Joe Biden has been inaugurated as President of the United States and he is said to be a member of the Catholic Church. What’s the implication of this for America and for the world?
Yes, Joe Biden, the President of United States is a Catholic. But he is an American, born and bred in America. His allegiance is to America and the Americans. He is a Catholic and I am very certain that he will allow his faith in God to help him in his leadership. We are not over excited that he is a Catholic; all we want is that we have a good human being, who has good leadership qualities and the fear of God to lead America and if it happens this time to be a Catholic, we give God the glory and we congratulate Joe Biden and his deputy, Kamala Harris. We wish them the best in the performance of their duty to serve the American citizens well and to also have a positive impact on the rest of the world, especially Africa and other continents struggling to develop.
Though Biden is the President of USA, it is believed that every American President, in one way or the other, would have an influence on other parts of the world including Nigeria.
Yes, it is a powerful position and that is why we hope he will approach this task with great calm and have a calculated disposition to be able to govern America and by extension have a very positive impact on the rest of the world. America is definitely a country to look up. I have no doubt that Biden with his antecedents and with his faith background, the Catholic social teachings which I am sure he has imbibed since his younger days, will help him tremendously in giving genuine leadership to America. The rest of the world needs America just like America needs the rest of the world. I am sure his foreign policies will be favourable and it will promote the good of human beings. I think what he should focus on is the progress of humanity and to promote the common good of humanity and ensure that no group or geo-political area suffers unnecessarily.
He must channel his energy through conquering poverty, illiteracy, diseases and all the vices that inundate our world today because people believe they are so independent, they have freedom to do whatever they want to do. They want to take the life of a baby in the womb, they take it; they want to start a war for very trivial reasons, they do it; they want to redefine what the institution of marriage is, they do so, that a man marries a man and a woman marries a woman. These are issues of freedom that I think will need to be studied carefully and I believe with his background, the new President of the United States will give quality leadership.
Biden is a leading figure in the US Democratic Party, and reportedly once denied communion by a South Carolina Priest before. Based on this premise and what have been said about him, does the church consider him a true Catholic, given his view on same-sex marriage and abortion which the Catholic Church abhors?
He is a Catholic by baptism and upbringing and we expect that he will remain a Catholic for the rest of his life and that he would be bound by Catholic social teachings and doctrines. It is difficult for me to judge why he was refused communion in the US. As Catholic, there are certain reasons which warrant not being allowed to take the sacrament. The priest or cardinal who denied him communion must have a specific reason. But generally, every Catholic who is Catholic to the core cannot be denied communion or any sacrament.
Even with that disposition towards those vices?
Well, if somebody is very clear about a particular vice and says he is dedicated to promoting such then, we will know that it is a very deliberate action and therefore there are consequences in the church. But from what we know of the new US President, he has said it again and again even in his speech… he alluded to his own church and to the faith he has been brought up in and in his private conservations. He has also made it clear that he is a Catholic and would abide by the teachings of Catholic Church. But remember that America is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious nation, a big and powerful nation made up of different people of diverse interests, cultures and backgrounds. America is not a country that you can say is 100% Catholic. If America is 100% Catholic, there will be certain expectations of President Biden who is a Catholic. But since it is such a mixed country, then it would be difficult to take some decisions. But what matters is that his conscience as a Catholic is in line with what the Catholic Church teaches. These are our stand against abortion, we don’t support same-sex marriage, and we don’t support war and all those things that make life difficult for people. As a Catholic individual, I believe he accepts those teachings but when it comes to ruling America that is diverse in culture, religion and so on, it is not that easy. So, that is where President Biden as a Catholic will need a spiritual director to guide him and ensure that he maintains his Catholic identity and at the same time do not violate the rights of other people who don’t share in the Catholic faith.
He is not going to impose his Catholic views on everybody but I want to assure us that he will, from what he has said, remain a Catholic, be guided by his Catholic social and doctrinal upbringing and he will be a President of America for every American and he will by extension extends the goodwill of America to nations and countries around the world.
You said anybody who violates Catholic teachings will receive sanctions. If for instance, you find yourself to be his priest and he has violated those laws because of his views on same-sex marriage and abortion, will you serve him holy communion?
