Presidential candidate Joe Biden highlighted his Catholic faith in a new campaign ad, released on Tuesday, Feb. 18. The former frontrunner for the Democratic nomination has seen a sharp drop in his poll numbers following loses in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary.
Biden, a baptized Catholic, said in the ad that “faith is what has gotten me through difficult times in my life,” including the deaths of his first wife, eldest daughter in a car accident, and his son Beau’s death from brain cancer.
As Biden is speaking, the ad displays black-and-white pictures of the former vice president with various religious figures, including Pope Francis.
“Personally for me, faith, it’s all about hope and purpose and strength, and for me, my religion is just an enormous sense of solace,” he added.
“I go to Mass and I say the rosary. I find it to be incredibly comforting,” Biden said.
The former frontrunner for the Democratic nomination quoted the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, who said that “faith sees best in the dark,” to explain how his traumatic experiences have helped him develop and rely on his faith.
“I marvel at people who absorb hurt and just get back up,” he said, drawing comparisons to the present state of the United States under President Donald Trump.
“And I’m absolutely thoroughly convinced and optimistic about the prospects of this country. No, I really mean it,” he said. “There is nothing-there is nothing we can’t do.”
While Biden is profiles his Catholicism in the advertisement, it has been a source of controversy over his lengthy political career, and he has endorsed policies that are contrary to Church teaching.
Shortly after his election as vice president, the then-bishop of his hometown of Scranton, PA, rebuked Biden for his views on abortion.
“I will not tolerate any politician who claims to be a faithful Catholic who is not genuinely pro-life,” said Bishop Joseph Martino of Scranton in 2008. “No Catholic politician who supports the culture of death should approach Holy Communion. I will be truly vigilant on this point.”
During the 2008 campaign, Biden also received a letter from the then-bishop of the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee, after he received Communion at a parish in the diocese. The letter reiterated the Catholic Church’s views on abortion, and the bishop offered prayers that Biden would “live by the virtue of fortitude as you proclaim your support to the Person of Christ in the most vulnerable of his members: the pre-born child.”
In October 2019, Biden was refused Communion at a Catholic church in South Carolina. The priest denied Biden Communion in accord with a 2004 diocesan policy that prohibits politicians who have been supportive of legal protection for abortion from receiving the Eucharist.
“Catholic public officials who consistently support abortion on demand are cooperating with evil in a public manner. By supporting pro-abortion legislation they participate in manifest grave sin, a condition which excludes them from admission to Holy Communion as long as they persist in the pro-abortion stance,” says a 2004 decree signed jointly by the bishops of Atlanta, Charleston, and Charlotte.
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.
During the last year, Biden has shifted his views on abortion. Over the course of one week in June, 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.
In an interview shortly after the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, Biden refused to support unrestricted access to abortion and said that he thought the Supreme Court “went too far” in their decision. In 1981, he lent his name to the “Biden Amendment,” which bans the use of federal funds for biomedical research involving abortion or involuntary sterilization.
By 2012, in the vice presidential debate against then-Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), Biden described himself as being personally pro-life, though he also expressed his support for legally protecting abortion.