Amy Sullivan about V.P. Biden’s papal audience

Time Magazine has a section online named “Swampland”, which seems appropriate for pretty much the whole publication.

Here is some “insight” from one Amy Sullivan, who has alas received our attention before, here.

Joe Biden’s Secret Meeting with the Pope
By Amy Sullivan Thursday, June 16, 2011 | 11 Comments

Late last week, the White House released a photo of Vice President Joe Biden meeting with Pope Benedict during a recent trip to Italy. The meeting, which was unannounced and appeared on neither man’s official schedule, took Vatican watchers by surprise. But many were even more thrown by the Vatican’s silence about the papal audience. [Note the terms used.  A “meeting” is a sort of “audience”, but “meeting” seems as if it were organized, purposeful, with an agenda other than merely the chance to see the Pope.]

Biden is the first Catholic vice president and the highest-ranking Catholic in the U.S. government. [Well… yes, he is next in the line of succession.  But, does that make him the “highest ranking”?  I may be wrong, but it seems to me that the Speaker of the House, though third in line in succession, has more power and influence.  Am I wrong?] When then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (also Catholic) [welllll…] met with Pope Benedict in February 2009, the Vatican seemed to go out of its way to emphasize the fact that Pelosi received a papal lecture about her support for abortion rights. A statement released after the meeting said that the Pope “briefly greeted” Pelosi, [Which is probably what happened with V.P. Biden.] and then “His Holiness took the opportunity to speak of the requirements of the natural moral law and the church’s consistent teaching on the dignity of human life from conception to natural death.” [That’s what Pope’s do… and she was lucky to receive it.]

[Get this…] The Vice President supports abortion rights as well, although unlike Pelosi he has also said he accepts church teaching that life begins at conception. [Isn’t that really worse?] And yet, in what Catholic News Service called “an unusual move,” the Vatican did not comment on Biden’s papal audience. [Probably because the meet and greet didn’t mean anything.] The only official mention of the meeting was a one-sentence summary in the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano reporting after the fact that the audience took place. [Because that is how these audiences are reported.]

Biden’s conservative critics [Rather… Catholic critics…?] will be disappointed that the Pope did not choose to publicly remind Biden of the church’s opposition to abortion. [Or… it is a sign of how little influence he is considered to have?] During the 2008 campaign, several U.S. Catholic leaders, including Archbishop Charles Chaput in Denver, criticized Biden’s position on abortion and said he should refrain from taking communion. The Pope himself wrote a memo to U.S. bishops in 2004 (as then-Cardinal Ratzinger) supporting the practice of denying communion to Catholic politicians who consistently vote in support of abortion rights. [And V.P. Biden affirms that human life begins at conception.]

No one is saying why the Pope chose not to make an example out of Biden on the occasion of their meeting. But the Vice President is no doubt offering a few prayers of thanks for that silence.  [I wonder.]

FacebookEmailPinterestGoogle GmailShare/Bookmark

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in 1983 CIC can. 915 and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

29 Responses to Amy Sullivan about V.P. Biden’s papal audience

  1. Centristian says:

    “[Well… yes, he is next in the line of succession. But, does that make him the “highest ranking”? I may be wrong, but it seems to me that the Speaker of the House, though third in line in succession, has more power and influence. Am I wrong?]”

    With all due respect, Father, yes, you are. The Vice President of the United States ranks immediately behind the President (or the President and the First Lady when together) in any (domestic) social or diplomatic order of precedence. Furthermore, he ranks above the Speaker of the House even in the legislative branch because he is the President of the Senate, the upper house of our legislature.

    A vice president may or may not, depending personality, ability, and a variety of other circumstances, wield less power and influence than a speaker of the house, but he nonetheless RANKS above the speaker, constitutionally, diplomatically, and socially.

    [I have the sense that perhaps you didn’t read what I wrote very carefully. But, no matter. I am not sure who said it, but someone once told a story of two brothers. One ran away to sea and the other became Vice President. Neither of them were heard from again.]

    I never thought I would see the day that the Vice President, the Speaker of the House, the Chief Justice of the United States (and most of the associate justices) were all at once Roman Catholics. It’s really remarkable, when you think about it.

