For the first time in U.S. history, both sides of the ballot include Roman Catholics: Democrats’ Vice President Joe Biden, and Republicans’ newly named vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan.
Paul Ryan, Joe Biden: A tale of two Catholics
Ryan, 42, still belongs to the Catholic parish, St. John Vianney in Janesville, Wis., where he was an altar boy. Biden, 69, the first Catholic vice president in U.S. history, attends Mass at St. Patrick’s Parish and St. Joseph on the Brandywine Church, both in Wilmington, De.
Biden and Ryan both cite their faith as a formative influence, but neither is known as a standard-bearer for the Catholic hierarchy’s chief political causes: abortion and gay marriage. In fact, the two candidates are — politically at least — nearly polar opposites.
Biden agrees with the church on social justice issues like poverty, but runs afoul on gay marriage and abortion rights. Ryan, meanwhile, agrees with Catholic doctrine on abortion and gay marriage, but clashes with church leaders on social justice issues.
With Catholics comprising nearly a quarter of the U.S. electorate — and nearly a third in Midwestern swing states — the “Who’s the Better Catholic?” debate may become far more than an intrachurch squabble.
“It really has the potential to have a huge impact on this election,” said Maria Mazzenga, a historian at Catholic University in Washington.
Neither the Democratic nor Republican party platforms perfectly align with the wide body of Catholic social doctrine, which encompasses views on everything from war to economics to the unborn.
“The official teachings of the church can’t really be put into one camp or the other,” said Mazzenga.
So Catholic politicians must often choose between church and party orthodoxy, said R. Scott Appleby, a professor of history at the University of Notre Dame. [more]