Obama-Biden presents a dilemma for Roman Catholics
His selection poses a major challenge for American Roman Catholics. A pro-abortion Catholic choice as a vice presidential candidate may offend and alienate very many Christians for whom the sanctity of life and the belief that life begins at conception are articles of faith.
The American bishops have made clear that Roman Catholic political leaders must defend the dignity of every human person, including the unborn. But Senator Biden's tenure in the United States Senate has been marked by steadfast support for legal abortion.
In 2004, John Kerry's support for abortion sparked a nationwide controversy over whether Roman Catholics who support legal abortion can receive Communion. The debate was re-activated in 2007 when several bishops criticised Rudy Guiliani, also a pro-abortion Roman Catholic.
The Obama campaign will now have the very considerable problem that everywhere Senator Biden campaigns, the media will be church-watching to see if he can find a priest who will permit him to receive the host. Whilst the private/public division has so far pertained - the notion that politicians can personally and privately oppose abortion whilst refusing to pass laws protecting the unborn - the increasingly widespread view is that this is a manifest hypocrisy.
Bishop Saltarelli, the senator’s own bishop, said: "No one today would accept this statement from any public servant: 'I am personally opposed to human slavery and racism but will not impose my personal conviction in the legislative arena.' Likewise, none of us should accept this statement from any public servant: "I am personally opposed to abortion but will not impose my personal conviction in the legislative arena’."
He has made it clear that pro-abortion Catholic politicians should refrain from receiving the Eucharist. He said: “The promotion of abortion by any Catholic is a grave and serious matter. Objectively, according to the constant teaching of the Scriptures and the Church, it would be more spiritually beneficial for such a person to refrain from receiving the Body and Blood of Christ. I ask Catholics in this position to have the integrity to respect the Eucharist, Catholic
teaching and the Catholic faithful."
The American bishops have instructed Roman Catholic voters to consider many issues, but have characterised the defence of human life as 'foundational' and have explained that the issue has a special claim on the conscience of the Catholic voter. This means that a political candidate like Senator Biden, because of his strong support for abortion rights, is unworthy of support despite his views on other issues like defence, health care and the economy.
And let us not pretend that this is only a problem for America’s Roman Catholics. The Evangelical contingent – the ‘Religious Right’ - in the United States is a hugely influential and highly vocal contingent. Senator Obama might just have handed the White House to Senator McCain (though Cranmer has never doubted that this will be the outcome of this contest). The choice may have given the world's leaders someone to phone at 3.00am, but the experience of the vice president ensures that it is he who will be on the other end of the line, undermining the president at every turn. Senator Biden does not plug the gaps in the Obama quest to become the most powerful political leader on the planet; he draws attention to them. And neither man will have the blessing the most powerful religious leader on the planet. If Senator McCain chooses his running mate wisely, it is he who will be annnointed.