  2. Northern Ox says:

    My sense at the time was that the Vatican’s statement about Speaker Peolsi was triggered by Rep. Pelosi herself first releasing a statement, talking about what a wonderful exchange they’d had on various issues but not mentioning abortion. Here, VP Biden has (perhaps wisely) kept mum about the substance of the meeting, so there is no mischaracterization before the public that the Vatican might feel compelled to correct.

  3. Ralph says:

    Centristian:
    “I never thought I would see the day that the Vice President, the Speaker of the House, the Chief Justice of the United States (and most of the associate justices) were all at once Roman Catholics. It’s really remarkable, when you think about it”

    What would be even more remarkable is if all of them, or even the majority of them, would lead a life and carear that was evidence of the faith. Sadly, most are Catholic in Name Only, in my opinion.

  4. jkm210 says:

    I can’t even conceive what it would be like for the pope to give me a personal lecture about anything. I’d probably throw up, go to confession, and then hide out in shame for ages. I’m not saying that I’ve never done anything lecture-worthy, but I can just never understand how these prominant Catholic politicians go through something like this with a bishop or the pope, and then persist in their disregard for Church teaching.

  5. robtbrown says:

    Centristian,

    Fr Z said that although the VP rank is #2, he is not #2 in power and influence. You said nothing to refute that.

  6. Titus says:

    What would be even more remarkable is if all of them, or even the majority of them, would lead a life and carear that was evidence of the faith. Sadly, most are Catholic in Name Only, in my opinion.

    I’m not aware that C.J. Roberts leads any manner of scandalous life. From all accounts I’ve heard, he’s a practical Catholic and a devoted husband and father. He is certainly a serious and honest jurist: the excellence of his legal work is itself a testimony to the Faith.

    Fr Z said that although the VP rank is #2, he is not #2 in power and influence. You said nothing to refute that.

    The Vice President of the United States has a single Constitutional duty: preside over the proceedings of the United States Senate, except during trials of impeachment of the President. It is a duty he rarely exercises. As the first holder of the office complained, “I am nothing.” The power and influence of the position are entirely informal: a vice president may persuade where he cannot command, introduce where he cannot act, and insinuate where he cannot announce. He has unique access to the president, cabinet members, and legislators, by which to engage in these undertakings. These are not insignificant powers and provide him with the potential for wide influence. But all of that is off the record, so to speak. The office gives no man power simply by virtue of holding it: it merely gives an otherwise influential individual the means and access to use his natural talents. Who knows how influential or powerful Biden is in the role. I might suspect not much.

    That may indicate why there were no reports or lectures: 1) as someone mentioned, Biden hasn’t made a habit of using misrepresentations about the Faith as a political weapon in the same way Pelosi did as Speaker, and 2) as holder of a job with no power or policy-making role, there’s little gained from belaboring the point with him.

  7. DisturbedMary says:

    I doubt any Catholic who has a private visit with the Pope ever forgets one word of what was said to him. So, at night, when Joe puts his head on the pillow and thinks about the moments of the day, even Joe will consider those words. I think of it as divine intervention for a guy who one day or another will have to stand in judgement before God like all of us.

  8. Centristian says:

    Fr. Z: “One ran away to sea and the the became Vice President. Neither of them were heard from again.”

    LOL.

    Robtbrown: “Fr Z said that although the VP rank is #2, he is not #2 in power and influence. You said nothing to refute that.”

    I did address that point, actually: “A vice president may or may not, depending [upon] personality, ability, and a variety of other circumstances, wield less power and influence than a speaker of the house…”

    Vice presidents, I fully understand, have been regarded in the past as more or less of a useless ornament, without much political influence, and with good reason. That’s precisely what they usually have been. John Nance Garner, FDR’s salty and uncouth VP, once famously complained that the vice presidency wasn’t worth a “bucket of warm spit” (he didn’t say “spit” however). John Adams very notably assessed, “My country has in its wisdom contrived for me the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived.” Nelson Rockefeller felt so neutered by his time in the office that it completely knocked the wind out of his political sails forever.

