Commentary

Big Gap in Where the Candidates Stand on Catholic Issues

By Bill Donohue | October 5, 2020 | 2:02pm EDT
Donald Trump and Joe Biden are squaring off in the 2020 presidential election. (Photo credit: Nicholas Kamm/AFP and Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)
Donald Trump and Joe Biden are squaring off in the 2020 presidential election. (Photo credit: Nicholas Kamm/AFP and Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

The Catholic vote is the religious swing vote and both the Trump and Biden camps know it. This explains their outreach via Catholics for Trump and Catholics for Biden.  

More important than these campaign efforts is how the two candidates approach issues that are central to Catholicism. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has declared abortion to be the "preeminent" issue for Catholics. On this score, Trump's pro-life position is consistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church. 

Biden, who was once pro-life, is now a champion of abortion-on-demand through term, and is therefore wildly out-of-step with his religion's position.

Trump and the Catholic Church agree that marriage should be the preserve of one man and one woman. Biden rejects the Church's teaching and supports gay marriages. School choice is favored by the Catholic Church, and Trump is a rabid supporter of it. Biden is opposed to all school choice initiatives.

Religious liberty has emerged as one of the most important issues of our day, affecting domestic and foreign policy alike. The Catholic League has tallied nearly 50 instances where Trump has embraced or advanced religious liberty in the past three-and-a-half years. 

We examined Biden's record over 47 years of public service and could find almost no instances of his support for religious liberty. He did vote for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) in 1993, but his recent endorsement of the "Equality Act" and "Do No Harm" effectively vitiates his position: both would seriously undercut, if not neuter altogether, RFRA. Most glaringly, Biden's support for the Health and Human Services mandate that would force the Little Sisters of the Poor to pay for abortion-inducing drugs in their healthcare plan has led him to be denounced by Catholic leaders, lay and clergy alike.

The official party platforms offer a revealing look at the way the Trump and Biden campaigns address religious liberty. There are nine references to religious liberty in the Republican Party Platform, all of which are positive statements. The Democratic Party Platform cites religious liberty six times, four times positively and two times negatively. 

Both Trump and Biden have been praised and criticized by some bishops. This matters less to Trump as he is not Catholic. But it matters greatly to Biden.

Cardinal Raymond Burke has said that Biden should not be given Holy Communion because of his pro-abortion record. Some priests have, in fact, denied him the Eucharist, or have warned him not to come to Communion, because of his stance. 

Bishop Richard Stika called out Biden over the summer:

"Don't understand how Mr. Biden can claim to be a good and faithful Catholic as he denies so much of Church teaching especially on the absolute child abuse and human rights violations of the most innocent, the not yet born."

Bishop Thomas Tobin took an oblique shot at Biden when he observed that there was no Catholic on the Democratic ticket this time. 

Some bishops have made more veiled comments. Bishop Joseph Strickland has spoken out strongly about the election and how the "Sanctity of Life, true marriage between a man & a woman, supporting the nuclear family and sexual morality based on biblical truth" must be paramount. Bishop Thomas Daly has advised those who "obstinately persevere in their public support for abortion, should not receive Communion without first being reconciled to Christ and the Church."

What got Biden into deep trouble with the bishops was his decision not only to support gay marriage, but his willingness to officiate at a wedding between two men. Three leaders of the bishops' conference, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, Bishop Richard Malone, and Archbishop Thomas Wenski issued a statement that was obviously aimed at Biden. They criticized him for being "a counter witness, instead of a faithful one founded in the truth."

The most recent bishop to call into question Biden's standing in the Catholic Church—without mentioning him specifically—is Archbishop Samuel Aquila: "It is not possible to be a Catholic in good standing and support abortion or assisted suicide, to promote unnatural sexuality, or to seek to push people of faith out of the public square."  

Finally, there is the issue of anti-Catholicism. The Trump administration has never been tagged with anti-Catholicism, but the Biden campaign certainly has. In fact, his running mate, Kamala Harris, made a stunning contribution to this ancient strain of bigotry when she badgered a man being considered for a seat on a federal district court in Nebraska simply because he belonged to the Knights of Columbus. 

Now we have Humanists for Biden, an off-shoot of Secular Democrats of America, also of recent vintage. The parent group is off to a fast start bashing Catholics. Biden also has in his employ Nikitha Rai, a data expert who suggests that Catholics like Amy Coney Barrett, who espouse traditional moral values, should not be allowed to serve on the Supreme Court.

It is evident that Biden's policies on key issues are problematic from a Catholic perspective. Add to this his strained relationship with many priests and bishops, as well as the support he receives from anti-Catholics, and the difference between Trump and him is considerable.

Bill Donohue is president and CEO of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, the nation's largest Catholic civil rights organization. He was awarded his Ph.D. in sociology from New York University and is the author of eight books and many articles.

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