Once again, the emotionally charged issue of abortion has penetrated a presidential campaign, especially among Roman Catholic voters.
The bishop of Scranton, Pa., home to a strong conservative Catholic population, has forbidden Sen. Joe Biden, a Scranton native, from receiving communion in his hometown.
Biden, like 14 other Democrats in the Senate, is both pro-choice and Catholic. So the bishop decreed that the party's vice presidential candidate was not welcome at the communion rail. These Senate Democrats and many other Catholics—including this writer—do not necessarily favor abortion, but we do not feel our religious views should be foisted on others in a nation where church and state are divided.
Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey Jr. is the only Senate Democratic Catholic who is against abortion rights. Yet, he voted last year with the others on a bill that would have overturned the "Mexico City policy," which prohibits U.S. foreign aid for organizations that provide abortions. (Casey's late father, Pennsylvania Gov. Bob Casey, was also against abortion rights, and in 1992 Democrats made a big mistake by not allowing him to speak at the Democratic convention. He should have been heard. In 2008, the younger Casey did address the convention.)
In the 2004 election, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts felt the wrath of some Catholic organizations for favoring abortion rights. A few prelates of the church said Kerry and other lawmakers who agreed with him should not receive communion.
As a Catholic since birth and one raised by a devout Irish Catholic mother, I have serious problems with my church on this matter.
I admit it relates in large part to the pedophilia scandals that have ripped the church in recent years. Many priests (roughly 5,000 were accused) have been found to have abused young males and young girls, some of them altar boys. For years, the problem was hidden from public view, with priests routinely sent to other parishes without warning the new church—and certainly without informing the authorities. Some cardinals were even involved, and they were, in my view, committing criminal acts as conspirators.
For the record, rape and child molestation are crimes. Covering it up is a crime. Abortion is not a crime because of the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade.
More than $1 billion in church and insurance money has been paid to victims of pedophilia and their families for the suffering they endured. Most of the victims were youngsters who looked on priests as moral guardians and were afraid to even tell their parents.
In the past few years, but too slowly for me, the church has attempted to get rid of these men and prevent such an outrage from taking place again. Pope Benedict, in his trip to the United States earlier this year, talked forcefully about the personal sorrow he felt about this outrage.
Is it any wonder, though, that some of us resent this bishop in Scranton telling Biden he could not receive communion? He had to know it would hit the national news.
That division of church and state has application here. No priest, minister, or rabbi should be telling the flock how to vote or for whom. Some do, and they are wrong.
The Knights of Columbus, in a harsh attack on Biden in a full-page ad on September 19 in USA Today, said in sum: "Your unwillingness to bring your Catholic moral views into the public policy arena on this issue alone is troubling." Here's an answer to the Knights: Every survey in recent years shows that at least half the Catholics in the United States are pro-choice. I assume you would like to read us out of the church. I will not let you dictate to me on public policy, nor should Senator Biden.
In earlier days, the Catholic vote was strongly Democratic, largely among working-class citizens in urban areas. There has been a remarkable shift to the GOP in recent elections, and Sen. John McCain, the party's nominee, is certain to get strong Catholic support from conservatives in the church. Abortion is not the only reason, but it will be a significant factor.
Whether Joe Biden is allowed to receive communion in his hometown may not seem like a big event in this fall campaign, yet it is important and disturbing to this Catholic.