Then US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks with Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin while then-Vice President Joe Biden and then-Archbishop Giovanni Angelo Becciu look on, 23 September 2015.
(VINCENZO PINTO/AFP via Getty Images)
As a body, the US bishops never had the slightest intention of singling out US President Joe Biden over his supposed “worthiness” to receive Communion in the Catholic Church.
Anyone who told you different was a fool, or a liar.
Maybe the bishops should make an example of the President of the United States. Maybe they ought to name him and shame him as the Dissenter-in-Chief, the bully champion of his political party’s mad promotion of so-called “abortion rights” and insane addiction to the big cheques of the abortion interest.
Perhaps they ought to excommunicate the lot of ’em. Maybe. It doesn’t matter.
They aren’t going to.
How can you tell? Look at the bishops in their home districts and Washington, DC, where they live. They’ve done nothing, and the Conference has never suggested they should do anything. The Conference has never given a lick of support to any bishop who ever publicly contemplated any similar move.
There are two big reasons for that.
First, no one could make it stick. Any pol thus censured would find a sympathetic cleric – maybe one spoiling for a fight – and there’d be egg all over lots of faces. Suppose the cleric was a bishop: What, then?
Second, the bishops’ public credibility is at an all-time low. Censuring a pro-choice Catholic politician — because it’s not just Biden — would just make that even more obvious. Lots of Catholics voted for Biden and the sixty who issued the statement, and lots of them that voted for them for him despite his views and record on abortion.
Nothing close to it is on the cards — it never was — but that didn’t keep the chattering classes from turning the bishops’ discussion of a document on “the meaning of the Eucharist in the life of the Church” into a sort of referendum on Biden and other pro-abortion politicians’ public ecclesiastical standing.
The bishops themselves were happy to ride the publicity wave. Some of them wanted to gin up the base without having to put their money where their mouths are. Others wanted the chance to show how “Franciscan” they are and point mittened middle fingers at their brethren in the national college. They all want nothing more than to have their names in the papers in connection with something that isn’t their scarlet knavery and abject incompetence.
A few, God help them, probably believe the document they decided to have the doctrine committee produce is a good idea.
Several commentators made excellent points regarding a broad general debate. It could have been one of the “internal clarifying discussions” that the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre notes traditions need if they’re not to grow stale and dull and irrelevant. But they were points that frequently had little to do with the discussion the bishops were actually having.
The folks who raised questions about the bishops’ apparent willingness to wink at other (mostly conservative) pols’ failures in other regards — like the bloodthirsty William Barr with his revival of capital punishment — also had legitimate points, but few of them had much to do with what the bishops were on about in June.
So, despite all the controversy, all the outrage from every kind of Catholic and from secular Democrats, all the hopes of the Catholic right and the fears and anger of the Catholic left, we’ve got the promise of a statement coming in a few months that won’t say anything about Biden’s right to Communion. It could be a wonderful statement — one supposes it is at least theoretically possible — but it won’t touch the most difficult and dangerous question.
Such statements rarely do.
It would be great if the bishops offered the faithful and the broad public something other than warmed-over committee-generated boilerplate on any matter touching the common weal.
They talk about the Gospel and the Church’s message. They build their public role on the life-changing truths the Catholic Church has to share with the world. Truths among other things about how we can justly, peacefully, charitably live together. But they don’t speak them, except in the broadest, vaguest ways.
In hoping for such statements from the bishops, one comes up against an ineluctable obstacle: The US Conference of Catholic Bishops is a bureaucracy. Not just the actual bureaucracy in Washington, but the bishops themselves when they gather.
To expect from a bureaucracy anything deep and therefore controversial is folly. Ex gallo lac et ova! the Romans used to say, “[You’ll sooner get] milk and eggs from a rooster.”