In early October, Joe Biden nominated Joe Donnelly, a former Indiana Senator, to serve as his ambassador to the Vatican. News coverage of the nomination has been misleading. “Biden nominates pro-life Democrat Donnelly as new Vatican ambassador,” says National Catholic Reporter. Donnelly is not pro-life, at least not in any consistent sense. “He has voted with Planned Parenthood Action Fund 67 percent of the time since he’s been in Congress,” reported the Indianapolis Star in 2018.
Like Biden, Donnelly is a Democrat first and a Catholic second. His career illustrates the tensions between membership in the Democratic Party and adherence to orthodox Catholic teaching. To survive as a Democrat, Donnelly gradually compromised his faith. In 2013, he flip-flopped on gay marriage, saying that he no longer had reservations about it.
“In recent years, our country has been involved in an important discussion on the issue of marriage equality,” he said. “With the recent Supreme Court arguments and accompanying public discussion of same-sex marriage, I have been thinking about my past positions and votes. In doing so, I have concluded that the right thing to do is to support marriage equality for all.”
Donnelly co-chaired Catholics for Biden during the 2020 campaign. He vouched for Biden’s pro-abortion Catholicism. “Joe Biden lives his faith every day,” he wrote in a column. “Every Sunday, he is on his knees attending Mass and praying for his country, his family, and all those in need in our beloved nation. I know this because I know Joe Biden and I come from the same Irish Catholic faith tradition.”
Donnelly sees no incompatibility between that tradition and funding Planned Parenthood. In 2018, the Susan B. Anthony List called him out for his “deceptive” self-description as a pro-lifer. “Senator Donnelly claims to be pro-life, but he has a history of betrayal on important pro-life votes, including today when he once again voted in support of sending taxpayer dollars to America’s largest abortion business, Planned Parenthood,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of the group.
The group noted his erratic record and support for taxpayer-funded abortion over the years:
March 2010: Sen. Donnelly voted for taxpayer-funded abortion in Obamacare.
August 2015: Sen. Donnelly cast a pro-life vote when he voted for Cloture On S. 1881, A Bill To Prohibit Federal Funding For Planned Parenthood.
December 2015: Just a few months later, Sen. Donnelly voted to allow Planned Parenthood to receive taxpayer funding.
March 2017: Sen. Donnelly voted with pro-abortion Democrats against a resolution that would nullify an HHS rule that prevents states from restricting federal family planning funding to Planned Parenthood.
Donnelly was equally unreliable on the issue of religious freedom. He supported the Democratic Party’s infringements upon it, saying that he wanted Indiana to be “inclusive.” He supported Obama’s contraceptive mandate at the expense of the religious freedom of Christians. This earned him a rebuke from Indiana Bishop Timothy Doherty.
All of this, of course, commended him to Biden. Donnelly is Biden’s idea of a sound Catholic, one who treats the platform of the Democratic Party as more sacrosanct than the teachings of the Church. Like Biden, Donnelly falsely equates the party’s support for amnesty, climate change activism, and big government with “Catholic social justice.” But those are prudential matters on which Catholics can disagree. Donnelly is peddling a politicized and compromised version of the faith, which at once allows him to dissent from official teaching while casting as “Catholic” political opinions currently in vogue at the Vatican. Biden, who has long exploited that confusion of issues, no doubt selected Donnelly for Vatican ambassador in order to promote that heterodox brand of Catholicism so politically convenient to the Democrats.
Donnelly says that “I look forward to working with the Holy See on a wide variety of issues, including human rights, religious freedom, immigration, climate change, peace, and poverty.” In other words, Biden is sending him there to strengthen his political alliance with the pope. How far the Democrats have come from the days of John F. Kennedy, who said that he would never take his political cue from the Vatican. Now that’s the only cue the Bidens and Donnellys hear, even as they shut their ears to the Church’s magisterial teachings.