U.S. Catholic Bishops Aren’t Playing Politics With Communion, Biden Is

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Should President Joe Biden, a professing Catholic, be allowed to receive Holy Communion despite his ongoing support for abortion?

Of course not. The entire question is a fake controversy ginned up by corporate media hell-bent on smearing Catholic bishops and faithful Catholics everywhere. Those feigning outrage over the idea that Biden would be denied communion are really just outraged by the church’s moral teaching on abortion, and want to change it. For them, as for Biden himself, this isn’t about religion but politics.

The rather narrow question of whether Biden should be allowed to receive communion is not at all complex or unclear. But Biden’s defenders in the press, and even some inside the episcopacy, are making it seem as though it were.

All Catholics know, or should know, that they are not supposed to present themselves for communion if they are objectively in a state of mortal sin. Supporting abortion — or otherwise dissenting from or promoting contrary positions to the Catholic Church’s fundamental dogmatic teaching — puts one in a state of mortal sin. Therefore, politicians who support abortion shouldn’t present themselves for communion, period.

You don’t have to take my word for it. Back in 2004, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who later became Pope Benedict XVI, wrote a memo entitled, “Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion: General Principles.” The letter was prompted by the presidential candidacy of then-Sen. John Kerry, a Catholic like Biden who insisted that his ongoing, unrepentant support for abortion shouldn’t bar him from taking communion.

To clear things up, Ratzinger sent a letter to the now-disgraced Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, at the time the head of a task force of U.S. bishops studying the question, and Bishop Wilton Gregory, then president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Ratzinger wrote:

Regarding the grave sin of abortion or euthanasia, when a person’s formal cooperation becomes manifest (understood, in the case of a Catholic politician, as his consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws), his pastor should meet with him, instructing him about the Church’s teaching, informing him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist.

When these precautionary measures have not had their effect or in which they were not possible, and the person in question, with obstinate persistence, still presents himself to receive the Holy Eucharist, the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it.

As if anticipating the objections of people like Karen Tumulty of the Washington Post, that bishops who want to deny Biden the Eucharist have not taken the same stance against Catholic politicians who support the death penalty, Ratzinger wrote that “not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia… There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.”

All of that is crystal clear. It means that Biden — like any other pro-abortion Catholic politician — should not present himself for communion as long as he persists in supporting abortion. If he does, “the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it,” as Ratzinger said.

This wasn’t a new teaching in 2004. Decades earlier, in 1974, responding to the legalization of abortion in the United States and other countries, the Vatican’s Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued the “Declaration on Procured Abortion,” which was ratified on June 28 of that year by Pope Paul VI. It traces the Church’s unwavering opposition to abortion through the millennia and states plainly that, “It must in any case be clearly understood that whatever may be laid down by civil law in this matter, man can never obey a law which is in itself immoral, and such is the case of a law which would admit in principle the liceity of abortion. Nor can he take part in a propaganda campaign in favor of such a law, or vote for it.”

The press would like us to think that this is all very complicated, that “conservative” U.S. bishops are just politicizing the issue (it’s worth noting that despite the media’s mischaracterizations, there are no “conservative” or “liberal” bishops, only faithful and unfaithful ones). But when the USCCB voted overwhelmingly on Friday to draft a teaching document on the meaning of the Eucharist, they weren’t weaponizing the Eucharist or playing politics, they were simply reiterating what has always been the Catholic Church’s fundamental dogmatic teaching regarding the Eucharist and mortal sin.

It is rather Biden who has politicized the Eucharist by his ongoing defiance of Catholic teaching on this matter. The media have also politicized the issue by framing it in political rather than moral terms, and so have the dozens of U.S. bishops who have refused to take a clear stand for what they know is right.

Indeed, if it weren’t for political considerations, Friday’s vote by the bishops would have been unanimous. If it weren’t for politics, there would be no need to draft a non-binding document to be approved at a later date.

Such weak half-measures would be unnecessary, because the bishops would say, with one voice, what every one of them knows to be true: Joe Biden should not receive communion. Politics, not the Catholic Church’s moral teaching, prevents them from doing so. Politics is what motivates Wilton Gregory, now archbishop of Washington, D.C., to say he will continue to give the Eucharist to Biden, no matter what the USCCB’s document says.

Biden’s contention that this is a “private matter” (a claim repeated Monday by White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki) is nonsense. As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, a politician’s stance on abortion is never a private matter, any more than a politician’s vote on abortion-related legislation is a private matter.

Like every single American bishop, Biden knows that. He also knows he shouldn’t present himself for communion. So does every Catholic child. Cardinal Francis Arinze, who was prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments from 2002 to 2008, said in a speech in 2007 that he is often asked if a politician who supports abortion should receive Holy Communion:

Do you really need a cardinal from the Vatican to answer that? Get the children for first communion and say to them, somebody votes for the killing of unborn babies, and says, I voted for that, I will vote for that every time and these babies are killed, not one or two, but in millions, and that person says I am a practicing Catholic, should that person receive communion next Sunday? The children for first communion will answer that at the drop of a hat. You don’t need a cardinal to answer that.

So let’s dispense with the ridiculous fiction that anyone, from Biden to the bishops to liberal Catholic columnists in the corporate press, is the least bit confused about any of this. They’re not confused. They know what the Catholic Church teaches, and they’d like to change it. It’s as simple as that.