    But that needn’t necessarily be the case. Nobody would suggest that either Walter Mondale or Al Gore, for example, were without great influence in the White House and on Capitol Hill, and fewer still are the number of people who would accuse Dick Cheney of being a wallflower in the Cabinet Room. The office is what the holder makes of it (or what the sitting president allows him to make of it).

  9. Ernesto Gonzalez says:

    Aren’t the three branches of the Federal Government equal?

    The order of precedence is just ceremonial. It is created by the Department of State and approved by the President of the Executive Branch. Of course, the executive branch, which is charged with state functions, will list itself first in the precedence.

    Therefore, the highest ranking Catholic in the United States Federal Government is Chief Justice Roberts , who should be seen as equal in rank to the POTUS.

  10. MichaelJ says:

    This seems like a non-story to me. Joe Biden met with the Pope and …. nothing.

    I am wondering why Time Magazine thought that this was newsworthy. Could they be (I know, I know, I’m way too cynical) trying to plant a seed in their reader’s consciousness?

    Are they hoping that some reader will come away from this thinking “Well Joe Biden is a Catholic, and he supports abortion and he met with the Pope, and the Pope didn’t say anything bad so I too can support abortion”?

  11. Ernesto Gonzalez says:

    Come to think about out it. The highest ranking persons of the Federal Government should probably be considered to be the POTUS, The President of Senate and the Speaker of the House, and the Chief Justice. If we consider these as equals, then three of the four highest ranking equals in the Federal Government are Catholic.

    Considering the state of our country, this is sad.

  12. anna 6 says:

    Northern Ox: I think that is is exactly what happened. The Vatican’s comments about the Pelosi audience were merely clarifications.

    Michael J: In a word…yes!

  13. Jason Keener says:

    It is quite scary that the Vice President admits that life begins at conception but still believes that people should have a legal right to have an abortion. So, in essence, the Vice President of the United States believes that it is legally ok for citizens to kill their own children. Isn’t that a nice thought? God, save us from this treacherous bunch! By the way, the Holy Father should have excommunicated Biden on the spot.

  14. Random Friar says:

    This was obviously an unscheduled side trip that probably popped up when an opportunity presented itself. As VP of the United States, of course the Pope would try to accomodate him — popes try to meet at least diplomatically, if not informally, with persons of influence. This is more about diplomacy than about theology, although I’m sure the Holy Father dropped in at least a hint of what that might be during the VP’s visit.

    Folks need to realize that the Holy Father meeting with a major figure is not a “Seal of Approval.” It is always good to at least try to keep the higher channels of communication open.

  15. albizzi says:

    If VP Biden believes that life begins at conception while reckoning nothing is wrong with abortion, probably will he agree that killing a newborn kid isn’t wrong too?

  16. Travis says:

    Father-

    I liked your joke about the two brothers, but being from Texas I will use a statement from John Nance Garner. Garner served as both Speaker of the House and as FDR’s Vice President. I think that Garner made his feelings known about the Vice-Presidency when he said it was not, “worth a buck of warm p____.” Sorry Joe!

  17. benedetta says:

    Centristian, In terms of protocol the VP is closer to the POTUS than the Speaker. But in terms of real power in every practical sense, in terms of working power and daily life, it is the other way around clearly. When you think of Speaker O’Neil and then think through various VPs, of the same era, regardless of where your political favor is, I am sure you recognize that.

    The realist, given the dogmatic framework which has supported these politicians in the offering of greater death and more abortion will say that the VP would only wind up replying to an invitation to a discussion on this point, that the average local official in charge of animal control has the same influence in terms of legislation when it comes to prolife. Yet one can still be fully a realist and still hope that the meeting was beneficial for VP Biden and that he will take the leadership of the Holy Father in all respects to heart. It has been published that VP Biden prays the rosary. I should think that at some point it would no longer be possible to continue to pray any of the mysteries and not recognize that women in difficult circumstances pressured to abort their very child a profound deception which does not desire the ultimate good, strength and health of our nation.

  18. benedetta says:

    I also agree that Northern Ox nails it.

