There has been a growing chorus of Catholic priests and bishops who have become outspoken in their disdain for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, despite their shared Catholic faith. Some are blatantly partisan, while others are clearly incensed by his position on abortion and willing to set aside the basic civility applied to politicians who dissent from Church teaching on a whole range of other matters.
Biden’s faith has been a big part of his campaign, as he consistently reflects upon his Catholic faith and his Catholic upbringing on the campaign trail. It’s also not uncommon to see him holding a rosary. However, Joe Biden’s position on abortion has shifted over time; he was once opposed to the federal funding of abortion and perhaps favored more restrictions on abortion, but he shifted in the primary toward more liberal policies. Both his pro-choice stance and shift on these issues have clearly rubbed a growing number of Catholic clergy and prelates the wrong way, and they are becoming more and more vocal about Joe Biden’s faith. Others who consistently favor Republicans have used his position as an opportunity to chime in, as well.
Cardinal Raymond Burke went on Fox News to attack Joe Biden’s stance on abortion and claimed that Biden should not receive communion. Influential conservative priest Father Dwight Longenecker called Joe Biden a “fake Catholic.” And on the evening of August 21st, Bishop Rick Stika of Knoxville, TN proclaimed that he didn’t “understand how Mr. Biden can claim to be a good and faithful Catholic” and praised President Trump for being anti-abortion. These are just a few of the most recent examples of prominent Catholics who have attacked Joe Biden—and, frankly, enough is enough.
I am sad and embarrassed to watch priests and bishops selectively attack certain politicians, like Joe Biden, and attack Catholics who are supporting Joe Biden by calling them “fake” or claiming that they should be denied communion. I am not in a position to proclaim the depth and sincerity of Joe Biden’s faith or the faith of those who support him politically (or those denouncing him and his supporters); however, I am deeply offended by the snide, petty, and demeaning comments that are being made by prominent Catholics who have the privilege of reaching tens of thousands (if not millions) of Catholics via social media and other avenues. It is beneath the dignity of the office these men hold. Are they not supposed to show love and compassion? Are they not supposed to be charitable? Are they not supposed to show grace? Are they not supposed to evangelize and bring people into the Church, and bring back those who have left the Church? Do they imagine that this is what Christian witness should look like?
How will these malicious and nasty remarks help to evangelize? They won’t. There are those who left the Church who see these mean statements that pass harsh judgment on the faith of Catholics like Joe Biden and think to themselves: “Yes, that’s why I left.” Perhaps the petty, bullying nature of these comments will attract some right-wing ideologues into the Catholic Church (though probably not many), but I fail to see how this callous and highly judgmental image that is being presented by priests and bishops will help the Church draw and retain people in the way that is desperately needed during this era of rising non-affiliation.
Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, at a time when millions of Catholics are sitting at home because of COVID-19 and are unable to attend Sunday services, it is more important than ever that the Church remind Catholics of why they need the Church and what good the Church does. As bishops and priests attack, lecture, and demean Catholic Democrats, or Catholics who might vote for a Democrat, they risk pushing those Catholics away from the Church. They can challenge Biden on the issue of abortion, just as they can and should challenge Catholic and non-Catholic politicians on the whole range of issues that help to create the throwaway culture that Pope Francis has spent years highlighting and denouncing. But their behavior and rhetoric should reflect Christian virtue and respect for the dignity of other human beings.
Twitter, Facebook, and traditional media sources can be useful for evangelization. They are tools that when used properly can spread the Gospel messages of love, mercy, charity, and justice. However, when those who use them choose to spread malice, spite, and vindictiveness, all they do is sow seeds of resentment and anger. So, before this election grows more brutal and our country becomes more divided and bitter, please stop. Just stop.