Former Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput said late last week that President-elect Joe Biden should be banned from receiving communion due to his support for abortion rights, fueling an ongoing debate among Catholic leaders in the United States over how to relate to the nation’s second Catholic president.
Chaput, who led Philadelphia’s diocese from 2011 until this year, said Biden “is not in full Communion with the Catholic Church,” and criticized bishops who have spoken out in favor of letting Biden receive communion. He made the argument in a column titled, “Mr. Biden and the Matter of Scandal,” which published Friday in the Catholic magazine First Things.
Whether Biden, who supports same-sex marriage and abortion rights, should receive communion came up at a convening of the nation’s bishops last month. At that meeting, the head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez, said he would form a working group to further discuss the “difficult and complex situation” of Biden’s presidency.
Since then, newly appointed Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory, of Washington, D.C., said he would not deny Biden communion once he moves into the White House.
It’s not the first time the topic of Biden and communion has come up. Biden, who grew up in an Irish Catholic family in Scranton, was refused communion in South Carolina while campaigning there in October 2019. That prompted his hometown bishop in Wilmington, William Francis Malooly, to reiterate that he would not refuse Biden communion.
When Biden ran for president in 2008, Malooly told the diocesan newspaper, “I do not intend to get drawn into partisan politics nor do I intend to politicize the Eucharist as a way of communicating Catholic Church teachings.”
Chaput, an outspoken conservative member of the church, criticized bishops for speaking out in support of giving Biden communion.
“When bishops publicly announce their willingness to give Communion to Mr. Biden, without clearly teaching the gravity of his facilitating the evil of abortion (and his approval of same-sex relationships), they do a serious disservice to their brother bishops and their people,” he wrote.
“The reason is obvious,” he added. “By his actions during the course of his public life, Mr. Biden has demonstrated that he is not in full communion with the Catholic Church.”
Catholics are taught to receive communion only if they are in good standing and without sin, but a more specific rule instructing pastors to refuse communion to politicians who support abortion rights was added to canon law in 2004, Chaput wrote.
Philadelphia’s archbishop, Nelson Pérez, did not immediately respond to requests for comment about Biden and communion. He previously told The Inquirer in a statement, “I pray that God may grant President-elect Biden the wisdom necessary to govern in a manner that promotes liberty and justice for all as well as respect for the dignity and sacredness of life.”
The debate over Biden and communion reflects a larger political divide in the church. It also shows how the questions Catholic Democratic politicians face have shifted. While John F. Kennedy, the country’s first Catholic president, had to defend against accusations he would be too closely aligned with his faith to govern objectively, Biden has had to counter criticism that his views conflict with some teachings of the church.
Catholic voters are registered evenly between the Democratic and Republican parties and split the presidential vote nationally. While Pope Francis, the leader of the church, is more liberal, United States bishops have become more conservative over the years, religious experts have said.
In Pennsylvania, exit polls show President Donald Trump won the Catholic vote.