Biden as an “Authoritative Type”

Aristotle recognized that the political man, raised to high office, becomes an “authoritative type.”  His attributes, his manner, draw a closer attention, for, after all, his elevation carries this sense of things:  that these are the features of a man so admirable that we have lifted him to high authority over us;  his style and character are so commendable that he offers us a model to be emulated.   President Kennedy favored a rocking chair for his back and went to concerts of Haydn, and suddenly more people were buying rocking chairs and seeking out the music of Haydn.

I offer all of this as a note of sobering warning to some of our friends who have been altogether too beamish in hoping for the true Catholic to come flowering in Joe Biden now that he may have less reason to conceal it. Biden has offered over the years the visible public example of a man in high office who can regard himself as serious Catholic and yet support, as a good thing, a right to kill 860,000 to a million innocent human lives each year in abortions.

Biden has been nothing if not a weathervane for winds blowing in his party, and that party has become ever more aggressive on the matter of abortion, brooking virtually no limits on that killing, even at the point of birth for babies who survive the abortions. And yet, nothing could be more central in the moral teaching of the Church – no, not climate change or the ravages of air-conditioning – than the concern for the meaning of the “human person,” that being who is both the subject of the law and the prime object of its protection.

What Biden’s example offers day in and day out – offers, that is, in a way that cannot be missed – is that one can be a good Catholic and yet, in the most insouciant manner, just wave Catholic teaching aside as a matter not to be taken seriously.

One would have to be blind to the ways of the world to believe that this kind of a lesson, taught by the most visible public figure in the land, will not have the most profound, corrosive effect.

Robert Royal got it so right last week when he anticipated that Biden’s ascension was more likely to be destructive for Catholic institutions, and more surely teach a disrespect for Catholic teaching.  How long until a gesture of disrespect, widely absorbed, will give way to contempt?

What I’ve wished for years for the bishops to say to the Bidens and Cuomos is something in this vein:  “We cannot presume to instruct you on your job, but the problem now is that you are creating ‘scandal.’  You are seriously mis-instructing many Catholics on the teaching of their own Church, and in that way sapping the convictions that sustain that teaching. We would not make heavy demands on you, but we would plead simply that you ‘do no harm.’”

Just when I thought that there was nothing more to learn about Joe Biden, Fr. O’Donovan appeared on the stage. Fr. Leo O’Donovan, SJ, former president of Georgetown University, doing the Invocation at the Inauguration.

Photo: Jesuit Refugee Service

We were told now that O’Donovan had been a close friend and counselor of Biden for many years.   And yet had it never been possible for him to plead to Biden that he was giving a false account of the reasoning of his Church on abortion – and what was so unreasoned then in his own position?

Might that not have given a hint of why it was untenable for a Catholic priest to stand on that platform and cast his benediction over what Biden has come to represent?  Still, Fr. O’Donovan might have tried to do his best, with a  pupil unwilling to hear.

Or could it be that the appeals of celebrity rose above an insistent fidelity?

But the defects in Fr. O’Donovan were offset in part by Archbishop José Gomez speaking for the Conference of Bishops. Gomez preserved a tone of civil respect, but, nevertheless, he spoke a hard truth:

[O]ur new President has pledged to pursue certain policies that would advance moral evils and threaten human life and dignity, most seriously in the areas of abortion, contraception, marriage, and gender. . . .For the nation’s bishops, the continued injustice of abortion remains the “preeminent priority.” Preeminent does not mean “only.”. . .But as Pope Francis teaches, we cannot stay silent when nearly a million unborn lives are being cast aside in our country year after year through abortion.

There may be no better sign of the disarray in the Church than the fact that this statement of the bishops elicited the vocal, heated opposition of Cardinal Blase Cupich in Chicago.  Cupich complained that the statement was “ill-considered. . .on the day of President Biden’s inauguration,” that it was “critical of President Biden” and “came as a surprise to many bishops.”

But where was the surprise?  There was nothing new in the position of the Church or Biden’s flagrant disrespect for it.  The one thing Cardinal Cupich did not have the audacity to challenge was the truth of the statement.

In only a matter of days, the new president and his party brought forth executive orders on transgenderism and proposals on abortion far more aggressive and radical than any we have seen yet.  Every concern of the bishops was instantly confirmed.

We need only remind ourselves that Cupich had been picked out by Pope Francis to take the place of our late beloved friend, Francis Cardinal George.  Whether it is on abortion or the lies of transgenderism, it is unlikely that Cupich would ever be moved to speak something like these words of Francis George:  “[K]nowing is non-invasive to the thing known, and it comes about in us by our submitting to the way things really are in themselves. The truth of things governs our knowing them.”

Hadley Arkes is the Ney Professor of Jurisprudence Emeritus at Amherst College and the Founder/Director of the James Wilson Institute on Natural Rights & the American Founding. He is the author of Constitutional Illusions & Anchoring Truths: The Touchstone of the Natural Law. Volume II of his audio lectures from The Modern Scholar, First Principles and Natural Law is available for download. His new book is Mere Natural Law: Originalism and the Anchoring Truths of the Constitution.