Tuesday, February 16, 2021

RC Bishops Need To Be Taught That Biden Is Under NO Obligation To Espouse Catholic Moral Teachings


L.A. Archbishop Jose Gomez- dislikes President Biden's "deviations from Catholic teaching".  But as U.S. president Biden is not obliged to support or promote such teachings for the entire nation.

In a recent WSJ review essay ('Can Catholic Social Teaching Unite A Divided America?',  Feb. 6-7, p. C1)  the issue of compatibility between Catholic moral teachings and a Catholic president's responsibilities arose.  The piece points out that Joe Biden - the second Catholic to hold the office of president - "is a far cry from the first Catholic president John F. Kennedy".  

Recall Kennedy "sought to dispel prejudice against his faith by assuring an audience of Protestant ministers: 'I am not the Catholic candidate for president, I am the Democratic Party's candidate for president who happens to be Catholic."  

JFK made his remarks  in September, 1960 - to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association.  See e.g.


 Kennedy  stated firmly to the gathered Protestant ministers that he believed in an America where the separation of church and state was "absolute" and that this was also an America in which no Catholic prelate could tell a (Catholic) president how to  act, and no Protestant minister would tell his flock how to vote.   Also,

"Where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference, and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the man who might appoint him,  or elect him."or any other ecclesiastical source."


"I believe in an America that is neither Catholic, Protestant or Jewish, and where no public official accepts instructions on public policy from the pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source."

Kennedy's take was exactly correct, irrespective of the time it was pronounced. The reason is that he - as presidential candidate- recognized Jefferson's 'Wall of Separation' and that it would be vastly imprudent to breach it.   For the same reason Roman Catholics would not appreciate a Fundamentalist President imposing his beliefs and moral teachings on them, so also Protestants (as well as atheists) would chafe at a Catholic President imposing his beliefs or moral teachings on them.

Now, it may be true - as the article observes - that Biden "has made religion a prominent element of his public role"  and has even "placed a photograph of Pope Francis ...behind his desk in the Oval Office."   But those simple moves do not mean he will also be promoting Catholic teaching, or indeed, be issuing an executive order to ban abortion anytime soon. The reason is that he surely knows that would mark a breach of the Wall of Separation.

Indeed, the article points out RC Bishops, Archbishops already grasp this to some extent. For example, Jose Gomez, the Archbishop of Los Angeles has referenced Biden as "deviating from Church teaching".   According to Gomez, in a statement released on Inauguration Day:

"Our new president has pledged to pursue certain policies that would advance moral evils and threaten human life and dignity, most seriously in the areas of abortion, contraception, marriage and gender."

But it is unclear what he is all about. Does he really expect the president of 330 million with dozens of creeds, beliefs and moral positions can dictate one religion's moral values?  If so, one wonders what he's drinking - as it must be more than church wine.    Indeed, there is no way Biden can carry any of those into the domain of presidential authority without intense blowback.

Take abortion.  It is now acknowledged by progressive secular Catholics as fundamental to a woman's control over her own body as well as her physical welfare.  The notion of "moral evil" is itself absurd, given as Ethics professor Cheryl Mendelson has pointed out  ('The Good Life', p. 157):

"The premoral mind confuses the disgusting with the wrong and retains an infantile fear of things sexual. Its rationality is overcome by emotion, fantasy, wish and projection. The belief that extracting a 10-week fetus from a woman's womb is murder rests to a large extent on the sense of disgust aroused by the thought of destruction of living tissue.

When fundamentalists insist on risking the life of the mother to deliver an anencephalic fetus they take this tendency to an extreme. People who think this way are unable to override disgust with rational appreciation of the objective characteristics of the fetus. The ability to do so is an indispensable trait of the moral mind."

