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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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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Chris

    Amazing the positions people take! There are 1.5 million abortions every year. 53 million abortions to date–just in the US. I challenge the folks that think that abortion is not THE issue to come up with another scenario (e.g. War, poverty) that even comes close to an equal amount of innocent life that is destroyed each year.

  • Marv

    I agree that abortion is the most important issue in this election- That said, since the political right has long since figured out that they just have to say they are against abortion (and never do anything about it) to get votes, I no longer vote for them. They’re liars. I do vote based on other issues which, while less grace in morla terms, might actually get some traction.

  • James

    Thanks for mentioning the horrific drone attacks

  • Lynn

    Bravo! Thank you for this article and for bringing attention to all the important issues we need to be asking questions about. And to those of you who think abortion is the most important topic… I believe the catechism talks about respect and dignity for ALL life, not just the unborn. How many children have been killed by our military actions in the middle east? Once the baby is born its not an important issue anymore? Nothing is black and white. And as for religious freedom, if a woman being allowed to be covered by insurance for birth control at a job partially funded by the govt and affiliated with the church threatens your religious freedom, then maybe you need to encourage those institutions to stop accepting money from taxpayers and be totally dependent on the church since churches are exempt from those rules.

  • Joanne Cromer

    The article should have been entitled “Dissident Catholic v Faithful Catholic.” Shame on you, Busted Halo and shame on Joe Biden. He is a disgrace and Catholic in name only.

  • Jim

    To Paul Ryan,
    Your candidate has complained that the 47% of taxpayers who don’t pay a net income tax need to take personal responsibility. How many minimum wage jobs should someone hold in order to qualify as having taken responsibility?

  • Jim

    To Paul Ryan,
    Your candidate has complained that the 47% of taxpayers who don’t pay a net income tax need to take personal responsibility. How many minimum wage jobs should someone hold in order to qualify as having taken responsibility?

  • Kerry

    I was pleasantly surprised at the tone of this article. I am so fed up, as a Catholic, with the whole “abortion being made illegal is the ONLY thing that matters on earth and in heaven” schtick. Narfy a one of these people so deeply concerned for the unborn want to do a darn thing to actually make sure abortions rarely occur, or to help poor mothers in dire circumstances with anything more than a few free baby items and a lecture. They seem to think that by making abortion illegal, problem solved–no one will ever have one again. Not only that, but no republican elected since Roe v Wade has managed to make abortion illegal. They DO, however, manage to make life increasingly horrific for the poor, the unemployed, immigrants, minorities, the uninsured, etc–all things the Church stands in opposition to. The USCCB says that it is permissible to vote for a pro choice candidate if you feel that the other candidate is a bad choice for morally grave reasons–and that’s exactly how I feel.

  • Mark

    Andrew – shame on you for not understanding what this election is about and what our Church leaders are telling us. I agree that there is a need to reach across the isle so to speak, and to find common ground on some issues, but the Pope and the Bishops have been VERY clear on what is important with regards to this election…

  • andrew

    i would love to ask each of them for a personal story about why they are Catholic and at what point in their lives did they embrace their Catholic faith, what were the circumstances, and how does their faith now inform the rest of their lives.

    and to everyone who commented here and sidetracked the conversation into abortion politics and offensive comments back and forth…Shame on You. this is exactly what is wrong with American politics: the vitriol, and the inability to meet halfway and see across the aisle and know that your political opponent is not necessarily your enemy. both of these candidates offer positive ways to help the country that is inline with Catholic teaching, and both are also flawed on some level. there is no perfect candidate because this is unfortunately an imperfect world.

    moreover, the bishops themselves say we should not be one-issue voters. and though they do state abortion should be viewed as more important than some of the other issues, in their Faithful Citizenship document they include racism right up there with abortion.

    i commend the author of this article for pointing out that there is much much more (aside from just pro-life or pro-choice issues) that the Church involves itself with, and that unfortunately, both sides seem to be ignoring right now.

  • Elizabeth

    Your article is offensive to all Catholics who believe in the dignity of life and religious freedom.

  • Mary Ann

    I agree with Mark but in the final analysis there is no argument if you are a Catholic. Our Bishops have made it quite clear for those who are ignorant(i do not mean this in a derogatory fashion. You are either pro-life or you are something other than Catholic. America needs to fight for its religious freedom and learn from history. In the past religious freedom was the first to be denied by facists, communists and dictators. Weak religious beliefs or ignorance of what a person does believe in, allows freedom to be erroded and in the end lost.

  • M

    Nothing compares to abortion? It is absolutely a huge moral issue, but we are regularly reminded by church leaders that we are not to be single-issue voters. Too many argue so forcefully against abortion while ignoring everything that happens AFTER birth: poverty, war, executions, illegal immigration, exclusive healthcare, etc. These are just a few reasons why we need to look holistically at the candidates. And it is not enough to say that voting for one candidate will end abortion – despite an army of pro-life congress people, governors and presidents, so little has been shown for the rhetoric.

  • kevin

    NEWSFLASH: America is a plural country. Many religions coexist within our brilliant Enlightenment, Jeffersonian Constitution-endowed America. As Enlightened citizens we must know that respecting other people and their beliefs & attitudes is not agreeing with them. Realize that, vote on election day, and live with the results.

  • Nancy

    I was puzzled by this article. While we must be concerned for the poor, immigration and environment, nothing compares to abortion issue. I’m embarrassed that Vice-President Biden is a catholic and a member of the party that supports abortion rights. I didn’t think the right to choose an abortion for any reason, as horrible as some circumstances are, was up for discussion if one follows the Churches teachings. Since when is it ok for anyone to choose to terminate an unborn life?

  • Maureen

    Yes, Barbara, it is their job to protect us all…even the unborn.

  • Mark

    Blaise – that and the fact that Dignity of all Human Life comes after the Poor and the Imigrants makes me question the intentions of this author/article as well…

  • Blaise

    I can only assume that Mr. O’Loughlin’s omission of the obvious – religious freedom and the HHS mandate – was intentional. Is this an attempt to conduct an informal poll of sorts, to see how many readers would respond with this issue? Just curious…

  • Mark

    Wow Barbara – I read your first line with some interest since I thought you would discuss how the Obama administration has had no regard for religious freedom. As I read on I realized that you were heading in a whole different direction. As for Roe v. Wade I would argue that many more women are dying today at the hands of butchers. Admittedly most are the defenseless children, but there are many documented cases of the mother dying as well. As for women not having unwanted children, there are ways to stop that from happening in the first place that don’t involve sacrificing life for convenience sake. As for your ballooning population comment – check your facts there. The entire population of the worlds could live quite comfortably in Texas. Finally, I believe it is the job of our government to protect the most vulnerable in our society – the unborn…

  • Barbara Medina

    I want them to address the healthcare issues dealing with abortion and birth control. As a Catholic, I want to know how they can justify imposing their beliefs on all Americans. After Roe v. Wade, woman are no longer dying at the hands of butchers. Not as many women are having unwanted children that they cannot afford to raise properly and are giving them up which causes those children to deal with self worth issues the rest of their lives. No one helps them care for the children they are forced to have and they add to the ballooning population that is endangering our planet. I want them to address the whole picture and admit that it is not their job to legislate their moral beliefs on all Americans. It is their job to protect all of us, even atheists.

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