Joe Biden, America’s second Catholic president

US President Joe Biden speaking with attendees at the 2019 Iowa Democratic Wing Ding at Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, in 2019. (Photo Gage Skidmore licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution)

Joe Biden has become the 46th president of the United States on Wednesday, Jan 20, 2021. Here are some facts about the new US president.
Where was Joe Biden born?

President Biden came from very humble origins. 

Joseph Robinette Biden Jr., was born in 1942 and grew up in the blue-collar city of Scranton in northeastern Pennsylvania. His father, Joseph Biden Senior, worked cleaning furnaces and as a used car salesman. His mother was Catherine Eugenia “Jean” Finnegan, who was of Irish descent.

Catholic politician

President Biden is a Catholic. He often spoke to media about how his faith anchored him during difficult moments. He would be seen attending Mass in several media reports.

In a 2015 interview, Biden called his faith a “gift,” saying his parents had given him Catholic values. 

“Jesus Christ is the human embodiment of what God wanted us to do. Everything Jesus did was sort of consistent with what generically we were supposed to do: treat people with dignity,” he was quoted as saying.

In the same interview, he said: “Jesus is the embodiment of Catholic social doctrine that I was raised with. The idea that everyone’s entitled to dignity, that the poor should be given special preference, that you have an obligation to reach out and be inclusive.”

Throughout his political career, his Catholic faith has always been a major presence. He attends Mass every Sunday and has spoken about the importance of religion in his life.

On Inauguration Day, Biden attended Mass in the morning, along with Vice President Kamala Harris and congressional leaders at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, D.C. 

America’s second Catholic president

After the swearing-in ceremony on Wednesday, Biden became the second Catholic to lead the United States, the first since John F. Kennedy in 1961. 

The two leaders, however, differ greatly in their stances on social issues: Kennedy did not challenge the Catholic Church's positions, while Biden has expressed support for abortion rights and gay marriage.

Biden's position on these issues has caused controversy among some religious leaders. In November 2019, he was denied Holy Communion at a church in South Carolina while on the campaign trail.

Biden presents himself as a liberal and a devout Catholic who attends Mass every Sunday. But many Catholics don’t see him as a “legitimate” member of their faith because of his support of abortion rights and gay marriage.

Pope Francis to Biden

Pope Francis sent his greetings to the new president immediately after inauguration.

In a message of “cordial good wishes,” the pope told the president that he prayed that “under your leadership, may the American people continue to draw strength from the lofty political, ethical and religious values that have inspired the nation since its founding.”

"At a time when the grave crises facing our human family call for farsighted and united responses, I pray that your decisions will be guided by a concern for building a society marked by authentic justice and freedom, together with unfailing respect for the rights and dignity of every person, especially the poor, the vulnerable and those who have no voice,” said the pope.

"I likewise ask God, the source of all wisdom and truth, to guide your efforts to foster understanding, reconciliation and peace within the United States and among the nations of the world in order to advance the universal common good. With these sentiments, I willingly invoke upon you and your family and the beloved American people an abundance of blessings,” he added.

US-Vatican relations

The United States and the Holy See consult and cooperate on international issues of mutual interest, including human rights, peace and conflict prevention, poverty eradication and development, environmental protection, and inter-religious understanding. 

Both states enjoy a positive relationship that serves to amplify a global message of peace, freedom, and justice. They work together on shared priorities, such as promoting religious freedom and combating human trafficking.

The United States maintained consular relations with the Papal States from 1797 to 1870 and diplomatic relations with the pope, in his capacity as head of the Papal States, from 1848 to 1868, although not at the ambassadorial level. 

These relations lapsed in 1870 with the loss of all papal territories during the unification of Italy. The Vatican City State’s territorial independence was reestablished in the Lateran Treaty signed by Italy and the Holy See in 1929. 

From 1870 to 1984, the United States did not have diplomatic relations with the Holy See. 

Several US presidents, however, designated personal envoys to visit the Holy See periodically for discussions of international humanitarian and political issues. 

The United States and the Holy See announced the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1984. - RVA News