There has not been a Catholic in the White House since John F. Kennedy, but on Inauguration Day, Joseph R. Biden, an Irish Catholic born in Scranton, Pa., will be sworn in as vice president, the first Catholic ever elected to the post.
Some have judged Senator Biden’s commitment to Catholicism by his votes regarding abortion and have found it wanting. His record is mixed. Mr. Biden has described himself as “a practicing Catholic prepared to accept my church’s view that life begins at conception.” He has also said he would not support overturning Roe v. Wade. But the senator has opposed both federal funding for abortion and the practice of partial birth or late-term abortion. And he supported a $100 million bill aimed to reduce teen pregnancies. As a senator, Biden voted to limit both the number of abortions and the reasons some women procure them.
But is even a legislator’s entire voting record enough to judge his or her faith commitment? It does indicate one’s values, but so do major life choices, habits of worship, service to others, civic involvement and quality of family life. In Mr. Biden’s case, his faith also appears to have been reflected in the way he dealt with personal loss—the death of his first wife and infant daughter and his own brain aneurysm. His commitment to draw close to his sons as a single father for years and his choice not to enrich himself through his Senate seat also reflect the faith of the man oon to be a heartbeat away from the presidency.Still a Catholic Charity
Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska got some of her biggest (intentional) laughs of the presidential campaign during her acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, when she lambasted Senator Barack Obama’s work as a community organizer. “I guess a small-town mayor is like a community organizer,” she said, “except that you have actual responsibilities.” It is hard to understand such mocking of those who help the poor organize in order to obtain justice and fair treatment.
The disdain spread into the Catholic world, making a target of the Catholic Campaign for Human Develop-ment, the church’s leading organization for fighting poverty in this country. The campaign has provided $7.3 million in grant money, spread out over 10 years, to local branches of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, known as Acorn. On its blog, the periodical First Things called C.C.H.D. “misbegotten in concept and corrupt in practice,” argued for its abolition, charging that it supported “pro-abortion activities and politicians” and, for good measure, claimed that C.C.H.D. had dropped the word “Catholic” from its name.
Wrong on all counts. It remains the Catholic Campaign for Human Development; its grants are given to projects in accord with Catholic teaching; and it is a model of efficient management, providing an array of services for the poor. Sadly, that magazine’s false accusations were echoed during the meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in November. Just as sad, the charges came before C.C.H.D.’s annual fundraising campaign.
Let’s set the record straight: C.C.H.D. does the Gospel work of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and sheltering the homeless. (After charges of improprieties emerged about Acorn, C.C.H.D. stopped its grants to the group.) The importance of the kind of work done by C.C.H.D. was underlined repeatedly by another community organizer—not one from 1990s Chicago but another fellow, from first-century Palestine.Missionaries in Peril
On Nov. 10 two religious sisters were kidnapped by armed men in northeastern Kenya, near the border with Somalia. The sisters are members of the Contemplative Missionary Movement of Charles de Foucauld. Sister Caterina Giraudo, 67, and Sister Maria Teresa Oliviero, 61, have worked in Kenya since the early 1970s. It is presumed that they have been taken across the border into Somalia, and both church and civil authorities are trying to arrange their release.
In northeast Congo, the devastating effects of a civil war are now multiplied by a severe food shortage and an outbreak of cholera. Despite these perils, representatives of the missionary congregations serving in the area have promised “to remain alongside the Congolese people, sharing the difficulties of this crisis.” There are at least 10 different religious orders of both men and women serving in the region. There is high alarm also for foreign religious working in Zamboanga del Sur in the Philippines. The religious have been threatened by some armed gangs and groups affiliated with the local Al Qaeda cell.
The situation is the same in many other places where expatriate missionaries work. The example of those who work in North Kivu in the Congo is typical of these missionary men and women. They want to stay with their people. While they acknowledge the threats they face, they point out that their people live daily with even greater threats. They all deserve our prayers, encouragement and support.