Saturday, November 07, 2020

From the Pews to "The People's House" – Biden Wins, Becoming US' Catholic-in-Chief

(Ed. Note: Updated with statements from competent ecclesial authority.)
Yet again, the votes of the nation's largest religious body held the keys to the White House. And for just the second time in the 231-year history of the Republic, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue will be home to an American Catholic.

After 87 hours of counting across several states, at 11.30am today, the nation's major news outlets called the election of Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr of Delaware, 77, as the 46th President of the United States, defeating the incumbent Donald Trump. 

The projection came as the Democratic nominee widened his lead in Pennsylvania, one of the three heavily-Catholic states that flipped to Trump in 2016 by a combined 77,774 votes. (At top, Biden is seen accepting the University of Notre Dame's 2016 Laetare Medal – the most prestigious honor for a US Catholic – receiving it jointly with the Republican House Speaker John Boehner.)

Already the first Catholic ever to be elected Vice-President over two terms at Barack Obama's side, the Scranton-born Biden – taught by his hometown's Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Norbertines of Archmere Academy in his adopted First State – now takes his place alongside John F. Kennedy (1961-63) as the lone members of the faithful to ascend to the Oval Office. A five-decade member of St Joseph on the Brandywine parish at the suburban edges of Wilmington, the President-elect is a weekly attendee at Sunday's 9am Mass in the quaint church, built in 1841 by the Dupont family for their chemical company's immigrant laborers.

According to exit polling by the Associated Press, Biden wiped out the GOP's usual dominance with white Catholics nationwide – a feat last accomplished by Bill Clinton in his two victories in the 1990s – but took the church's at-large vote on the back of a 2-to-1 split among Hispanics, who were the largest minority bloc in this election for the first time. With the Democratic ticket on pace to win roughly 300 electoral votes (clearing the requisite threshold of 270), the ongoing popular tally has made Biden the first presidential contender ever to attain 75 million votes.

In a year marked by titanic upheavals of American society amid the COVID-19 pandemic and a national reckoning on race relations, Trump sought to shift his re-election from being a referendum on his polarizing, disaster-prone first term, hitching his bid for Catholic support on the basis of his opposition to abortion – a push fueled by his surrogates' baseless, but no less concerted attempts to portray Biden as out of communion with his own church. 

While the Democrats' increasingly dogmatic abortion policy has exacerbated tensions between the party and much of the church's leadership over the last two decades, the incoming President has never been sanctioned by any ecclesiastical authority – as Biden's home-ordinary, Bishop W. Francis Malooly of Wilmington reiterated at the campaign's start last year that he "has consistently refrained from politicizing the Eucharist, and will continue to do so."

Despite the significant divide on the unborn, Biden has formed a solid bond with Pope Francis since the pontiff's election in 2013, finding common cause on several key concerns of the latter's social Magisterium opposed by Trump's nationalist base, among them climate change, racial and economic justice and the plight of migrants. 

Though he was quietly received by then-Pope Benedict XVI as Vice-President in 2011, in a 2015 tribute to Francis he penned for TIME magazine, Biden said that the reigning Pope began their first meeting by pointedly telling him "You are always welcome here" at the Vatican. 
Even as global travel is severely complicated amid the pandemic, it's virtually certain that a historic encounter between an American Pope and the US' "Catholic-in-Chief" would be at the top of a Biden Administration's wish-list of road stops as soon as circumstances allow. 

For its part, odds are the Holy See will have a better rapport with the incoming White House than the departing one. Beyond the Pope's longstanding and explicit revulsion at Trump's immigration policy, just last month, the Vatican's two lead diplomats made a rare expression of public displeasure after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was seen as openly pressuring Francis against renewing the church's provisional accord with China's Communist government over the appointment of bishops. 
The Sino-Vatican pact was extended shortly after a visit to Rome by Pompeo, during which the secretary was not granted a private audience with the Pope.

