The nation’s most visible Catholic prelate has a message to the nation’s most visible Catholic: The sanctity of life matters.
In a piece published Wednesday in Catholic New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan said Catholics were more “hung up” on abortion with a looming Biden administration — and with good reason.
In fact, Dolan said, he was asked by a “rather well-known political leader” exactly what the hang-up was about.
Dolan said he responded by thanking the politician “for acknowledging how urgent this matter is for us. I don’t mind at all agreeing with you: we Catholics are ‘hung up’ on abortion.”
“Actually, we’re obsessed with the dignity of the human person and the sacredness of all human life! Yes, the innocent, helpless life of the baby in the womb, but also the life of the death row prisoner, the immigrant, the fragile elderly, the poor and the sick,” he continued.
“And it’s not just ‘you Catholics’ who are very upset about the unfettered abortion-on-demand culture in which we live. Most Americans, of any religion, or none at all, report they are as well. As a matter of fact, this is not a uniquely ‘Catholic’ issue at all, but one of human rights. We didn’t learn that abortion was horrible in religion class, but in biology, and in our courses on the ‘inalienable rights’ tradition in American history.”
He went on to point out the connection to our current climate: “How can we sustain a culture that recoils at violence, exclusion, suicide, racism, injustice, and callousness toward those in need, if we applaud, allow, pay for, and promote the destruction of the most helpless, the baby in the womb?”
And yet, we’re about to inaugurate Joseph R. Biden, frequently described as a “devout Catholic” yet who’s called for a repeal of the Hyde Amendment, the legislation which prohibits federal funds from being used to perform abortions through programs like Medicaid.
Dolan asserted at the time of Roe v. Wade, abortion proponents avouched constitutionally protected abortion rights weren’t a big deal.
“Don’t worry, the pro-abortionists reassured us forty-eight years ago. You’ll learn to accept this. We dread taking the life of the little infant in the womb, too,” Dolan wrote.
“Abortion will be kept safe, legal, and rare! It would be limited to the earliest weeks of pregnancy, and only resorted to in extreme cases like the endangerment of the mother’s life. And we’d never force people whose conscience disagrees with us to perform or pay for one.”
None of that is currently true: “Now, the pro-abortionists no longer call abortion regrettable, but celebrate it and brag about it,” Dolan wrote, viewing it as “an unfettered right, at any time during the pregnancy, up to and including the very birth, with demands that sincere health care professionals whose consciences rebel at the grizzly procedure be forced to perform them, that tax money pay for them, that our foreign policy insists other countries promote them, and that the freedom of employers who abhor them still offer insurance to cover them.”
The context was clear, although Biden wasn’t mentioned until the end of the piece.
Dolan said the president-elect “was eloquent last week in reminding us that the rampage we saw was not America, whose citizens are renowned for their decency, observance of the law, and the respect we show each other,” but asked, “In the renewal and rededication that usually accompanies the inauguration of a new president, can we hope that violence will subside, that civil discourse will again become the norm for all sides, that a respect for the sacredness of all life and the dignity of the human person will be revived, and that the sanctuary of the womb will be off-limits to violent invasion?”
Biden will be only the second Catholic president in the history of the republic. Mother Church may have disapproved of the private habits of the first, but it’s the public policies of the second that will likely rankle Catholics.
Yes, as the National Catholic Reporter said in a fawning profile naming him Catholic Newsmaker of the Year, Biden is a “churchgoing, rosary-carrying, prayer-quoting Catholic.” The outlet further dismissed “cynics” by saying that “Biden has always been there, according to all accounts, quietly, in the back of the church, whether it be home in Delaware or, as a globe-trotting vice president and senator, in some foreign capital, far removed from domestic public scrutiny.”
Count me still among the cynics, because this is diligence, not devoutness. Knowing the contents of a man’s heart is, to use the tired maxim, above my pay grade. However, if going to mass, quoting prayers and carrying a rosary all count toward proving his piety, the fact his positions mirror his party’s on abortion — and his decision to express support for the Hyde Amendment at the felicitous moment where his political fortunes would be most improved by it, early in the primary process — can be marks against it. So can his support of the universality of Obamacare’s contraception mandate, which forces religious organizations and companies to pay for treatments that are against their faith values.
But what about his gift for empathy? From the same National Catholic Reporter article: “Biden’s faith clearly has had an impact on his greatest political gift, that of public empathy, weaving his own struggles of the deaths of his children and first wife with the stories of public loss from pandemic or violent mass killings. It is no small thing. Think of what we haven’t had for the past four years. We will now have a gifted public empathizer to console in all the tragedies that are sure to come.”
In a Monday article for The Washington Post — “Joe Biden’s Catholicism is all about healing. Now, he will lead a suffering America” — Michelle Boorstein wrote that “Biden has long pushed back on the idea that, for him, faith must lead to policies.”
Instead, again, it’s about healing wounds: “The role of Biden’s Catholicism — prayer, as well as Catholic teachings about the role and purpose of suffering — in helping him survive the deaths of his young wife and daughter in the 1970s and then his son Beau, of brain cancer in 2015, is well known. He often uses the words ‘solace’ and ‘comfort’ when asked about the role of his faith. He is quick to talk with others who are pained by loss or struggle,” she wrote.
Sprinkling mentions of “unity,” “healing,” “solace” and “comfort” into public rhetoric is one thing, but there are times when Biden seems to know the words and not the music.
During the early parts of the election cycle, Biden was known to lose his patience frequently during question-and-answer periods in ugly ways that don’t evince a man with uniform empathy. He famously called one young woman a “lying dog-faced pony soldier.” In Michigan, he swore at an autoworker and threatened to take him “outside” when the autoworker questioned him about the Second Amendment. In Iowa, he called an overweight voter who confronted him on Hunter Biden’s work for Burisma a “damn liar,” implied he was “sedentary” and seemed to say, “look, fat here’s the deal.” (Biden’s campaign would later claim he said “facts,” not “fat.”)
Assuming these are aberrations, though, you can have plenty of empathy with or without religion. While it’s certainly a value the Judeo-Christian faith cultivates, other faiths do, too. You don’t even need faith.
Meanwhile, one of the core tenets of the Roman Catholic faith is a deep value in the sanctity of life. In fact, Biden is called to empathize with the unborn as if they were any other American. As president, he plans to do anything but that.
As Dolan said, Catholics (and other Christians) will be “hung up” about abortion, no matter who is president. It may not be enough to hope that a man quite frequently described as a “devout Catholic” will be hung up about it, too, but if the president-elect wants to unify, he’ll listen to us.
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