    Perhaps VP Biden will be updating us soon on the status of the administration’s long promised dialogue with prolife.

  19. trespinos says:

    What follows is just speculation. VP Biden has kept the war zones/Islamosphere saga as a special interest/portfolio during his term so far. I suspect he visited the Pope to let him in on some of the latest intelligence info that POTUS or he himself thought the Pope should be personally aware of. One would think the information could have been relayed through secure channels, but a personal meeting may have been seen as a courtesy owed, and earning the Administration some brownie points.

  20. ContraMundum says:

    I suspect he visited the Pope to let him in on some of the latest intelligence info that POTUS or he himself thought the Pope should be personally aware of.

    For a speculation based on nothing whatsoever, it would be more entertaining if you would suggest he briefed the Pope on the real story behind the Roswell UFO crash.

    Does the US President have more information about Islam than the Pope? He certainly has more access to certain types of information, such as the makes of weapons used by the Taliban and who might be supplying them, or the frequencies on which they communicate. On the other hand, that kind of information is not really useful to the Holy Father. Meanwhile, the Catholic Church has a large number of people “on the ground” practically everywhere, and the Pope — this Pope especially — has more sense, and a better understanding of Islam, than this US President, the VP, and the whole cabinet taken together. (The same was true of the last administration.)

  21. Rouxfus says:

    It could be that the Veep was on an errand, passing along a message which could not be trusted to cable or Ambassador.

  22. Kerry says:

    “…the highest ranking Catholic… is Chief Justice Roberts , who should be seen as equal in rank to the POTUS.” He cannot possibly be as rank as the Poutus. (sic. intentional)

  23. ContraMundum says:

    It could be that the Veep was on an errand, passing along a message which could not be trusted to cable or Ambassador.

    This is Joe Biden you’re talking about! Would you really trust him to convey a delicate, sensitive message? No, if I wanted to get an important message from the US President to the Pope, I’d go through Cardinal Burke.

  24. ContraMundum says:

    On the other hand … you could be right. I was thinking too much of how I would do things. Iwould go through other channels, but Obama probably does overvalue his administration. Most hypothetical “secret messages” would be exceedingly arrogant, and Joe Biden would be a stupid choice to send an important message, but neither arrogance nor stupidity is really a deal-breaker.

  25. One of those TNCs says:

    Ms. Sullivan, I’m sure that Archbishop Chaput did not say “…he should refrain from taking communion.” I’m sure he would have said something more like, “…he should refrain from receiving Communion.”
    TW, is she a Catholic? Er, was she baptized a Catholic?

  26. trespinos says:

    Scoff if you wish, but I could conceive of the Vice President flying to deliver in person to the Pope the news that the USA had succeeded in identifying and/or apprehending the masterminds behind the assassinations and bloody in-church massacres of our Iraqi fellow Christians–news which the Holy Father would receive with joy, but which both parties would understand needed to be kept in confidence. Completely hypothetical, but not at all implausible.

  27. Eric says:

    The reason nothing was said is that the meeting was scheduled for 5 minutes and it took the pope and his staff 4 minutes and 45 seconds to awaken the vice president.

  28. Centristian says:

    Benedetta: “Centristian, In terms of protocol the VP is closer to the POTUS than the Speaker. But in terms of real power in every practical sense, in terms of working power and daily life, it is the other way around clearly. When you think of Speaker O’Neil and then think through various VPs, of the same era, regardless of where your political favor is, I am sure you recognize that.”

    I recognize that that can be the case, but it needn’t be and is not always so. Consider Speaker Dennis Hastert and Vice President Richard Cheney side by side (their terms were contemporaneous). Of the two, who would you say was the more powerful and influential?

  29. Xmenno says:

    I was in Rome last week with other members of my Theology cohort. We were sitting at a little cafe, just outside the St. Peter’s, eating paninis when a long motorcade drove by. Every branch of Italian law enforcement was represented, surrounding a limousine with the VP inside. Quite unexpected! We were later told that the meeting Biden had with the Holy Father was not publicized, and we assumed that it was to avoid the manipulations and appearance of comradery that other politicians have engineered in such situations.