should. “The dream of justice for all will be deferred no longer,” he went on to say. It must not be deferred another second.
“A cry for survival comes from the planet itself,” he said – a cry “that can’t be any more desperate or any more clear.” We test that assertion at our peril – and long for the day in which the “uniquely American way” of which he spoke – “restless, bold, optimistic” – is finally brought full to bear on the task of crafting better means of stewardship, which Americans can do while making money hand-over-fist for themselves and everyone else.
“And now,” he said in conclusion of his litany, “a rise in political extremism, white supremacy, domestic terrorism that we must confront and we will defeat.” Lord, hear our prayer.
He will not help hasten the defeat of the reactionary political extremism that poisons the soul of the nation by catering to the political demands of those at the other extremity of the body politic.
We hope Mr. Biden will soon come fully to practice what he professes with regard to the rights and dignity of each and every person, created in the image and likeness of the Triune God we worship together. He need not choose between action from a place of sincere conviction and his sense of political opportunity.
All he has to do is read the room.
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