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October 4th, 2012

Catholic v. Catholic: Next Week’s Debate


Last night’s debate between President Obama and Governor Mitt Romney was a slugfest focusing on taxes and the economy. Romney came out swinging, commanded the stage, and set the agenda. Obama seemed listless, tired, and resigned. Both candidates appealed to middle class voters, the unemployed, and those concerned that they pay too much in taxes. But what about another type of voter…?

Next week, for the first time in our nation’s history, two Roman Catholics, Vice President Joe Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan, will share a stage for the vice presidential debate. This would have been unheard of only a few decades ago. When Al Smith became the first Catholic nominated for the presidency in 1928, political opponents openly and enthusiastically attacked his religion. When John F. Kennedy was nominated in 1960, he too dealt with religious hostility, famously addressing his Catholicism in a speech to Protestant ministers. He went on to win the White House in an election that some historians use to signify the movement of Catholics from an outside minority into the mainstream.

The Catholic Church has much to say about important issues facing Americans, and next week’s debate should give insight as to how these two faithful Catholics would approach some of them.

The Poor
First, will poverty be a major topic in the debates? Probably not. But should it be? Both tickets say they are concerned primarily with preserving an increasingly vulnerable middle class, and they are right to focus their energy here. A strong middle class is the best antidote to poverty and its solvency is in question today. The wealthy have largely recovered from the tumult begun in 2008, while the middle class continues to see wage stagnation and a soaring cost of living.

However, the poor remain irrelevant and largely ignored and forgotten by both parties.

As a Catholic, I’d like to know how each administration would combat the growing poverty rate in the U.S., and how Biden and Ryan would both respond personally to this question.

The Earth

Another issue that has largely been absent from the campaign is the environment. Pope Benedict XVI is probably one of the greenest heads of state in the world: the Vatican installed solar panels to power massive generators, attempted a carbon-offset program, and recently upgraded the Pope-mobile to an electric model. The Pope has said repeatedly that climate change and environmental conservation are moral issues.

Do you think Biden and Ryan should be challenged on why their bosses are ignoring climate change? What laws would each ticket support to combat global warming and environmental degradation in light of these being moral issues?

The Immigrant

Next, let’s consider immigration. The Catholic Church is one of the most progressive voices for compassionate and comprehensive immigration reform in this country. Catholic bishops have written forcefully in defense of the DREAM Act that would grant legal status to young people who were brought into the U.S. by their parents as young children and in favor of broader immigration laws in general.

To be blunt, the Democratic Party today has the better record in terms of welcoming new peoples to the U.S., but Biden and Ryan should both be challenged on this issue. Obama is on track to deport more undocumented individuals than any other president, and Romney has said that he wants to make life so unbearable for the undocumented that they choose to “self-deport.”

What changes would Biden and Ryan advocate the President to make to immigration law?

The Dignity of all Human Life

Finally, both parties have made their views on contraception and abortion well known, but Biden and Ryan should be challenged on other life issues, too, especially in the context of war.

Biden should be challenged on the use of predator drones in Pakistan and other countries that kill and maim innocent civilians as they seek to kill suspected terrorists. Ryan should be made to answer for the simmering calls in his party to go to war with Iran and for bringing back torture to overseas U.S. prisons. And both should be asked about the staggering amount of money we spend on the military as social services are cut.

Catholics can feel more than a little pride next week when Biden and Ryan go at it, but we should also ask both candidates how their faith challenges their political views. At its best, Catholicism transcends politics and challenges both Democrats and Republicans to care for the poor and marginalized and love everyone as Christ loves them. What do you think Vice President Biden and Congressman Ryan should be asked? If you were the debate moderator, in what ways would you bring their shared faith into the debate? Ask your questions down below in the comments section and we’ll see what happens next week.

The Author : Michael O'Loughlin
Mike O'Loughlin is a writer living in Washington, D.C., covering religion, politics, and culture. In addition to Busted Halo, his writing appears in the Advocate, National Catholic Reporter, Foreign Policy, Religion & Politics, and America. He's also appeared on Fox News and MSNBC. Follow him on twitter at @mikeoloughlin.
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  • Elizabeth Frederick

    I would like to ask Catholics voting for Romney based on pro-life stance, which is a new position for him. If you do some research, you will find that Romneycare covers abortion, and Catholic Churches were HAD to provide emergency contraception for victims of rape. Also, he backed legalization of the abortion pill RU-486.

  • Mary Ann

    It seems there is confusion about what our Church actually teaches on many issues. If you visit the USCCB website there is much valuable information to help you make up your own mind. Our Church does not leave us out in the cold.

  • Nancy

    The right to life is not up for debate in the Catholic Faith. Anyone who wants to change that for any reason wants to pick and choose what’s ok for them and still be in communion with their Catholic Faith. We can’t make our own rules. There is no “I’m against abortion except for…….” .

  • Jane

    Shame on all of you who feel it necessary to shame folks for recognizing the complexity of politics, faith and morality.

    Kudos to all who have clearly given the mulitude of issues their consideration.

  • Chris

    It does not trouble me about whether or not you feel good about yourself, whether or not life is turning out
    like we want it to turn out, or whether or not abortion is legal. There’s only one thing that troubles me. Within a hundred years, a great majority of people reading and posting on the internet will possibly be in hell. And many who even profess to Catholics and Christians will spend an eternity in
    hell. When you look upon America we are a Godless culture that thrives on an emotion of Jesus Christ and so many of us are deceived that because we declared ourselves Catholic we are privileged before God. We look around and everyone is the same and thats what we compare ourselves to

  • Janna

    Thanks for the link to the Kennedy speech. Wow, what a speech!

  • Mary Ann

    It is sad to see someone calling the killing of innocent human life schtick It is precisely this attitude which put the US in the position we are in. The taking away of your right to conscience goes a long way to “no sense of conscience at all”. Please let us be clear. The issue is not whether or not abortion is legal. It is sadly. The issue is whether a Catholic citizen should be forced against his or her conscience, to pay for another citizen’s abortion with their tax dollars. This, to the mind of a true Catholic should be an unbearable, dictatorial, affront to our religious beliefs and therefore Our God. One which we are bond, as Catholics to fight at all costs. By the way i don’t know what catholics this person knows but the Church does more good for the poor and feeding and educating immigrants then all politicians on both sides of the isles ever dreamed of also they don’t have enormous fund raisers to be elected. They were elected over 2000 years ago by Jesus Christ and have survived all these years because they love the poor.

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