With a president who calls our best medical scientists "idiots" and sends supportive signals to white supremacists, nothing in today's discourse should shock us. But even I was surprised to hear an American Catholic priest look past 220,000 deaths during a pandemic, made worse by the irresponsible presidency of Donald Trump, and call Joe Biden the standard-bearer of "the party of death."
When the priest told his parishioners that we are "staring into the abyss," and that "the events of the last four years ... have cast this upcoming election in a whole new and ever more dire light," I thought he might have been warning against a second term for Trump, the wannabe autocrat.
That wasn't the case.
The priest was talking about a Biden presidency, claiming the former vice president's election would lead the nation into further moral decline and "(open) the door for America to become a socialist country."
Father Ed Meeks, pastor of Christ the King Catholic Church in Towson, Maryland, gave this anti-Biden homily on Oct. 11. A recording of his remarks, uploaded to the priest's YouTube channel, had nearly 1.8 million views by Thursday.
A self-described Catholic Republican, who told me about the homily, said he was "stunned and offended" by it because he had never heard a priest tell his flock how to vote in an election.
There's a reason for that. In its standing advisory to pastors, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops says this: "Do not endorse or oppose candidates, political parties, or groups of candidates, or take any action that reasonably could be construed as endorsement or opposition." In 2012, Baltimore Archbishop William Lori issued an advisory that said "no bishop, priest or deacon has the right to use the pulpit to advance his personal opinions."
Nevertheless, Meeks delivered a clear rebuke of "Catholic Joe Biden" and the Democratic Party.
"I'm taking this opportunity to speak to you personally, to share with you my own personal opinion," Meeks said. "But it's an opinion both formed and informed by the word of God and by the crystal clear teaching of the church for the purpose of helping you think through the choices ... There are certain realities about the candidates and their parties that directly impact our Catholic faith."
The video, entitled "Staring Into the Abyss," appears to have made Meeks a sudden celebrity in conservative Catholic media because his homily scores Biden for being a phony Catholic who is "unabashedly pro-abortion" and supportive of same-sex marriage. He also says Biden will lead the nation to socialism, a "soul-robbing ideology that always and inevitably leads to totalitarianism, where the government presumes to put itself in the place of God in the lives of its subservient citizens."
By this point in the video, Meeks sounds like the warmup act at a Trump rally. He only mentions the coronavirus pandemic in his effort to portray Biden as an enemy of religious liberty.
"Joe Biden is on the record as saying that, as president, he would not hesitate to reinstitute a nationwide pandemic lockdown if the science demands it," says Meeks. "Undoubtedly such a lockdown would, once again, close our churches. Let me remind you what it was like for us to have no public masses and no sacraments for 11 weeks this past spring."
I need to hit the pause button here and rewind to the part about same-sex marriage. The Supreme Court had the final word on that, as far as the law goes, and this week Pope Francis was reported to have clearly stated support for civil unions. You want to knock Biden for favoring love, marriage and civil rights for all of God's children? Have at it, Father.
As for abortion, I understand too well that the Catholic Church opposes abortion, and conservative priests like Meeks believe it's important to remind parishioners of church teaching on it. But "unabashedly pro-abortion" is cheap rhetoric. It's entirely possible for someone to oppose abortion but support a woman's right to choose to have a legal one without risking her life to have an illegal one. And I know plenty of Catholics who feel that way.
I respect those on the other side who see abortion as murder. What I don't respect, in this election year above all others, is the focus on it. Pardon my personal theology: If there's heaven in the next life, you get there by treating well the people you meet in this life. To condemn the famously empathetic Joe Biden when the alternative is the extravagantly self-centered Donald Trump ignores a foundational idea of Christianity.
In Meeks' homily, there's no mention of the deaths from the coronavirus in a pandemic made worse by Trump's mismanagement, smears against science and reckless behavior. There is no mention of the additional 8 million Americans who have fallen into poverty as a result of the economic impact of the virus.
Nor is there a word about the Trump administration's horrific separation of migrant children from their parents at our border with Mexico.
The complaint about "socialism" sounds like opposition to health care for all, a stunning position for a priest.
Indeed, the prospects for American democracy, for recovery from the pandemic, for survival of the planet, for racial equality, for immigration reform, for economic justice and for plain old common decency — all of which are at stake in this important presidential election — have no place in the otherworld of Father Meeks.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Dan Rodricks is a long-time columnist for The Baltimore Sun.
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