DANVILLE, KY, October 11, 2012, (LifeSiteNews) – When Vice President Joseph Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan take the stage at Centre College in Danville tonight for the Vice Presidential Debate, they will be making history. This marks the first time that the vice presidential candidates from both major parties have been Catholics. Their exchange tonight is likely to mirror the larger national debate over what it means to be a Catholic statesman.

On one side, there is the vice president. While Catholic, Biden frequently departs from Church teachings on social issues like abortion and same-sex “marriage.”  During the 2008 campaign, he faced public reprimands from bishops when he claimed on Meet the Press that there is room for disagreement on the abortion issue in the Catholic Church, and that the idea that life begins at conception is a “matter of faith,” not natural law. He has repeatedly expressed unwillingness to let his faith inform his policy decisions, saying that to do so would be “inappropriate in a pluralistic society.”

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Biden is not alone among Catholics in separating his faith from his public duties. Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius are both Catholics who have come under fire from Catholic clergy after publicly supporting laws that run afoul of church teaching.

Congressman Ryan holds the opposite view. A frequent churchgoer who attends a weekly Bible study on Capitol Hill, he has not been shy in admitting that his faith is the primary basis of his political beliefs. Ryan opposes abortion in all cases, with no exceptions, and is an ardent defender of traditional marriage. He often invokes the Catechism in defense of his economic policy, citing the Catholic principle of subsidiarity, which states that matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralized competent authority.

Two very different views of what it means to be a politician and a Catholic will be thrown into sharp focus at the debate tonight. It remains to be seen which side will dominate.