It is a commitment to regular religious services that was not seen by recent presidents who professed to be Christians but periodically attended church or worshiped them alone in their office. Donald Trump did not have the habit of attending church services weekly, although he performed several times at the Episcopal Church in West Palm Beach near the resort, as well as at various Lutheran churches in the country.
Barack Obama went to church occasionally for Christmas or Easter worship in Washington or Hawaii, but rarely for the rest of the year. George W. Bush, despite being a born-again Christian of great significance, tended to worship as president privately and only attended church when he was back home in Texas.
“For Joe, faith is also a private devotion – he regularly prays, goes to church. But he is also public. He is open and proud to be a Catholic,” said Fr. Kevin O’Brien, Biden and his wife, Jill’s friend and spiritual counselor.
O’Brien, who was now president of the University of Santa Clara in California, continued his university ministry at Georgetown University when he met with the Senator in Delaware more than a decade ago. Biden regularly attended Mass at Georgetown Chapel or the nearby Holy Trinity Parish in Washington. He has continued this practice for eight years as vice president, and some around him say he will continue as president.
“Joe’s faith isn’t just part of who he is,” said Senator Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat and friend of Biden. – It’s basic who he is.
Catholicism is Biden’s way of life. He attended Catholic schools and married his first wife, Neilia, in a Catholic church. He spices his political speech with quotations from Scripture, Catholic hymns, and references to the nuns and priests from whom he learned in school. Much more than ever in his public life, Biden’s faith weaves his political message into the 2020 campaign. He considered himself a candidate who stands up for morality and decency, fights for the soul of America, and calls on the country to “begin the work that God and history have called upon us.”
But it is much more than a cultural identity for the 78-year-old elected president. Since childhood, Biden has been attending Mass regularly. He often prays with his family members, often with his grandchildren.
While touring the country during his presidential campaign, Biden quietly sneaked into a local Catholic church for Mass – often leaving a few minutes late or a few minutes early to avoid a rush. He even attended his daily Mass on Election Day in his parish of Wilmington, Delaware.
On the day Biden was inaugurated as vice president in 2009, he asked O’Brien to conduct a private Mass in advance in Georgetown. Four years later, before the second inauguration, O’Brien held another Mass, this time at the Vice President’s residence. (O’Brien told CNN he was unaware of another private Mass before Biden was inaugurated as president.)
These services, the priest said, reflected how important Catholic faith and rituals were to Biden, especially on the two most joyful days of his life. But his faith in Christ and his devotion to the church strengthened Biden even in his lowest moments.
The best known of these was the death of Neilia and her daughter, Naomi, in a car accident, and decades later the cancer death of her son, Beau. The president-elect, who regularly wears his late son’s rosary on his wrist, spoke publicly about the role his faith played in transmitting grief.
Catholic in the White House
On the eve of John F. Kennedy’s 1960 election, there was still a debate over whether Catholic elected officials could head from Rome and the Pope instead of the U.S. Constitution.
Since then, Catholics have been so integrated into American public life that Biden’s religious affiliation is just another point in his biography. The last three presidents of the House were Catholics, as were most of the Supreme Court judges. Biden was the first Catholic to serve as vice president.
Despite the fact that American Catholics initially found a home in the Democratic Party, it is now a politically diverse group, especially since the Republican Party has taken positions on several social issues in line with the teachings of the Church. CNN’s exit polls have shown that Catholics are almost evenly distributed, with 52% supporting Biden and 47% supporting Trump. This is Biden’s advance over Hillary Clinton’s performance with Catholics four years ago, when she lost 50-46% to Trump.
Among Conservative Catholics in Washington, Biden’s election was received with caution and suspicion. Promoting abortion rights and the Obama administration’s legal struggles with Catholic nonprofits to ensure contraceptive coverage are big.
Ashley McGuire, a senior fellow at the Conservative Catholic Association, said it would be difficult to separate Biden’s liberalism on abortion and contraception from Catholic views – especially because his campaign emphasized his faith.
“It somehow highlights even more where it contradicts the church,” McGuire said.
“The issues where people were the most divided and where the political left and the political right, as well as Catholics are so divided, are the issues that this department is involved in,” McGuire said. “It was his move and he made some sound about the attack. And it’s not lucky.”
O’Brien insists that Biden has always recognized the distinction between his personal faith and his political career, even though the former often informs the latter.
“His faith reflects his compassion and empathy, his commitment to the vulnerable, and his service to the country,” O’Brien said.