You may have missed this story. I almost missed it myself, but it so enraged me that I poked around to see if it could be true. It is. Argh.
Happened last week. The Roman Catholic archbishop of Denver, Charles Chaput, said that the Democratic vice presidential nominee better not try to take Communion at a Catholic church in Denver, where he was accepting his party's nomination. The Democratic Party platform strongly supports a woman's right to choose, as does Biden himself, although he is said to be personally against abortion.
- Bad senator, no wafer 09.02.08
"I certainly presume his goodwill and integrity," said the archbishop, "and I presume that his integrity will lead him to refrain from presenting himself for Communion if he supports a false 'right' to abortion."
The day before the archbishop made that statement, Biden had "presented himself" at his parish church in Wilmington, Del., and taken Communion without any difficulties - just as he has done most Sundays for more than 20 years. Millions of Catholics who disagree with one or more of the church's teachings also take Communion, which is a reaffirmation of their faith and their bond with God.
Chaput's remarks were not, sad to say, unprecedented. But the timing of them with the convention was plainly grandstanding. He had to inject his church - which, of course, gets numerous tax benefits for being holy - into national politics by reminding Catholics that Joe Biden is, or should be, anathema to all true believers. And why did he do that? Because he could.
Despite my name - John Carroll was the first bishop of the United States, and there are all sorts of Catholic John Carrolls running around - I was not raised a Catholic and am not one now. I believe in good old religious tolerance, however, and am no particular fan of the best-selling militant atheism that has taken certain segments of the country by storm recently - people, I assume, who feel lonely because they are not leading Purpose-Driven Lives and will soon be Left Behind. Joke.
I believe that religion can be and in many cases is a force for good in the community. But along with religion you get hierarchy (except for, say, the Quakers), and hierarchy means priests and mullahs and cardinals and swamis and who knows what all. Of course they are going to tell people what to think; that is their job.
The question is: What happens when the follower does not think what the boss holy man wants him to think? And the more elaborate the hierarchy, the stronger the inclination of the leaders to invent thought crimes and then enforce sanctions against them. And a few turns of the wheel and a couple of bad decisions, and hello, here's the Spanish Inquisition.
It is worst for the fervent believer. For someone who really does find a spiritual link to the ineffable through an organized religion - through, say, the Catholic Church - then the denial of a sacred ritual is like a blow to the heart. It is not something that should be done lightly or with an eye toward headlines. And yet, here we have this Chaput guy singling out one person who happens to be, oh yes, a Democratic politician running for national office.
It is hard to be a Roman Catholic in America today. The church is run by a man who lives half a world away who was, in earlier times, a member of Hitler Youth. Kind of hard to take someone like that seriously as the Supreme Moral Authority. And yet, somehow, it works out, and the church moves along, doing the tasks of the Lord, or a lord, or of a very nice person.
The church-and-state thing is tricky. What with the power of the evangelical right in the previous election, with many preachers supporting one candidate from the pulpit, the line just got blurrier. There is some thinking in the land that there ought not to be a line at all. I know a lot of people who are scared of Christians now, and I know that there are a lot of Christians who have been told to be afraid of non-believers.
All of that is one thing. But Joe Biden is a man of faith; he was raised in an Irish Catholic family and he never left the church. In matters of public policy rather than faith, however, he has chosen to go his own way - as indeed have the majority of American Catholics. To threaten a man's faith because of how he votes is medieval; it's disgusting. I really hope it never, ever comes up again.