Biden-Ryan Debate: Battle of the Catholics

RNS photo by Gage Skidmore / courtesy Flickr, Jason and Bonnie Grower / Shutters

Rep. Paul Ryan (left) RNS photo by Gage Skidmore/courtesy Flickr, VP Joe Biden,Jason and Bonnie Grower /

When Joe Biden and Paul Ryan face off in the vice-presidential debate Thursday night, it will mark the first showdown of its kind between the first Catholics ever to oppose each other on the major party tickets.

A “Catholic Thrilla in Manila” as a Washington Post headline put it, recalling the famous 1975 Ali-Frazier heavyweight bout in the Philippines. Store window signs in the host city of Danville, Ky., prefer the “Thrill in the Ville.”

Whatever it is called, expectations among Catholics are as high as the stakes for both campaigns.

Joseph Cella, who leads Catholic outreach for the Romney-Ryan campaign in Michigan, where the GOP ticket has nearly closed a 10-point gap, said the campaign is organizing debate-watching parties nationwide.

“I don¹t see how Vice President Biden and Congressman Ryan could avoid discussing principles of importance to Catholics,” said Cella, a veteran conservative activist.

50 Years Ago, Vatican II Changed the Catholic Church — And the World

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Religious dignitaries from around the world fill St. Peter's Basilica on Oct. 11, 1962. RNS file photo

Fifty years ago hundreds of elaborately robed leaders strode into St. Peter's Basilica in a massive display of solemn ecclesiastical pomp. It signaled the start of a historic three-year assembly that would change the way members of the world’s largest Christian denomination viewed themselves, their church and the rest of the world.

It was the first day of the Second Vatican Council, more popularly known as Vatican II, which was designed to assess the church’s role in a rapidly changing world. Leading the prelates was Pope John XXIII, who said frequently that he convened the council because he thought it was time to open the windows and let in some fresh air.

For many Catholics, the air came in at gale force.

As a result of Vatican II, priests started celebrating Mass in the language of the countries in which they lived, and they faced the congregation, not only to be heard and seen but also to signal to worshippers that they were being included because they were a vital component of the service.

“It called for people not to have passive participation but active participation,” said New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond, who chairs the Committee on Divine Worship for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “Prayer is not supposed to be a performance. We’re supposed to be actively participating.”

Canada Cuts All Non-Christian Prison Chaplains

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Handcuffed male hands hold a black Holy Bible. Steven Frame / Shutterstock

TORONTO — The Canadian government is canceling the contracts of all non-Christian chaplains at federal prisons.

By next spring, Muslim, Jewish, Sikh and other non-Christian inmates will be expected to turn to Christian prison chaplains for religious counsel and guidance.

In an email to reporters on Oct. 4, the office of Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, who is responsible for Canada's federal penitentiaries, said the government "strongly supports the freedom of religion for all Canadians, including prisoners."

What My Catholic Faith Has Taught Me

I’m Catholic. My father comes from a working class Irish Catholic family; my mom is from a large Catholic family of German and Lithuanian decent. My brothers, sister, and I all attended Catholic school and growing up we attended Friday fish fries during Lent and church polka fests in the summer. I’m an active member of a Catholic church in St. Paul. And soon, my wife and I will celebrate the baptism of our daughter into the Catholic Church.

I’m also voting no on the anti-marriage and voter restriction amendments.

Some have asked how I can embrace a faith whose leadership has taken such a hard line against gay and lesbian equality, and which is painfully quiet on the threat to limit voting rights. I understand why people ask this question. For me, my decision to vote no is not in spite of my Catholic faith, it’s because of it.

When I was 10 my parents divorced. A couple years later my mom came out to my family as lesbian. By then she no longer felt welcome at church and stopped going to mass, though she has remained a deeply spiritual person. This one case of social exclusion is deeply meaningful to me, but is nothing compared to political decision by church leadership to spend millions of dollars to limit the freedom to marry in Minnesota. By doing so church leaders seek to permanently exclude gays and lesbians from the civil rights and benefits straight couples enjoy.

But here’s the thing: I’m still getting my daughter baptized. And I’m still Catholic. And I’m still voting no on both amendments in November.

Vatican Lifts Suspension of Priest who Altered Prayers at Mass

An Illinois priest who was forced out of his parish by his bishop for improvising prayers during Mass has had his suspension reversed by the Vatican.

The Vatican decided in favor of the Rev. William Rowe on one of three counts, saying Bishop Edward Braxton of Belleville, Ill., had not followed the proper procedure.

The Vatican's reversal means he can celebrate Mass in another diocese, Rowe said, as long as he has the local bishop's approval. Others, however, disputed that interpretation of the decree. 

In a letter that accompanied the document, Monsignor Antonio Neri, an undersecretary of the Vatican's Congregation for the Clergy, said Rowe could only return to celebrating Mass “when you shall have acknowledged your error and formally promise to dispose yourself to adhere to the rights and rubrics of the sacred liturgy set down by the lawful ecclesiastical authorities.”

The Vatican sided with the bishop on two counts: upholding his removal from the parish, and agreeing with the bishop's withdrawal of the priest's "faculties" — or his license to practice ministry under church law.

