BY DAVID V BARRETT
BARACK OBAMA.S choice of Catholic Senator Joe Biden as his presidential running mate may help him win the election, but it has opened up the same controversy that helped destroy John Kerry's bid for the presidency four years ago.
"I'm very proud to be Catholic. It's part of my spirituality, part of my identity," said Senator Biden, who comes from a working-class Irish-Catholic background, and so is thought to appeal to many of the "bluecollar" voters who supported Hillary Clinton over Obama.
Senator Biden met Pope John Paul 1I on four occasions and went to his funeral. He has made it clear that his beliefs underlie his politics. Last year he told the Christian Science Monitor "The animating principle of my faith, as taught to me by church and home, was that the cardinal sin was abuse of power. It was not only required as a good Catholic to abhor and avoid abuse of power, but to do something to end that abuse."
Senator Biden has said that his faith gives him peace. "I get comfort from carrying my rosary, going to Mass every Sunday. It's my time alone," he said. When he had brain surgery in 1988, he asked his doctors if he could keep his rosary under his pillow for comfort. In his youth Mr Biden briefly considered becoming a priest, but his mother told him to experience dating girls before making a decision to go to seminary.
He has known tragedy in his life. His wife and infant daughter were killed, and his two sons badly injured, in a car crash in 1972 shortly after he was elected to the Senate. "I never doubted that there was a God, but I was angry with God," he said. "I was very self-centred. How could God do this to me?"
Adding Senator Biden to the Democrat ticket has rekindled the controversy over the moral stance of Catholic politicians.
Like Democratic candidate John Kerry four years ago. Senator Biden, while personally opposing abortion, has voted for abortion, leading Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput to say that he should refrain from receiving Communion. Similar attacks by Catholic bishops on John Kerry were considered harmful to his presidential campaign four years ago.
"There are elements within the Church who say that if you are at odds with any of the teachings of the Church, you are at odds with the Church. I think the Church is bigger than that," said Senator Biden.
He has said that Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalising abortion in America, "is as close to we're going to be able to get as a society" to taking account of the many different religious and moral stances on abortion. "I don't think I have the right to impose my view," he said, "on something I accept as a matter of faith on the rest of society."