If I were to be his priest, definitely I would know him better. I will know what he really stands for as an individual, then as a Catholic and then as a President, for him to divide these and make sure he treats everyone accordingly. As an individual with his rights and freedom, as a Catholic with his religious obligation and as a President in charge of affairs of the Americans, you have to be able to discern on each of these. So as his priest, I would be able to know if he would deny Catholic teachings and doctrines.
Where do you think he belongs that you will place him?
Definitely, it is a violation of one of the tenets of the Catholic Church (to engage in abortion). Life begins at conception and life is sacred. If he manifestly tells me as an individual and as a Catholic that this is what he is going to do, I will make up my mind on where he belongs.
When you say you will make up your mind where he belongs, what do you mean?
I will make up my mind on where to place him, whether he should be admitted to sacrament or not because nobody is above the law of the church. The law applies to everyone, including the bishops, Cardinals and even the Pope and the president (of a country). Remember that the president is elected for a particular tenure. We cannot say because he is the president, we would waive certain laws. The Catholic law, as in our canon law, does not respect any individual. It rather seeks to give dignity to every individual whether rich or poor, whether small or big. But not to say because somebody is a president and high up there, then the law will apply differently. No, it cannot happen. The law is the same for the ordinary man on the street, a beggar who is a Catholic and then the highest person who is a president, a general or whatever the rank or position. The law is the same for all. There is no preferential treatment.
So that means you won’t admit him to taking holy communion?
He knows the consequence if he deliberately says he is going to act in contrast to anything about the Catholic Church. But we cannot hold him for anything if for instance, the Congress of the United States decides on an issue. As a President of many diverse people, he has to exercise his role as a President.
But if as an individual Catholic, he tells me he doesn’t believe in the sanctity of life, he doesn’t believe that life is sacred and abortion can take place, you can kill any time during pregnancy and so on and he tells you that, clearly as a priest, the law is obvious and it is valid for both the president and the pauper, so the law will apply accordingly.
Did the Catholic Church in any way see that Biden would become the President?
Every American citizen of age is a potential president if you dare to contest or join politics. That has been there and he was a strong contender. It was an open game. It could have been another way. But now that it is his own way, I think it is something to be grateful to God for. And more so, it is not known in the tradition of America that a Catholic will become president easily
Do you believe that his emergence as US President will improve the relationship between America and the Vatican?
Of course, since he is a Catholic it means he will understand the workings of the Catholic Church better than a non-Catholic. It means he is on a familiar territory. So, there wouldn’t be so much conflict or tension between the two countries.
There is a trending video about one of Biden’s male nominees, introducing another male, Charles as ‘my husband.’ What does it portend for Biden’s Presidency if his male nominee could say that in public?
I have not seen that video but like I said, let’s wait and see how the new President of the United States carries out his responsibilities. But as a church, we have a prophetic duty to help even the most powerful person politically. I can assure you that the church will not be quiet simply because Biden is the President of the United States of America. The American Catholic Bishops will speak; the American Bishops will speak, not to condemn or undermine him but to ensure that the right thing is done. There must be some checks and balances and there must be some minimum of moral conduct for God’s sake.
Biden is already facing impeachment plot over alleged corruption from a member of parliament. What does that portend?
You know politicians will always be politicians. You know in politics, you have the ruling party and the opposition, so they will stop at nothing in throwing mud or stones at each other.
When Trump won the US presidential election, many expected much from him. But he disappointed them. Some critics and political analysts have also predicted that Biden is going to shock people, even his supporters with disappointments. Do you think so?
Well, it can be positive and negative surprises. Let’s analyse a person by what he does, what he says or what he or she has been. From his speeches so far, we don’t get the impression that he has come to destabilise or create a situation of anarchy or confusion that could lead to war and all that kind of things, he hasn’t given that impression. Reading his inaugural speech, he is clear about unity, love, having faith in God, about harmony and social justice and so on. I think it is only good to give him a chance.
But I told you, politicians especially of the opposition party, will never stop talking. Even when you sneeze or cough, they have a political interpretation to that. So, for us watching from the outside, we just wish them well and we hope that Biden will bring something new and beautiful to the country and also to the entire citizens of the United States.