As for the nation's hierarchy, while it is customary for the president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops to issue a statement congratulating the POTUS-to-be once the election is called, no reaction has yet emerged. (SVILUPPO: A statement was released Saturday evening – text below) In any case, though the bench's conservative flank leaned heavily on opposition to abortion and the GOP's advocacy for Christians' religious liberty as the linchpin of their people's discernment, this campaign was marked by a notable pushback against "single-issue voting" by an unusually sizable bloc of prelates largely seen as key allies of Francis.

How the dynamic will translate to the church's relations with a Catholic White House remains to be seen, but experience indicates a warmer ride than the transactional, whiplash-like nature of Trump's one term in office, capped by last month's confirmation of now-Justice Amy Coney Barrett – a favorite of pro-life activists – to the Supreme Court.

While supporters of the winning ticket have taken to the streets of major cities to celebrate the election's outcome, the mood doesn't lessen the mountain of challenges Biden will inherit upon his Inauguration on January 20th. Nonetheless, that day will begin with a special touch of history, as the President-elect attends early Mass at the Jesuit-run Holy Trinity Church in Georgetown before heading to the Capitol for his oath of office.

It will be 60 years to the day since JFK opened his swearing-in at the same altar. 

SVILUPPO: At 6pm Washington time, the USCCB President, Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, released the bench's customary statement congratulating the President-elect.

Notably, however, the text conspicuously ducked the term in reference to Biden – ostensibly in light of Trump's refusal to concede and Republican threats of legal challenges to the result.

Here, Gomez's full comment:

We thank God for the blessings of liberty. The American people have spoken in this election. Now is the time for our leaders to come together in a spirit of national unity and to commit themselves to dialogue and compromise for the common good.

As Catholics and Americans, our priorities and mission are clear. We are here to follow Jesus Christ, to bear witness to His love in our lives, and to build His Kingdom on earth. I believe that at this moment in American history, Catholics have a special duty to be peacemakers, to promote fraternity and mutual trust, and to pray for a renewed spirit of true patriotism in our country. 

Democracy requires that all of us conduct ourselves as people of virtue and self-discipline. It requires that we respect the free expression of opinions and that we treat one another with charity and civility, even as we might disagree deeply in our debates on matters of law and public policy. 

As we do this, we recognize that Joseph R. Biden, Jr., has received enough votes to be elected the 46th President of the United States. We congratulate Mr. Biden and acknowledge that he joins the late President John F. Kennedy as the second United States president to profess the Catholic faith. We also congratulate Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California, who becomes the first woman ever elected as vice president. 

We ask the Blessed Virgin Mary, patroness of this great nation, to intercede for us. May she help us to work together to fulfill the beautiful vision of America’s missionaries and founders — one nation under God, where the sanctity of every human life is defended and freedom of conscience and religion are guaranteed. 

SVILUPPO 2: While several US bishops have issued their own responses to the outcome – with all the variation you can imagine – Sunday afternoon brought a statement from Biden's local hierarch, Wilmington's aforementioned Bishop Fran Malooly.

Soon to be three years past 75, as Whispers reported in July, the Vatican delayed the retirement of Delaware's statewide prelate until the campaign was completed. Even so, the Baltimore native now becomes the second prelate to be the bishop of an American President, joining Boston's legendary Cardinal Richard Cushing, the chaplain to the Kennedys, who died 50 years ago this week.

Named to lead the 250,000-member Wilmington fold in summer 2008 – just as Biden was tapped as Obama's running mate – given Malooly's usual reticence for public comment on his most prominent parishioner, to use a famous Biden-ism, his bishop's statement "is a BFD":

“St. Paul reminds us in today’s second reading that as Christians, we are called to be people of hope. No matter where we might fall on the political spectrum, we must seize this moment as an opportunity to begin to heal the crippling divisions in our great nation. These fractures were forged over decades and reconciliation will take time and patience. It begins with each of us. Today I congratulate President-elect Biden. We all must pray for the President-elect and President Trump during this time of transition and we look to the future with hope that as one Nation under God, we will continue be a beacon of freedom and prosperity to the world.”

...and speaking of Wilmington, today's morning after brought this: