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Catholic leaders respond to Biden’s call for unity

shutterstock_526074640_1.jpg The White House - Washington DC United States / Shutterstock

Catholic leaders responded to new President Joe Biden’s call for national unity in his inaugural address on Wednesday. 

Biden, the second Catholic to become president of the United States, said on Wednesday that “to restore the soul and secure the future of America requires so much more than words,” and added that “it requires the most elusive of all things in a democracy, unity. Unity.”

Biden also quoted St. Augustine to underline the need for unity in truth.

“Many centuries ago, St. Augustine, a saint in my Church, wrote that a people was a multitude defined by the common objects of their love,” he said. These “common objects” that define Americans, said Biden, are “opportunity, security, liberty, dignity, respect, honor and, yes, the truth.”

He added that “each of us has a duty and a responsibility as citizens, as Americans, and especially as leaders, leaders who have pledged to honor our Constitution and protect our nation, to defend the truth and defeat the lies.” 

However, multiple Catholic thinkers said that Biden left out Augustine’s reference to God in his citation.

Dr. Chad Pecknold, a theology professor at the Catholic University of America, noted that “Biden actually failed to quote Augustine in full,” and added that it was “more important still to note that he failed to identify the only common object of love that Augustine thought mattered for a true commonwealth: God.”

Other Catholic commentators praised Biden’s theme of unity in his address, but emphasized that his policies must match the Church’s teachings--including on abortion and religious freedom.

Dr. Charles Camosy, a theology professor at Fordham University and former board member of Democrats for Life of America, praised Biden for attending Mass at St. Matthew’s Cathedral on Wednesday morning, along with congressional leaders. 

Biden’s heart, Camosy said, “is a Catholic one and a deeply Catholic one at that. His decision to pray with Leader McConnell before being inaugurated shows a deep commitment to the kinds of values we would expect from a son of the Church.”

Catholics, Camosy said, should seek to work with Biden on areas of agreement and hold him accountable when his public policies conflict with the teachings of the Church--including on Biden’s support for taxpayer-funded abortion.

“Happily, he [Biden] believes in his Catholic heart that abortion is always wrong,” Camosy said. “This is a foundation on which to build for changing his mind about public policy.”

“There is common ground to be had on abortion, and we owe it to prenatal children and their mothers to seek to find it. No pro-lifer should allow their understandable anger and frustration to lead them to put castigation and vitriol before taking the chance to save lives,” Camosy said.

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Mary Rice Hasson, a fellow at the Ethics & Public Policy Center, said that Biden’s words may have evinced a “‘feel-good’ moment,” but his first actions as president are saying otherwise.

She pointed to Biden’s announced executive order clarifying that workplace protections against sex discrimination be interpreted to include prohibitions of discrimination on the basis of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.”

The text of the order “is based on a lie,” Hasson said, “that ‘gender identity’ enables a male person to ‘be’ a woman. So much for truth.” 

She added that the order “puts the power of the federal government behind the lie, forcing religious believers—including his [Biden’s] own Church—to bend the knee to the transgender lie or be tagged as bigots and denied participation in federal programs, grants, and benefits.” 

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However, Fr. James Martin, S.J., editor-at-large of America magazine who offered a prayer at the 2020 Democratic National Convention, told CNA that Biden “today invited our country into a time of unity and healing, which is what is needed in these divisive and demonizing times.”

He noted Biden’s specific references to faith “to remind us that God will help us in our efforts.”

Elsewhere in his address, Biden stressed the need to “set aside politics and finally face this pandemic as one nation.” He cited Psalm 30, reminding those that “weep, ye may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” 

“We will get through this together. Together,” he said. Biden paused for a moment of silent prayer for those who had died in the pandemic.

Coming together, said Biden, will help to heal “a broken land.” 

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