In a meeting last week, U.S. bishops voted to draft guidelines on who can receive Communion, the sacred Catholic sacrament in which bread and wine are consecrated and shared as the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Joe Biden, who is the nation’s second Catholic president, is arguably now the second most visible Catholic in the world (following Pope Francis). The move is seen by many as an effort by conservative bishops to refuse President Biden Communion because of his support of abortion rights. This is not the first time conservative Catholics have aimed to limit access to Communion to pro-choice politicians, but the move is striking amid America’s intense political divisions.
The Philadelphia region has deep Catholic roots, with more than four million members in the five-county region. The Inquirer turned to two practicing Catholics in Philadelphia to weigh in: Should Biden be allowed to receive Communion?
No: Promoting abortion is a mortal sin.
By Christopher Gallagher
This is not the first time that we have encountered a question about Catholic politicians receiving Communion based on their political stances. Various Catholic senators, representatives, and governors have all come under scrutiny in recent years for their political stances in opposition to the church’s teachings, usually on abortion. To non-Catholics, this issue has seemed confusing and has become politically charged. Even for many average Catholics, the issue seems more political than anything else.
However, questions related to Communion have a theological basis that we need to understand. The Catholic Church teaches that Holy Communion is the literal body and blood of Jesus Christ and that Catholics must be in a state of grace to receive Communion. Basically, you need to have gone to confession and received forgiveness for any mortal sins that you have committed to be in a state of grace. And sins are mortal if they are serious matters, you know that the church considers the act sinful, and you intended to commit the sin.
Regardless of your personal stance on abortion, the church is clear in its teaching that it is a mortal sin to get or to assist someone in getting an abortion. Politicians who vote in favor of access to abortion are therefore objectively committing a mortal sin when they do so. If you disagree with the church on this matter — as many Americans do — you can still acknowledge that the church maintains the integrity of this standard.
“Politicians who vote in favor of access to abortion are objectively committing a mortal sin.”
President Joe Biden is an intelligent man and has diligently attended Mass most, if not every, Sundays for decades. I applaud his faith and appreciate that he can turn to God in prayer for guidance and consolation, and I hope that he continues attending Mass every Sunday. Nevertheless, he must recognize the church’s teaching.
There is a difference between Biden’s open and active support for abortion compared with someone else’s private support for abortion. When someone is on the public stage and openly supports or engages in mortal sin, it is manifest sin: it is clearly visible to many people, not just part of a person’s private life. Therefore, any priest offering Communion to President Biden knows that he is in a state of mortal sin.
Returning to Communion, it is not a reward for good behavior. Nor is withholding Communion a punishment for bad behavior. For those who believe, Communion is physically accepting Jesus into yourself, and if you do so with unforgiven mortal sins, it is a sacrilege. Therefore, if a priest is aware of someone’s unrepentant manifest and grave sin, he is obliged to withhold Communion for that person’s own good.
The biggest problem here is not whether priests and bishops should deny Communion to Biden. The law of the Catholic Church (Canon 915) obliges bishops to refuse Communion to pro-abortion politicians. It is instead that Biden presents himself for Communion despite knowing that he is in a state of mortal sin. Therefore, he and other Catholic politicians with similar views put priests and bishops in a position that they should not have to be in. While I support the bishops denying him Communion as long as he is committing grave and manifest sin, it’s on the president to have the integrity and respect for his faith to not go up to receive Communion in the first place.
Christopher Gallagher is a Spanish teacher for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in Delaware County.
Yes: Weaponizing the Eucharist over political issues excludes more people from the faith.
By Quinn O’Callaghan
Among the final indignities of the Trump administration was a spate of killings. As the clock ran out, the administration resumed federal executions for the first time since 2003, and at a clip not seen in the 20th or 21st centuries, with 13 men losing their lives.
The man at the center of this was former U.S. Attorney General William Barr, who professes the Roman Catholic faith. Barr is no lapsed Catholic. He is a member of an Opus Dei-adjacent organization and a man whose worldview revolves around his interpretation of the Roman Catholic faith. It is Barr who, in July 2019, ordered the Bureau of Prisons to resume federal executions.
One of the most firmly held and universal beliefs of the Catholic Church is that capital punishment is an affront to God. The 2018 Revised Catholic Catechism affirms that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.”
To my knowledge, there has been no discussion among American bishops of refusing to administer Barr the Eucharist; indeed, there has been no discussion of refusing to do so for any of the Catholic Trump collaborators, who willfully served an administration that generated an incalculable amount of indignity, death, and suffering for the sole reasons of cruelty, carelessness, and the desire to create division.
That’s why I find the recent decision by Catholic bishops to create guidelines on the meaning of Communion, largely considered the first step in denying Communion to pro-choice President Joe Biden, to be so hypocritical. While not the first time archconservative elements in the Catholic Church have attempted to weaponize the Eucharist — John Kerry, Mario Cuomo, and even Rudy Giuliani were all publicly threatened with the withholding of Communion because of their views on abortion — such a move is intended to politicize and divide a faith already in crisis.
“If anyone professing the faith who disagrees with specific church doctrine is ineligible for Communion, tens of millions of Catholics would be removed from the faith.”
Biden is, by all accounts, a devout Catholic. He attends Mass regularly and appears to observe his faith personally and with devotion. He should be allowed to receive Communion, regardless of his stance on abortion rights. So should any other Catholic politician who has received the sacraments of baptism and confirmation. The Catholic faith hinges on the absolution of sins, both venial and mortal.
The church is an imperfect entity, guilty of some unbelievable miscarriages of justice, as with most religions. Its adherents do wrong and then seek absolution through confession; accepting that is the keystone of our faith. In a homily on June 7, Pope Francis rebuked the rogue bishops of America by saying “the Eucharist is not the reward of saints, but the bread of sinners.”
As such, I think any Catholic — even those who have served under the Trump administration, which is clearly guilty of acts anathema to Catholic teachings — should be able to receive Communion.
If anyone professing the faith who disagrees with specific church doctrine is ineligible for Communion, tens of millions of Catholics would be removed from the faith. This is a hypothetical addendum to a problem that already exists, as now only 20% of Americans identify as Catholic, down 3 percentage points from 2009. As the church hemorrhages followers due to incessant scandalization and exclusionism, its followers will have to ask: If Joe Biden, as devout a Catholic as has held high office in this country, can’t receive the Communion of his ancestors, who can?
Certainly not me.