Faith Matters

Fr Patrick McCafferty: Joe Biden shouldn't present himself as a serious Catholic

Joe Biden's election as US President has reignited the debate over whether Catholic politicians who have backed positions at odds with Church teaching should receive Communion. Fr Patrick McCafferty says Mr Biden's support for abortion in particular raises 'grave difficulties'

 President-elect Joe Biden arrives at St Edmond Catholic Church in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware on Sunday January 3. Picture by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

MUCH has been made of how Joe Biden is only the second Catholic to have been elected as President of the United States.

This has drawn fresh attention to the question of Catholic politicians receiving Holy Communion at Mass when they also promote policies which run counter to the clear teaching of the Church, the Ten Commandments - including 'Thou shalt not kill' - and Christ himself.

In an earlier Faith matters article just after the election in November, Diarmuid Pepper highlighted some aspects of how President-elect Biden expresses being a "practising Catholic", including receiving Holy Communion.

Mr Biden says he takes "comfort" in the Catholic faith in the wake of personal tragedies. Faith, however, is not only for comfort.

It is not enough to say: "I have faith". Our behaviour and actions must be in harmony with what we profess with our lips (Matthew 15:8).

Hence there are grave difficulties with President-elect Biden receiving the Eucharist, as well as other public figures, here in Ireland and across the world, who profess a form of 'Catholicism' (2 Timothy 3:5).

Joe Biden's election as US President has reawakened debate over whether Catholic politicians who support policies such as abortion should receive Communion. Picture by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

In an instruction in July 2004, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger directly addressed the subject of Catholic politicians receiving Holy Communion while also publicly promoting abortion and euthanasia.

The future Pope Benedict XVI was clear. He said it should not only be explained to them that they should not come to Holy Communion but also why they should not come.

Further, they should not present themselves. And, if they show "obstinate persistence", the minister "must refuse to distribute" the Sacrament (Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion: General Principles, 4-6).

A public figure, such as a politician, who supports and lobbies for abortion, is in "manifest grave sin" and, therefore, not in the state of grace required of all Catholics, by the Word of God, to receive Holy Communion (1 Corinthians 11:27-29).

In March 2013, Pope Francis wrote to the bishops of Argentina: "We must adhere to 'Eucharistic coherence', that is, be conscious that they cannot receive Holy Communion and at the same time act with deeds or words against the commandments, particularly when abortion, euthanasia and other grave crimes against life and family are encouraged..."

The word "coherence", used by Pope Francis, is crucial. A public figure, campaigning for abortion, presenting himself or herself for Holy Communion, lacks "coherence" to the point of senselessness.

Furthermore, it is sacrilegious and an abuse of the Sacrament. It gives grave scandal to the faithful. It makes a mockery of the Church's faith in the Holy Eucharist.

Some who seek to justify pro-abortion politicians presenting themselves for the Eucharist have quoted Pope Francis's saying "the Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect".

And most certainly it is not; we approach the Lord profoundly conscious of our sinfulness. None of us is worthy.

But we do not dare to come to Him, in brazen and public defiance of His laws, calling what is evil 'good' (Isaiah 5:20).

A public figure, such as a politician, who supports and lobbies for abortion, is in 'manifest grave sin' and, therefore, not in the state of grace required of all Catholics to receive Holy Communion 

We need to look at the rest of what Pope Francis actually said: "The Eucharist... is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak" (Evangelii Gaudium, 47).

And "the weak", who come to the Eucharist, are sinners who have repented. The Lord Jesus clearly says, "unless you repent, you shall perish" (Luke 13:5).

Mr Biden has not repented of his avowed pro-abortion policies. He has not sought God's forgiveness for them and for other ideologies he promotes that are contrary to the Christian faith. Far from it.

Everyone is welcome at Mass but not everyone may receive Holy Communion at Mass. It must be explained to public figures who promote abortion that they must not present themselves for Holy Communion. If they insist they must be refused - as the Church's teaching makes clear.

President-elect Joe Biden, pictured leaving St Joseph on the Brandywine Catholic Church in Wilmington, Delaware. His election has reawakened debate over whether Catholic politicians who support policies such as abortion should receive Communion. Picture by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

This is not the Church 'making a political football' of the Holy Eucharist. It is pastors doing what God requires of them in the hope that these people will understand the gravity of what they are doing and repent (Ezekiel 3:18); at stake is their eternal salvation.

If a pro-abortion politician obstinately persists in presenting to receive Holy Communion, it is he or she who is making a 'political football' of the Blessed Sacrament.

They cannot be permitted to do so. Above all, it is crucial that bishops develop the courage to give proper leadership and prevent such scandals.

For faithful Catholics, being 'pro life' means being 'pro' every stage of life, from the womb to the tomb.

If President-elect Biden claims to draw inspiration from Catholic Social Teaching, how can he possibly deny the sanctity and dignity of the lives of unborn children - and promote policies that end those same children's lives, even if he is said to 'privately' disagree with them?

Both Catholic social doctrine and moral teaching have a single foundation and source - Christ and His Gospel of Life. They are inextricably tied.

The Word of God is not a catalogue from which we choose what we like. Fidelity to God does not allow us to speak out of both sides of our mouths (Proverbs 4:24) or to "limp between two opinions" (1 Kings 18:21).

Mr Biden cannot claim to "take comfort in the Rosary" and stridently advocate for abortion. You cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:24).

Nor can Mr Biden choose political expediency and ideology over the Gospel and seriously attempt to present himself as 'Catholic'.

We should pray for President Biden - and all in public life - that they will realise the sanctity, dignity and worth of every single human life, that they will defend the inalienable rights of all - including children in the womb.

Fr Patrick McCafferty is parish priest of Corpus Christi in Belfast.

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