A common religion yet Joe Biden and Paul Ryan are separated by abortion issue

The two men almost certainly understand each other on a level no amount of briefing could provide

Joe Biden's prep team for tomorrow's vice presidential debate with his fellow Catholic Paul Ryan has asked him to just this once resist the temptation to explain himself on the abortion issue. There are dangers in that thicket, and he mustn't wander off into a disquisition on the various views of when life begins. (The plan instead? Stock answer, pivot. What could go wrong?)

Plenty, of course. And with the momentum in Romney-Ryan's favor, America's first Catholic vice president is under even more pressure than the man who wants to become the second.

Both not only practice their common faith but have been shaped in important ways by it. "My idea of self, of family, of community, of the wider world comes straight from my faith,'' Biden said in his book "Promises to Keep.'' The vice president, whose mother once counseled him to put off any decision about the priesthood until after he'd gone on some dates, brought the rosary he prays with daily to the Situation Room as the Navy SEALs closed in on Osama bin Laden. He never misses Mass. His trip planners regularly scout for parishes where there'd be no big fuss over him - and no risk of him being denied Communion over his pro-choice politics.

Ryan, a former altar boy, is just as serious in his practice, and on the day his vice presidential nomination was announced he was introduced by Mitt Romney as such: "A faithful Catholic, Paul believes in the worth and dignity of every human life." The congressman and his wife, Janna, send their kids to their parish school in Janesville, Wis., and he has many friends in the clergy, including Cardinal Tim Dolan of New York.

Having grown up in the same culture, the two men almost certainly understand each other on a level no amount of briefing could provide. Yet they also almost perfectly embody the split in the American church, as well as in American politics, with Biden representing the old-school, union-tied, Vatican II generation of Kennedy-loving Catholics whose focus is social justice and who are comfortable with questioning. He was praised for being the only kid in his ninth-grade theology class who copped to doubts about transubstantiation, and his mother famously instructed him, when she heard he was meeting the pope, "Don't you kiss his ring!"

Ryan, meanwhile, upholds the younger, more conservative, John Paul II-era, anti-abortion-focused Catholicism of the sonogram generation. It's doubtful that the different faith-based emphases of these two running mates will influence the election much, despite the efforts of Ryan's cheering section.

But the religious makeup of our country is being dramatically reshaped by politics. According to a Pew study released Tuesday, Democrats are increasingly turned off by conservative politics coming at them from the pulpit, and they are fleeing all religious institutions they perceive as being co-opted by the right. Immigrants have so far allowed the Catholic Church to hold steady despite these defections, but one in five Americans now self-identifies as religiously unaffiliated, even if 68 percent of these folks also say that they believe in God. Their number is expected to keep growing, too, since among Americans under 30, one in three is now unaffiliated.

I certainly don't see the church backing off in an effort to win back those members who are fleeing homilies that make them squirm. But I am sorry that the two halves of Catholic teaching remain as divided as the two men who Thursday will offer their competing visions of what matters.

What Biden could learn from Ryan is that the vice president's insistence that he doesn't want to impose his morality on anybody in a pluralistic country doesn't really track; the Civil Rights Act imposed morality on lots of people, and thank goodness. And same-sex marriage is doing the same, isn't it?

What Ryan could learn from Biden is that, as the National Catholic Reporter's Sean Michael Winters puts it, the leading cause of abortion in this country is poverty, and Ryan's proposal to cut Medicaid would surely increase the number of procedures.

Many Catholic leaders stick with the Republicans because they keep promising to overturn Roe v. Wade, but they don't ever deliver on that promise, and won't. As even strongly pro-choice Nancy Pelosi told me recently, "Let's face it, the Republicans have had the House, Senate and White House any number of times; they could have overturned Roe and they didn't.''

She's right about that. And Catholic leaders such as Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Ill., who recently wrote on the subject of abortion and the upcoming election that "a vote for a candidate who promotes actions or behaviors that are intrinsically evil . . . places the eternal salvation of your own soul in serious jeopardy" might want to consider whether 40 more years of supporting Republicans based on that promise would be any different.

Meanwhile, they are not only running off those Catholics who don't agree, but are unwittingly whittling away at their own influence with the increasingly secular Democratic Party. Strong Catholic voices like that of Biden, who argued against the Health and Human Services mandate, will matter less going forward - and there will be fewer Joe Bidens in the party to speak up for them.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
News
Sir David Attenborough
people
Life and Style
Young girl and bowl of cereal
food + drink
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
Comic miserablist Larry David in 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'
peopleDirector of new documentary Misery Loves Comedy reveals how he got them to open up
Sport
football
News
i100
Life and Style
Virtual reality headset: 'Essentially a cinema screen that you strap to your face'
techHow virtual reality is thrusting viewers into frontline of global events and putting film-goers at the heart of the action
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Life and Style
David Bowie by Duffy
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
News
advertisingVideo: The company that brought you the 'Bud' 'Weis' 'Er' frogs and 'Wasssssup' ads, has something up its sleeve for Sunday's big match
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
i100
Environment
Dame Vivienne Westwood speaking at a fracking protest outside Parliament on Monday (AP)
environment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: This post arises as a result of the need to...

Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teacher Required ASAP In Uminster

£120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wimbledon, SW London

£24000 - £28000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wim...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness