Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday spoke about his Catholic faith, in response to comments from President Donald Trump that a Biden presidency would “hurt God.”
“Like so many people, my faith has been the bedrock foundation of my life: it’s provided me comfort in moments of loss and tragedy, it’s kept me grounded and humbled in times of triumph and joy. And in this moment of darkness for our country — of pain, of division, and of sickness for so many Americans — my faith has been a guiding light for me and a constant reminder of the fundamental dignity and humanity that God has bestowed upon all of us,” Biden said in an Aug. 6 statement.
“For President Trump to attack my faith is shameful. It’s beneath the office he holds and it’s beneath the dignity the American people so rightly expect and deserve from their leaders,” he added.
Speaking in Ohio today, Trump said that Biden wanted to “take away your guns, destroy your Second Amendment, no religion, no anything. Hurt the Bible, hurt God. He’s against God, he’s against guns.”
Biden has spoken about his Catholic faith on the campaign trail, and is known to attend Mass when he is at home in Delaware and when he travels. But the former vice president’s positions on some issues, most notably abortion and sexual orientation/gender identity policy, have put him at odds with Catholic teaching.
Brian Burch, president of political advocacy organization CatholicVote, told CNA that Biden’s faith itself should not be called into question, but his position on issues of importance to religious believers should be a matter of consideration.
“Joe Biden says his Catholic faith is important to him, and it’s not our place to question that,” Burch told CNA. “It’s obvious Biden attends Mass, and it’s obvious his Catholic faith has been a comfort to him at critical moments in his life.”
“But the question in this election is about what his plans are for this country, and that’s what believers should focus on,” Burch said.
“What matters here isn’t his devotional life, but his policies. And his policy agenda threatens the freedom of the Church in America,” he added, not only on life, but also on religious liberty.
Burch said that in his view, Biden’s positions could impact the Church’s social and charitable ministries.
“I worry that the Catholic Church in America is not taking seriously enough how a Biden presidency might threaten the freedom of the Church in America. Catholic hospitals, schools and charities will surely be forced to choose whether to operate in communion with what we believe as Catholics, compromise the Faith, or shut down altogether. Hundreds of millions of dollars in federal and state grants that serve the poor and vulnerable could be at stake,” Burch said.
In October 2019, Biden was denied Holy Communion at a South Carolina church because of his support for legalized abortion.
“Sadly, this past Sunday, I had to refuse Holy Communion to former Vice President Joe Biden,” Fr. Robert Morey, pastor of St. Anthony Catholic Church in the Diocese of Charleston, South Carolina, told CNA Oct 28.
“Holy Communion signifies we are one with God, each other and the Church. Our actions should reflect that. Any public figure who advocates for abortion places himself or herself outside of Church teaching,” the priest added. Canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law states that
“Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.”
Then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote a memorandum to the U.S. Catholic bishops in 2004, explaining the application of Canon Law 915 to the reception of Holy Communion.
The memorandum stated that “the minister of Holy Communion may find himself in the situation where he must refuse to distribute Holy Communion to someone, such as in cases of a declared excommunication, a declared interdict, or an obstinate persistence in manifest grave sin.”
The case of a “Catholic politician” who is “consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws” would constitute “formal cooperation” in grave sin that is “manifest,” the letter continued.
In such cases, “his Pastor should meet with him, instructing him about the Church’s teaching, informing him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist,” Ratzinger wrote.
At the time Biden was denied Communion, his website stated that one of his priorities as president would be to “work to codify Roe v. Wade” into federal law, and that “his Justice Department will do everything in its power to stop the rash of state laws that so blatantly violate the constitutional right to an abortion,” including laws requiring waiting periods, ultrasounds, and parental notification of a minor’s abortion.
“Vice President Biden supports repealing the Hyde Amendment because healthcare is a right that should not be dependent on one’s zip code or income,” said his website.
Biden’s website also pledges him to “restore federal funding for Planned Parenthood,” and promises to “rescind the Mexico City Policy (also referred to as the global gag rule) that President Trump reinstated and expanded.”
During his career as a senator, Biden voted numerous times in favor of the Hyde Amendment and Mexico City Policy, and opposed public funding for abortions.
But as he campaigned for the Democratic nomination last year, Biden shifted his views on abortion funding.
Over the course of one week in June 2019, Biden went from publicly supporting the Hyde Amendment–which prohibits the use of Medicaid funds for most abortions–to pledging to repeal it if he were to be elected president.
Previously, Biden supported some aspects of pro-life legislation. In addition to his Senate vote in favor of the Hyde amendment, he also supported the Mexico City Policy in 1984, voted again in favor of Hyde in 1993, and voted to ban partial-birth abortion in 1995 and again in 1997.
On Thursday, Biden said that his Catholic “faith teaches me to love my neighbor as I would myself, while President Trump only seeks to divide us. My faith teaches me to care for the least among us, while President Trump seems to only be concerned about his gilded friends. My faith teaches me to welcome the stranger, while President Trump tears families apart. My faith teaches me to walk humbly, while President Trump teargassed peaceful protestors so he could walk over to a church for a photo op.”
The candidate’s statement did not address his position on abortion.
In July, a grop of 115 Christian leaders, including Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, Kentucky and other Catholic clergy, religious, and laity, signed a letter to the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Platform Committee, asking the party to support pro-life policies including “legal protection for pre-born children.”
“We call upon you to recognize the inviolable human dignity of the child, before and after birth,” the letter stated, asking for a rejection of “a litmus test on pro-life people of faith seeking office in the Democratic Party.”
Biden, who as the 2020 presidential candidate is de facto leader of the Democratic party, did not comment on their letter, and has not responded to other entreaties from pro-life Democrats.
Earlier on Thursday, CatholicVote and former Congressman Tim Huelskamp called on Biden to denounce a recent spate of vandalism and arson at Catholic Churches across the U.S, which they called “a rising climate of anti-Catholicism” in the country. Biden has not spoken out about the matter, and his campaign has not responded to a request for comment on that issue from CNA.
For his part, Trump has faced criticism from U.S. bishops for his positions on the death penalty, immigration and refugee policy, social welfare programs, housing policy, and other issues. At the same time, the president has been praised by bishops and other Catholic leaders for policies that restricted abortion funding, and addressed religious liberty and conscience protections.
Trump has also been criticized by some Christian leaders for incidents they said instrumentalized religious faith, especially a controversial June appearance outside of a Washington, DC church, at which the president displayed a Bible while posing for photographs at the height of protests immediately following the death of George Floyd.
The Trump campaign has made a push in recent weeks for religious voters, after polling showed the president’s favorability declining among some religious voters. Among white Catholics, a crucial voting block for Trump in 2016, support dropped by almost half between March and June. Polling has shown that Catholics who say they attend Mass regularly are more likely to support Trump’s reelection than those who do not.
In addition to his statement on faith, Biden also made efforts on Twitter Thursday night to walk back controversial comments he’d made earlier in the day on race.
In an interview, Biden had told journalists that “what you all know but most people don’t know, unlike the African American community with notable exceptions, the Latino community is an incredibly diverse community with incredibly different attitudes about different things.” His tweets Thursday night said that “in no way did I mean to suggest the African American community is a monolith — not by identity, not on issues, not at all.”
A campaign adviser told CNN that Biden was “referring to diversity of attitudes among Latinos from different Latin American countries,” on some issues, including immigration policy.