Vatican Walks a Fine Line on Trying to Combat Blasphemy

RNS photo by Jimmy Harris via Flickr

View down Via della Conciliazione to St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, Italy. RNS photo by Jimmy Harris via Flickr

Just one week after Pope Benedict XVI ended his successful visit to Lebanon, the country's most senior Catholic leader called for a United Nations resolution “that will ban denigrating religions.”

Meanwhile in Pakistan, the country's only Catholic cabinet member, Minister of Harmony Paul Bhatti, this week told an interfaith gathering in Lahore that he will press U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to pass a UN resolution that condemns "defamation and contempt against religions." Bhatti said "we must not allow anyone to break our harmony" between Christians and Muslims.

Both moves are understandable in light of increasingly popular efforts in predominantly Muslim countries to outlaw blasphemy or defaming religion. But they could prove problematic for the Vatican as it fights to protect the rights of Christian minorities around the world.

The debate suggests a widening gap between the Vatican's official position, which opposes such measures, and the day-to-day reality of Catholic leaders on the ground, who often feel compelled to support Muslim efforts to protect religious tenets and religious figures from defamation.

Obama Surges Ahead Among Catholic Voters

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Congregants pray during Catholic mass in Kansas City, Mo. RNS photo by Sally Morrow

President Obama’s support among Catholic voters has surged since June, according to a new poll, despite a summer that included the Catholic bishops’ religious freedom campaign and the naming of Rep. Paul Ryan, a Catholic, as the GOP's vice-presidential candidate.

On June 17, Obama held a slight edge over Mitt Romney among Catholics (49-47 percent), according to the Pew Research Center. Since then, Obama has surged ahead, and now leads 54-39 percent, according to a Pew poll conducted on Sept. 16.

Among all registered voters, Obama leads Romney 51-42 percent, according to Pew.

Obama and Romney are essentially tied among white Catholics, which some pollsters call the ultimate swing group. 

On Sept. 24 Romney unveiled his Catholics for Romney Coalition, which includes numerous politicians, beer magnate Pete Coors and Princeton University intellectual Robert P. George. The Obama campaign also has a Catholic coalition

Charities Struggle with Hurricane Isaac Cleanup

NEW ORLEANS — Faith-based ministries and local charities that are ramping up relief efforts after Hurricane Isaac say it's already clear that recovery will proceed without the national outpouring of money and volunteers triggered by Hurricane Katrina.

"From our point of view, the biggest challenge with this disaster will be getting attention and money," said Gordon Wadge, president of the New Orleans chapter of Catholic Charities.    

"This is going to be on the local community — with a few national folks who follow us closely and who will rally to us."    

That's a stark contrast to the conditions relief directors saw in 2005, after nationally televised images of human misery from Katrina burned themselves into the national psyche. Within weeks, faith-based ministries and secular relief groups promised to funnel millions of dollars into New Orleans over five years.  

Is the Catholic Hierarchy Moving Toward the GOP?

RNS photo courtesy Archdiocese of Philadelphia

Some question the Catholic bishops' alignment with the Republican Party. RNS photo courtesy Archdiocese of Philadelphia

A series of recent developments are renewing questions about the Catholic bishops' alignment with the Republican Party, with much of the attention focusing on comments by Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, who said he “certainly can’t vote for somebody who’s either pro-choice or pro-abortion.”

In a wide-ranging interview published Sept. 14, Chaput also echoed the views of a number of prominent bishops when he praised Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan for trying to address the “immoral” practice of deficit spending through his libertarian-inflected budget proposals.

"Jesus tells us very clearly that if we don’t help the poor, we’re going to go to hell. Period. There’s just no doubt about it,” Chaput told National Catholic Reporter.

“But Jesus didn’t say the government has to take care of them, or that we have to pay taxes to take care of them. Those are prudential judgments. Anybody who would condemn someone because of their position on taxes is making a leap that I can’t make as a Catholic.”

Chaput stressed that he is a registered independent “because I don’t think the church should be identified with one party or another.” But he said that the Democratic Party’s positions on abortion rights, gay rights, and religious freedom “cause me a great deal of uneasiness.”

He added that economic issues are “prudential judgments” open to a variety of legitimate approaches. Abortion, on the other hand, is “intrinsically evil” and must always be opposed.

That is a talking point voiced by many Catholic conservatives, including Ryan himself. Last Friday, Ryan told the Christian Broadcasting Network that opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage, and support for religious freedom, are all “non-negotiables” for a Catholic politician while “on other issues, of economics and such like that, that’s a matter of prudential judgment.”

COMMENTARY: It’s Time for Baby Boomers to Cede Control

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Speedometer control illustration. Photo by iQoncept/

As baby boomers start clicking the senior citizen box on travel fares, I want to say a word to my generation and to the one that preceded us. 

It is time for us to get out of the way.

I don't mean easing into wheelchairs. For the most part, we're way too healthy and energetic for that. I mean the harder work of relinquishing control.

I see that need most clearly in religious institutions, where I work. But I see it elsewhere, too, from taxpayer "revolts" led by seniors against today's schoolchildren to culture wars that we won't let die.