As with everything that happens during a presidential inauguration, the selection of clergy to pray at the ceremony is not just a formality – it is a statement by the incoming president telegraphing the values of his administration in the country.
And for Joe Biden, a lifelong Catholic who often quotes his faith in his last speeches, quoting everyone from St. Francis of Assisi to the hymn “On the Eagle’s Wings,” the two men offering prayers have a personal meaning. Father Leo J. O’Donovan, a Jesuit priest and Biden’s spiritual mentor, will offer the call at the beginning of the service on January 20, and Rev. Sylvester Beeman, a friend and confidant, will give the blessing at the end.
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Biden is only the second Catholic to become president of the United States since the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960. But in recent years, he has also been criticized by fellow Catholics for his stance on abortion rights. In 2019, he announced that he no longer supported Hyde’s amendment banning federal abortion funding, a more progressive position than he had previously taken (although it was in line with what his 2020 Democrat colleagues had suggested. ).
Some Catholic clergy suggest that he should be barred from partaking of Holy Communion – the central feature of the Catholic liturgy – and some have already denied it outright. However, Biden claims to be a devout Catholic (he received a congratulatory appeal from Pope Francis after his election) and his call for his faith throughout his campaign implies that his Catholicism will be an important part not only of his inauguration ceremony but also of his presidency.
A. The summoning of Leo O’Donovan is a signal of Biden’s connection to his Catholic roots
Biden and O’Donovan’s careers have been crossed for decades. Born in New York, O’Donovan was president of Georgetown University from 1989 to 2001, a time marked by the evolution of the university into a highly selective, more diverse and financially stable institution. But there were also contradictions; most notably, in 1992, the Vatican court ordered him to compensate an organization for the protection of abortion rights on campus.
In 1992, while Biden Hunter’s son was a student at Georgetown, O’Donovan invited the then Sen. Biden to give a lecture on how his faith informed his public service. “I’ve never spoken about my faith in public,” Biden told Esquire in 2011. Anyway, I’ve never worked so hard on speech in my life. What I realized as I wrote that the greatest sin a man or woman can commit is abuse of power. “
After leaving the Georgetown presidency, O’Donovan returned to teach as a visiting professor at institutions including Fordham University, the General Theological Seminary and the Union Theological Seminary. At the request of former Disney CEO Michael Eisner, whose son is in Georgetown, O’Donovan is a member of Walt Disney’s board of directors.
In 2015, Biden Bo’s son, a former Delaware prosecutor, died at the age of 46 after a recurrence of brain cancer. Biden asked O’Donovan to preach Bo’s funeral. “Joe, I’m so sorry,” O’Donovan told Biden, and then began to cry.
“He began to comfort me,” O’Donovan later told the National Catholic Registry. “He became a pastor there.”
In 2016, O’Donovan became director of the mission at the Jesuit Refugee Service in the United States and has since sharply criticized President Trump’s immigration policy. On November 12, 2020, days after his election, Biden participated in a virtual fundraiser for the Jesuit Refugee Service, during which he announced that he would increase the target for accepted refugees in the United States from 15,000 per year to the Trump administration to 125 000 per year. Biden also wrote the preface to O’Donovan’s 2018 book. Blessed are the refugees: the bliss of immigrant children.
On Acting Day, O’Donovan’s prayer will be more than just a long friendship and connection to one of the most tragic events in Biden’s life; it will be a statement of the new president’s continued connection to his Catholic roots. Biden often spoke of his faith as a “consolation” during a tragedy and grief during the loss of members of his own family. And this seems especially important for a president taking office at a time marked by suffering and grief for many Americans.
Rev. Sylvester Beamon’s blessing reminds us that there is something to be done
Calling O’Donovan – traditionally, a prayer that asks for help – he is likely to invoke God’s blessing on the ceremony and on Biden before the new president swears to abide by the constitution. After the ceremony, Rev. Sylvester Beeman will offer a prayer of blessing or blessing for those present.
A native of Niagara Falls, New York, Beeman graduated from Wilberforce University, the first private historical black university owned and operated by African Americans. Wilberforce is associated with the African Methodist Episcopal denomination, as well as Beaman Church, Bethel AME, a predominantly black church located in Wilmington, Delaware. (Biden’s main residence is in Greenville, a suburb of Wilmington.)
Biden and Beeman met in 1993 after Beeman took over Bethel. Biden attended a community event held by Beeman and introduced himself to the new pastor, and the two men became friends. Beamon occasionally traveled with Biden during his previous presidential campaigns and became friends with the entire Biden family, especially Bo.
Beeman told NBC News that while Bo Biden was Delaware’s attorney general, he had found a partner in his work. “Bu and I have become kindred spirits,” Beaman said. “We became good friends in the trenches dealing with social issues in Wilmington and the state.” He also attended Bo’s funeral in 2015.
On June 1, 2020, amid national unrest and protests against racism and police violence following the death of George Floyd, Biden – who had sharply reduced his public appearances due to the coronavirus pandemic – met with 15 black community leaders at a meeting in the sanctuary at Bethel. He vowed to tackle institutional racism and set up a police oversight body during his first 100 days in office if elected. “The vice president came to hear us,” Beaman said before the group prayed. “It’s a boy.”
The June 1 meeting at Beaman Church became fodder for three misleading and racist Trump advertising campaigns that used footage of Biden kneeling in the church’s sanctuary in front of Beaman and other black leaders. In an advertisement released in June, the video was superimposed on images of violent protests, as the church context blurred and the narrator said: “Antifa is destroying our communities. Rebellion. Robbery. Still, Joe Biden knelt. ”
In August, the footage was changed digitally to make it appear that Biden was alone in an advertisement intended to hint that the former vice president was shrinking with fear and defeated after giving up his campaign.
In September, the footage reappeared, this time at a slow pace and with visible black leaders. The words “Stop Joe Biden and his rebels” followed the footage, with the sound of Vice President Mike Pence saying, “You will not be safe in Joe Biden’s America.” Beeman told Religion News Service that the ad was “outright racist,” “an attack on the African American Church.” Along with other AME leaders, Beamon signed a letter denouncing the ad and calling on federal law enforcement to investigate it, as it “may incite violence and encourage racial tensions that lead to exposure of people of color.”
On Wednesday, Beaman’s blessing – a friend and confidant for nearly 30 years – will signal a promise to address the concerns of black communities, which is important as Biden takes on the role of president at the moment.
And Beamon is well aware of the stakes: “I will stand in front of a building built by slaves and I will stand on a podium, which is a vicious crowd,” he told NBC News. “The last word on this day will be the voice of God. I ask God to use me to direct his last grace on the occasion and to speak for the moment. And I am honored to do so. “