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Biden balances Catholicism with hot-button 2024 issues

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President Biden is gearing up his reelection campaign with a unique challenge ahead of him — taking on hot-button issues that the Catholic Church opposes.

Only the nation’s second Catholic president in history, Biden often attends Saturday evening mass with his family either near his home in Wilmington, Del., or in Washington, D.C.

His religious faith is personal to him, the White House has said. However, that has led to him to being, at times, uncomfortable with certain matters central to the Democratic Party but opposed by the Catholic Church, most notably abortion and transgender issues.

The president doesn’t shy away from attacking Republicans, particularly when it comes to reproductive health or protections for the LGBTQ community, but he has also made no qualms about deploying others, especially Vice President Harris, to speak more directly to those issues.

Biden has also backed away from taking on the death penalty. He campaigned on abolishing the federal death penalty in 2020 but has taken few steps to live up to it since then. Attorney General Merrick Garland, whom Biden appointed, authorized pursuing the death penalty in the case of the Buffalo supermarket shooter, a first for the administration. When asked about the move, the White House pointed to the independence of the Justice Department. 

“With respect to the death penalty, the president has long talked about his views on this issue broadly. We will leave it to the appropriate authorities to speak to individual cases and sentencing decisions,” spokesperson Andrew Bates told reporters.

The decision on the Buffalo shooter is complex. The federal case is centered on hate crime charges, with prosecutors alleging the gunman specifically targeted Black people in the shooting. Hate crimes and combating racism has been a major focus of the Biden administration and are topics that Democrats have spoken out about in an effort to differentiate themselves from Republicans.

Those sorts of complexities could help Biden in the election.

“It’s not new stuff he’s had to contend with. He’s had to contend with it, and he won, he won again. He has a strong base support on these issues and there’s where the American public is,” a Democratic strategist said.

Catholics also see the issue of the death penalty as complex, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops outlined. 

“The Catholic Church teaches that the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the dignity of the human person. That dignity applies to both victims and offenders, and it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t punish the perpetrators of terrible acts, but capital punishment isn’t the answer either because it asserts that someone is beyond redemption,” said Chieko Noguchi, spokesperson for the U.S. bishops.

But conservative Catholic bishops have already taken issue with Biden during his first term as president. His support for abortion access led to calls for the church to not offer him communion. While the Catholic Church considers abortion to be murder, polling from Pew Research Center in May 2022 showed 69 percent of Catholics think abortion should be legal if the pregnant woman’s life or health is threatened, and 66 percent of Catholics think abortion should be legal in the case of rape.

Catholics for Choice argues abortion and the Catholic teaching can be reconciled, citing the majority of Catholics who think abortion should be legal in some cases.

“As a matter of mission, we believe that all pro-choice Catholics — including all elected officials — should be outspoken about how they reconcile their closely-held faith beliefs and their support for legal abortion access,” said Jamie Manson, the president of Catholics for Choice.

Democrats see abortion access as a key voter issue in 2024, especially after the 2022 midterms delivered them better-than-expected results largely due to voters concerned about the overturning of Roe v. Wade. The midterms were the first national election to be held after the Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe.

Before the Supreme Court triggered the overturning of abortion at the federal level, Biden very rarely said the word “abortion.” Even since then, he shows his discomfort. At a fundraiser in June 2023, he used the term “remedial operation” instead of abortion to defend a Department of Defense abortion policy that led Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) to hold up hundreds of military nominations.

But the president has not shied away from calling out Republican attacks on abortion access, has pushed for Congress to codify Roe and has vowed to veto any attempts at a national abortion ban. The president also said in June that as a practicing Catholic, he’s not “big on abortion” but thinks the Roe v. Wade decision “got it right.” 

A Democratic strategist close to the campaign called Biden’s handling of abortion is “a huge advantage” when he talks to voters across the spectrum.

“I think that the president approaches it from where he is, which is somebody who said that he’s not the most comfortable with the idea of abortion. But I actually think that gives him an advantage with voters, which is, you don’t have to be comfortable with it, you don’t have to make that choice for yourself, but you should at least give people the freedom to make that choice if they want it,” said another Democratic strategist close to the campaign.

Former Rep. Chris Carney (D-Pa.), a Biden ally, said the president’s stance also makes him stand out against his opposition political party.

“While as a Catholic, Biden has said he is ‘not big’ on abortion, he did feel that Roe got the balance between religious and civil views about right. Unlike the mostly white male Republicans around the nation who have severely restricted or outlawed access to reproductive care, Biden did not interject his personal religious beliefs into the issue,” Carney said.

On LGBTQ issues, Biden has called for Congress to pass the Equality Act, which includes rights for transgender Americans. Top LGBTQ rights groups have endorsed the president’s reelection campaign and argued he’s the leader they need while Republicans are passing anti-LGBTQ state legislation across the nation on a variety of matters related to the community.

While Pope Francis has said that laws criminalizing homosexuality are “unjust” and that it isn’t a crime to be gay, he has maintained disapproval of transgender ideology. The Pope said in March that it is dangerous to blur differences between men and women.

Despite the Catholic Church’s stance, Biden has tried to differentiate himself from Republicans in the debate about transgender youth participating in sports, and the White House has bashed laws banning gender-affirming medical care for transgender youths.

But the administration has irked some advocates along the way. It proposed revising Title IX to give K-12 schools leeway to limit transgender athletes’ participation in sports, and the Pentagon enforced a military-wide drag show ban the day before it celebrated Pride Month.

Biden allies argue that when balancing these hot-button issues, the president will side with where he sees the majority of Americans are.

“Catholics for Choice understand that Biden generally agrees with their litany of issues, but that as a matter of political prudence, will focus on those that are attractive to a majority of voters,” Carney said.

Source: The Hill

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