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Joe Biden says he's leaning on prayer to lead because it ‘gives me hope and centers me’

President Joe Biden
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks about the Covid-19 response before signing executive orders for economic relief to Covid-hit families and businesses in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., on January 22, 2021. |

President Joe Biden, who is only the second Catholic president of the United States, says he’s leaning on prayer to help him lead the nation through the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and economic crisis.

“I don't want to proselytize. My religion, for me, is a safe place. I never miss mass, because I can be alone. I mean, I'm with my family, but just kind of absorbing the fundamental principle that you've got to treat everyone with dignity,” Biden, 78, stated ina recent interview with People magazine in which the president was asked if he leans on prayer to help him lead.

“Jill, when she wants me to get a real message, she tapes it on the mirror above the sink where I shave. And she put up a great quote from [Danish philosopher] Kierkegaard saying, ‘Faith sees best in the dark.’ Other people may meditate. For me, prayer gives me hope, and it centers me.”

Biden’s comments to People come as American Catholics remain divided over whether he should be treated as a model of their faith despite his support for policy positions that conflict with the Catholic Church’s teachings. Areas of contention include his stances on abortion rights, contraception, same-sex marriage and gender issues. 

While he opposes abortion as a personal matter, he wrote in his 2007 memoir, Promises to Keep, that he doesn't "have a right to impose my view on the rest of society."

"There's so much enthusiasm among some in the Catholic world that Trump is no longer president that they are willing to uncritically accept everything from President Biden, and that's a dangerous, dangerous place to be," Jayd Henricks, the former executive director of government relations at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told ABC News in a recent interview.

Hendricks called abortion a “grave, grave sin.” 

"And those who are, you know, manifest in commitment to it in a public way persistently are endangering their souls,” he argued. “The Church is clear about that."

While agreeing that abortion rights remain a central issue, Rev. Kevin Gillespie, pastor of Holy Trinity Catholic Church in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C, where Biden has worshiped twice since taking office, questioned the preeminence some Catholic leaders have given the issue.

"It's highly significant, but there is the issue of poverty, of capital punishment, of war,” he told ABC News. “There's other issues that with the Pope saying — let's not get into a cultural war so that we're divided, let's unite and build bridges," he said.

Biden’s position on abortion caused him to be denied communion at a South Carolina church in 2019, a move that garnered headlines during the 2020 election cycle. 

Biden’s personal approach to prayer stands in contrast to former President Donald Trump. Even though he championed conservative policies on religious freedom, free speech and abortion, many argue that Trump didn’t personally model those values.

As a candidate in the 2016 election, the real estate mogul said that even though he has a "great relationship" with God, he didn’t like asking the almighty for forgiveness.

"I have a great relationship with God,” hetold CNN's Jake Tapper in 2016. "I like to be good. I don't like to have to ask for forgiveness and I am good. I don't do a lot of things that are bad. I try to do nothing that's bad. I live a very different life than probably a lot of people would think.”

In 2015, Trump told a crowd at the Family Leadership Summit in Iowa that he was not sure if he had ever asked God for forgiveness, causing some at the time to question the sincerity of his Christian faith. 

“When I go to church and when I drink my little wine and have my little cracker, I guess that is a form of forgiveness,” Trump said at the time. “I do that as often as I can because I feel cleansed. I say let's go on and let's make it right.”

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