While Pope Francis has been a breath of fresh air, is the US Catholic contingent ready for a liberal Catholic like Joe Biden in the Oval Office.
What a life Theodore McCarrick could have led. He was born in 1930, in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan, just two years after Al Smith, another New York City Catholic, ran for president. The country rejected Smith -- his immigrant roots, his big-city accent, his foreign religion with its scheming pope.
McCarrick’s father died when he was just three years old. Had McCarrick managed to nab himself any stable civil service job with a pension you’d call his a fine Irish American success story.
But McCarrick rose from his own humble roots and, like his church, moved from the outside to the inside, from the margins to the center. McCarrick could have shown everybody that when you become powerful, you can still be a force for good.
But no. The Vatican released a report last week, laying out the repugnant details of McCarrick’s downfall, the long list of abuse allegations made against him, the many people who could not only have stopped McCarrick’s rise to the College of Cardinals but also saved some of his sexual abuse victims.
McCarrick’s horrific record even sullied the name of the pope who promoted him, now known as Saint John Paul.
And so, this could have been yet another week of horrors for the American Catholic Church, an institution slowly but surely on its way to obsolescence.
But there is this: We have had seven years of Pope Francis, a consistent breath of fresh air if nothing else. And come January, whether Donald Trump likes it or not, we will have Joe Biden, a devout if complicated Catholic, in the White House.
We know the whole sideshow that comes with a Catholic like Biden. The inevitable calls for them to be denied the sacraments, for their ex-communication, because they voice support for abortion or gay marriage.
And possibly because they still seem devoted and content, and Lord knows we can’t have that.
Just this week, Bishop Joseph Strickland of Texas, called on -- just the second Catholic president -- to “repent.”
“I beg Mr. Biden,” Strickland wrote on Twitter, “to repent of his dissent from Catholic teaching on abortion and marriage for his own salvation & for the good of our nation.”
If Strickland is planning to spend time begging for the repentance of each and every imperfect Catholic in public office, he’s going to be booked up for quite a while.
I mean, really, the same week the McCarrick report on decades -- DECADES -- of sin, sinners, and their enablers comes out? That’s the week you’re going to feature Biden on your “bad Catholic” Twitter feed?
That’s a problem because Biden is no longer just the president-elect. He is, in important ways, the breath of fresh air the American Catholic church desperately needs right now. Because you can bet more American Catholics can relate to Biden’s religious devotion than Strickland’s.
President-elect Biden has had a long, complicated and sure, flawed, spiritual journey. But unlike McCarrick, he has at least attempted, along the way, to temper his power with empathy.
To elevate rather than degenerate, and build up rather than tear down.
American Catholics hear someone talking about healing these days and someone warning about repentance. Take your pick.
The pope himself has spoken about the humanity and dignity of gays and lesbians. Should Pope Francis repent, Bishop Strickland?
There are many Catholics whose opposition to abortion is principled and heartfelt, while others tilt towards the more fanatical. Either way, it remains puzzling and bizarre that a church with this kind of compromised and sinful record still believes it has the moral authority to draw the theological line on this one issue.
There is so much wrong these days, in the church and in the world. All the more reason to take a moment to enjoy this rare thing -- two inspiring Catholics.
If you take a Catholic president like Joe Biden and a Catholic pontiff like Pope Francis for granted, you’re setting yourself up for a real horror show down the road.