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Joe Biden and Catholicism in the United States
by Massimo Faggioli
(Click for Amazon book review)
BOOK REVIEW by OnTheIssues.org:
Joe Biden and Catholicism in the United States, by Massimo Faggioli is much more about the latter than the former, coming out at the very start of Biden's presidency. Yet it offers insights into how tensions in the Church--particularly the US Church--reflects the schisms in larger society. In exploring the antipathy conservative Church leaders, including in the laity, have for both Pope Francis and President Biden, it provides a road map for future debates, such as a suggestion by some bishops that Biden be denied communion because of his liberal stance on abortion laws.
Biden is the fourth Catholic candidate for president, and only the second elected after John F. Kennedy. (The other two were Al Smith and John Kerry.) Faggioli, himself a professor of theology and religious studies at Villanova University, makes the case that Biden's Catholicism puts him in a unique position. Kennedy famously made it clear he would service as a president who happened to be Catholic, not as a Catholic president [p.41], a message echoed by Kerry. Biden, on the other hand, is as firm in his Catholic beliefs as he is in support for separation of church and state. [p.50-51] He regularly attends Mass, carries his late son Beau's rosary with him, and frequently quotes Catholic liturgy and writers in his public remarks. During his first trip to Europe for the G7 summit, the Bidens attended services at the Sacred Heart Church in Falmouth, England, much to the surprise of the parishioners.
The book examines how the arrival of Pope Francis has led to a number of shifts in the Church's view of the world, perhaps most notably and literally, in taking a global perspective rather than one focused on Europe and the U.S. While not noticeably making major changes on so-called "culture war" issues such as abortion and gay marriage, Francis has been more open to speaking out on economic injustice and the climate crisis. For more conservative elements in the US and elsewhere there has been pushback, which was exacerbated during the Trump presidency with Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò--a critic of Pope Francis--making public statements in support of Donald Trump. [p.97]
The author speculates how Biden and Francis may work on issues where there is common ground but notes that while they are of the same generation--Francis is six years older--Biden represents a traditional type of American Catholic who seems to be disappearing: working class, Democratic, and politically middle of the road. Some Catholics, like Mike Pompeo and William Barr, are more comfortable with the views of the Republican right. For others, particularly of a younger generation like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, it means embracing the activism of democratic socialism.
Faggioli provides a Catholic American lens through which to view recent American history and changes in the Church.
-- Daniel M. Kimmel, OnTheIssues editor, June 23, 2021
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Page last edited: Nov 25, 2021