The Catholics that I meet in the pew often ask themselves and one another, “Why isn’t President Biden barred from receiving the Eucharist?”Opinion: Catholics must keep fighting Biden’s “single-minded extremism” on abortion – Catholic World Report
There is a common misconception – among the secular community, but also among some Christians – that the Church should not speak on politics, and should not try to “impose” its views on anyone. To do so, the “keep it to yourself” crowd says, is disrespectful and “out of line”.
But in reality, everyone is trying to explain themselves to others, to convince others that their point of view is the right one. To say that only Catholics cannot participate in our pluralistic society’s great public conversation is discriminatory and unfair. In fact, it’s our mission to inspire change in the secular order. Pope John Paul II, in his post-synodal apostolic exhortation “Christifideles Laici,” wrote that the lay faithful “are called by God so that they… might contribute to the sanctification of the world.”
Presidential dissonance and “single-minded extremism”
And how should a Catholic in public office integrate his faith into his policies? I pose the question because Joe Biden, America’s second Catholic president, and his political supporters appear oblivious to the conflict between the President’s professed Catholic faith, and his sharply anti-Catholic political views. Or perhaps they simply don’t care.
The President seems to have a total disregard for Catholic teaching in so many areas, but especially on abortion, which he supports wholeheartedly. But also on the logic and necessity of living as male and female and respecting the bodies which God has given us, an idea which he rejects by his welcoming LGBTQ activists and the transgender lobby. Biden publicly endorsed “same-sex marriage” in 2012; and in 2016, while serving as vice president, he officiated at the “wedding” of two male White House staffers at the Naval Academy.
The Catholics that I meet in the pew often ask themselves and one another, “Why isn’t President Biden barred from receiving the Eucharist?” Indeed, while he calls himself a “devout Catholic,” his blatant disregard for Catholic teaching means, at least to many devout Catholics, that he is not aligned with the teaching of Christ and His Church. For that reason, they believe Biden should be denied the Eucharist – to preserve the dignity of the Sacrament, but also to prevent Mr. Biden from falling further into sin.
The Apostle Paul warned the Christians in Corinth that to receive the Eucharist unworthily is to be guilty of the Body and Blood of Our Lord (1 Cor 11:27). Paul doesn’t spell out what specific penalty the unworthy recipient would face; but it would be severe. So one might expect that someone who is so vociferously opposed to Church teaching as President Biden would not want to present himself to receive the Eucharist – and that if he did, he would be turned away by the priest whose responsibility it is to safeguard the Sacrament.
After President Biden announced last week that his highest priority would be codifying a national right to abortion, Archbishop William Lori, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, issued a statement emphasizing the constant teaching of the Catholic Church regarding the dignity of life. “The President is gravely wrong,” the statement said,
…to continue to seek every possible avenue to facilitate abortion instead of using his power to increase support and care to mothers in challenging situations. This single-minded extremism must end, and we implore President Biden to recognize the humanity in preborn children and the genuine life-giving care needed by women in this country.
The statement went on to confirm the Catholic Church’s commitment to protecting the right to life of every human being, and to ensuring that pregnant and parenting mothers are fully supported in the care of their children before and after birth.
The USCCB statement was a strong reiteration of the Church’s position, which is generally understood by its members but often ignored by those who speak only of “reproductive freedom” or “women’s rights” without considering the other, smaller human. There is a common misunderstanding, too, regarding the Establishment Clause in the Bill of Rights, which speaks of the “separation of church and state.”
JFK’s assurance and the present situation
When John F. Kennedy, a Catholic, competed for the office of the Presidency in 1960, there was a good amount of anti-Catholic bias in our nation. He won, in fact, only after telling American voters that he wouldn’t take orders from a pope. In a speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, in front of hundreds of Protestant ministers, Kennedy assured them that he believed in an America where separation of church and state was absolute. He added that the Constitution required that federal aid should not be extended to Catholic schools; and he promised to disregard the teachings of the Catholic Church on matters such as “birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject.” Even at that, Kennedy won against Richard Nixon by a margin of only 112,827 votes – representing 0.18 percent.
One can argue, in hindsight, that by giving up the right to speak on matters of personal morality in the public square, Kennedy had abandoned his faith. Archbishop Charles Chaput said that Kennedy was “wrong about American history and very wrong about the role of religious faith in our nation’s life.” While acknowledging that there are more Catholics in American politics today than at any point in American history, Chaput wondered how many of those can coherently explain how their faith informs their work, or even feel obligated to try.
Some say, however, that the opposite was true: that prejudice against Catholics declined and millions were exposed to the Church’s rituals and teachings. Political science professor Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, talked about what he terms “the Kennedy effect” – the longstanding acceptance of Catholics across the political spectrum.
While the Kennedy presidency may have laid the groundwork for church/state relations, it did not close the book on the debate. Since that time, some American church leaders have been strong in their defense of the tenets of faith and directly focusing on the evil of abortion:
• In 1984, when Democrats nominated a Catholic, Geraldine Ferraro, for vice president, two bishops – James Timlin of Scranton, Pennsylvania, and Archbishop John O’Connor of New York – publicly rebuked her for her defense of legalized abortion.
• In 1990, after he had been elevated to cardinal, Cardinal O’Connor spoke up again, warning Catholic politicians that failure to speak against abortion placed them “at risk of excommunication.”
• In 2003, Archbishop Sean O’Malley of Boston warned Catholic lawmakers that if they voted in favor of abortion legislation, they should stop receiving communion.
• In 2004, then-Archbishop Raymond Burke, a canon lawyer who had served as prefect of the Church’s highest court, warned Senator John Kerry, who was nominated by the Democratic Party to the ticket for president, that he would refuse Communion to the Senator, were he to present himself in the St. Louis Archdiocese, because of his support of abortion rights.
• In an August 2020 interview, Cardinal Raymond Burke reiterated his support for Catholic teaching on abortion, and emphasized that “no Catholic may support abortion in any shape or form because it is one of the most grievous sins against human life, and has always been considered to be intrinsically evil and therefore to in any way support the act is a mortal sin.”
• Archbishop Charles Chaput, in an address given last week, referred to Joe Biden’s “apostasy on the abortion issue” and said, “Mr. Biden is not in communion with the Catholic faith. And any priest who now provides Communion to the president participates in his hypocrisy.”
• Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington responded to President Biden’s pro-abortion advocacy, saying, “We witness firsthand the wounds women and men endure after ending the life of their child. It is clear that they deserve better than abortion. Through various ministries, the Diocese of Arlington accompanies those who have suffered the pain of abortion…. Any attempt to codify abortion, rather than to enact policies that support unborn children and mothers, should be met with peaceful, active and staunch opposition from the Catholic faithful and all people of good will.”
There is not likely to be a resolution to the problem anytime soon. But that shouldn’t keep faithful Catholics from understanding their faith and standing ready to explain it to our public officials, when necessary.