NASHVILLE, Tenn. — American voters have elected only two Roman Catholic presidents: John F. Kennedy and Joe Biden.
Both Democrats confronted pushback due to their beliefs. While Kennedy handled strain from exterior the Catholic Church, Biden’s is coming from inside it.
“The political situation could not be more different than it is now,” mentioned Monsignor Owen Campion, who spent 40 years working in Catholic media.
Kennedy campaigned amid anti-Catholic prejudice and criticism his presidency would result in undue affect by the Catholic Church. In 1960, Kennedy addressed the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, telling the group that he was not the Catholic candidate, however the Democrat operating for president who occurred to be Catholic.
“I do not speak for my church on public matters and the church does not speak for me,” Kennedy mentioned.
“If the time should ever come — and I do not concede any conflict to be remotely possible — when my office would require me to either violate my conscience or violate the national interest, then I would resign the office.”
U.S. bishops put Biden within the scorching seat
Fast ahead six many years. Biden is within the scorching seat and it’s American Catholic bishops turning up the warmth.
In a transfer seen as a possible rebuke of Catholic politicians who again abortion rights, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops recently voted to draft a instructing doc on the Holy Eucharist. Biden, who has confronted scrutiny for his stance on abortion and actions taken throughout his presidency, mentioned he didn’t assume he can be denied Communion and referred to as it a non-public matter.
So what modified between Catholic president No. 1 and Catholic president No. 2?
The shift from exterior pressures to inside ones reveals an elevated acceptance of non secular variety within the U.S., mentioned Kent Syler, a political science professor at Middle Tennessee State University and particular initiatives coordinator for the Albert Gore Research Center.
But it additionally underscores simply how hyper partisan Americans are right this moment, he mentioned.
“We have simply found more ways to divide ourselves,” Syler mentioned. “The bishops are more religious than partisan, but most voters today put partisan differences ahead of religious differences.”
Catholic voters are cut up practically in half politically. Forty-eight p.c recognized as Republican or leaning towards the GOP whereas 47% mentioned they have been Democrats or Democratic leaning, Pew Research Center polls showed in 2018 and 2019.
That performed out within the 2020 presidential election. AP VoteCast confirmed Biden and former President Donald Trump cut up the Catholic vote. Whereas Kennedy gained about 80% of it in 1960, in line with America Magazine.
But Kennedy’s celebration couldn’t save him in Democratic-rooted Southern states like Tennessee. Syler pointed to the late U.S. Sen. Albert Gore Sr.’s analysis of why Richard Nixon gained the Volunteer State in 1960 and not Kennedy: “The religious factor surely dealt us a death blow as far as the state is concerned.”
Kennedy did not face controversy over abortion
Kennedy was a Catholic darling, however he didn’t face a problem as controversial throughout the Catholic group as abortion is right this moment, mentioned Campion, the previous editor of the Nashville diocese’s newspaper. The U.S. Supreme Court wouldn’t hand down its watershed Roe v. Wade choice till 1973.
“Abortion is the chief issue for a lot of Catholics,” Campion mentioned.
Despite the Catholic Church’s official opposition on abortion, a 2019 Pew Research Center survey reveals Catholics are cut up alongside partisan strains over their views on the process. Among Democratic or Democratic-leaning Catholics, 77% mentioned abortion ought to be authorized whereas 63% of Republican and Republican-leaning Catholics mentioned it ought to be unlawful.
“The culture of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was born in abortion politics,” mentioned Steven P. Millies, a public theology professor at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, Illinois.
Abortion and politics are wound up within the newest Communion debate throughout the American church.
About two-thirds of all U.S. Catholic adults assume Biden ought to be capable to obtain Communion, a Pew Research Center poll showed in March. But they are divided alongside celebration strains with 55% of Republican or Republican-leaning Catholics saying Biden’s abortion stance disqualifies him whereas 87% of Democratic or Democratic-leaning Catholics say he ought to be capable to obtain Communion.
If Trump would have gained, it’s unlikely the bishops can be so preoccupied proper now with the Communion situation, mentioned Millies, who research the Catholic Church’s relationship to politics. But he thinks there’s a larger image situation at play, too.
“They’re concerned about the loss of their public relevance, their grip on the imagination of Catholics and non Catholics, and so what they do control is access to the sacraments,” Millies mentioned.
Biden prone to nonetheless obtain Communion
Communion is a sacrament within the Catholic Church. The archbishop of Washington mentioned Biden, who attends Mass often, can take Communion at church buildings within the archdiocese. Biden personally opposes abortion, however doesn’t wish to impose his view on others.
Knoxville Bishop Richard Stika, who sees an abortion stance like Biden’s as a “false statement,” voted in assist of drafting the instructing doc on the Holy Eucharist.
Over the previous 5 years, ethical points like abortion, euthanasia and extra have been coming to a head, Stika mentioned. He has watched Catholic politicians use their platforms to offer readability on Catholic beliefs, however mentioned typically what they share runs counter to church teachings.
But Stika mentioned he informed clergymen in his East Tennessee diocese to not make some extent to disclaim Communion to Catholics like Biden who assist abortion rights in the event that they current themselves at Mass as a result of it could make a spectacle. A non-public dialog is higher, he mentioned.
“There’s a lot of Catholic politicians who will go to Mass, but will refrain from the Eucharist because perhaps a bishop or their pastor had a nice conversation with him and said, ‘You know, you’re causing scandal,'” Stika mentioned.
Once drafted, the Communion instructing doc will probably be submitted to the American bishops’ for consideration.
“I think the dialogue is good and it’s healthy,” Stika mentioned. “It’s not going to attack any individual. It’s going to teach very clearly where the church sees the Eucharist.”
Contributing: The Associated Press.
Follow Holly Meyer on Twitter: @HollyAMeyer.