In other words, the basis for a truly moral mind presumes the capacity for rationality to assess objectively - as opposed to emotively.  This is something I've written about a number of times before.   A point made in my Aug. 1, 2015 post was that no sane person in his or her right mind could possibly regard a "zygote" as a person, or a fetus as an "unborn child". There is simply no standard by which that passes even elemental laws or tests of logic, or science.   As Mendelson also observes (p. 159):

"Nature sloughs off early pregnancies at a high rate and we do not hold funerals for these embryos and early fetuses.  As many as 60 to 70 percent of fertilized eggs are lost overall, usually silently - without anyone ever knowing fertilization took place. Up to 15 percent of known pregnancies miscarry in the first trimester. Were we to take seriously the morbid pseudo-moralism of the fundamentalist Right, we would recognize these countless millions of miscarried embryos and fetuses as lost lives and be sunk in a vast and permanent sea of endless mourning for the unending deaths of innocents."

So the question arises: Why don't the anti-abortionists have this endless mourning for the dead embryos, fetuses? Well, first - because there are too many and they'd never have an end to funerals or morbid grief - as Mendelson points out. Second,  because the premoral mind only makes a federal case out of it when individual women are seen trekking to Planned Parenthood for abortions!  IF those were carried out silently, discreetly in private (like nature does),  say using an abortion pill-  none of this would be known and no anti-abortion hysteria could exist  This is why the sooner  much wider access to RU-486 is achieved the better, to take the issue out of the premoralists' mitts.

Mendelson goes on to make an equally cogent point regarding the false moral righteousness of  people like Gomez (p. 160):

"To equate the termination of an early pregnancy with the death, indeed the murder, of an infant or child is not merely morally uncalled for but dangerous. It implicitly demeans the value of real people's lives, both adults' and children's, and confuses the reasons why we protect them so vigilantly. If our moral obligations to one another are abstracted from our capacities for feeling, thinking, intending and wanting - from everything that makes us human and forms the ground for our care and protection of each other- we are thrown back into a premoral kind of thinking.

To regard the destruction of insensate agglomerations of cells that contain human DNA as the destruction of a person's life is to step outside the moral into the brutal and dangerously irrational kind of thought that substitutes taboo for reason. It is a regression to quasi-magical thinking."

This applies with even more force to contraception, especially as we are in an era of  overpopulation which bodes ill for billions of people, in terms of sufficient food supply as as well as water and other resources.  Moreover, an antiquated belief that a human is ensouled in a zygote is also at the core of RC teaching on contraception, as well as prohibition of other sexual acts, e.g. masturbation.  But as Medelson points out:

"The premises that the fertilized egg, embryo and fetus are ensouled or sacred are ideas that cannot be proved  factually and that many religions vehemently reject."

Finally, and most importantly:

"Do those people who oppose abortion or contraception on the basis of religious tenets have the right to impose their religious views on people who reject them?  The moral answer, emphatically, enshrined as law in the United States Constitution, is no. People are within their rights to attempt to persuade others to adopt and live by their religious ideas but not to force them to do so using laws and the power of government."

This in a nutshell sums up why President Biden cannot go out on a moral crusade to do the Catholic Church's moral bidding, no matter how many photos of Pope Francis he has in the Oval Office.  In this respect, perhaps the most rational and sane voice quoted in the WSJ piece is that of the Rev. David Hollenbach - a professor at Georgetown University.  As he notes:

"Roman Catholicism is not a fundamentalist tradition that says the only resource for our ethics is the bible and our faith. It also bases our moral standards on reason."

Which coincidentally is Cheryl Mendelson's argument for defining any moral system.   In this same perspective, Fr. Hollenbach goes on:

"Catholicism is not just about abortion and sex.  The orientation of the Democratic Party - especially the orientation that Joe Biden is trying - is responding to a wider range of important Catholic concerns across the board."

That wider range of concerns, of course, is addressed in the American Rescue Plan - see link below.  Given this, I believe JFK would endorse that humanistic orientation as well, even if those like the doctrinaire Archbishop Gomez would not.  

See Also:

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