AMAC Exclusive by Seamus Brennan
As only the second president in American history to be elected as a Catholic, Joe Biden’s open embrace of abortion on-demand, gender ideology, and birth control mandates for Catholic nuns has proved puzzling for many Americans. But for U.S. Catholic Bishops, for American Catholics broadly, and for the Church’s witness in the world, Biden’s willing participation in what the Catholic Church considers to be grave moral evils presents a much deeper problem. The notion of a president who holds himself out as a Catholic and regularly receives the Eucharist—or Holy Communion—at Mass, yet departs from Church teaching has yielded a profound source of confusion about what exactly it means to be Catholic.
To begin to address this issue, the Catholic Bishops of the United States held a three-day virtual meeting in June, during which Biden was mentioned by name or referenced several times. Bishops described the predicament of having a Catholic president who openly challenges Catholic teaching as an “unprecedented situation in the country.” One Bishop decried the situation of “a Catholic president that’s doing the most aggressive thing we’ve ever seen in terms of this attack on life when it’s most innocent.”
At the conclusion of the meeting, the Bishops agreed to prepare a “teaching document” on “the meaning of the Eucharist in the life of the Church.” The Eucharist, as understood by the Church, is “the source and summit of the Christian life” and is believed by Catholics to consist of the physical Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. For all of the Church’s history, reception of the Eucharist has signaled both communion with the Catholic Church and a full acceptance of the Church’s authority to teach on faith and morals.
It is only natural that the American Bishops would focus on the meaning of the Eucharist in the context of Biden’s flouting of Church teaching. After all, for the Bishops to clarify how the Catholic Church understands the Eucharist will help to clarify how the Catholic Church understands itself. Some Catholics are calling for priests and Bishops to deny the Eucharist to Biden precisely because they believe Biden has set himself apart from the Church—clearly and undeniably. From this point of view, to continue to give Biden communion would be for the Church to forsake its own identity and mission in the world.
Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, the head of the U.S. Bishops, put it this way: “As bishops, our desire is to deepen our people’s awareness of this great mystery of faith, and to awaken their amazement at this divine gift, in which we have communion with the living God. That is our pastoral purpose in writing this document.”
Within an hour of the U.S. Bishops’ decision to draft a teaching document, 60 Catholic Democrat Members of Congress responded. “We solemnly urge you to not move forward and deny this most holy of all sacraments, the source and the summit of the whole work of the gospel over one issue,” the Members wrote.
Appealing to the “primacy of conscience” over the Church’s “moral leadership,” the 60 Catholic Democrats claim that abortion opponents fail “to reflect and encompass the depth and complexity of these issues.”
Yet, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church unequivocally states: “Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law.”
Despite the willingness of the 60 Catholic Democrats to challenge it, the authority of the Catholic Church and its two millennia of unalterable moral teaching—and now once again reaffirmed by the U.S. Bishops—are not susceptible to ebbs and flows of the social, cultural, and political spheres of American life. If the “primacy of conscience,” as the Democrats write, is to be upheld over the “moral leadership” of the Church itself, what good is any moral law? Indeed, if the dictates of the conscience rule above all else, why subscribe to any religious tradition or any set of moral precepts?
Following the release of the Democrats’ statement, one of its signatories, Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA), tweeted: “Next time I go to Church, I dare you to deny me Communion.” In response to a question about when human life begins, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) claimed that “over the centuries, the doctors of the church have not been able to make that definition.” Likewise, Senator and former vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine (D-VA), also a Catholic, indicated that he has “a traditional Catholic personal position” on abortion, but is “very strongly supportive that women should make these decisions and government shouldn’t intrude.” In response to the Bishops’ statement, Biden brushed it aside as “a private matter.”
But the Catholic Church has never understood its Christian witness as “private,” nor has it ever sanctioned the idea that Catholics can hold contrasting sets of values in their so-called “private” and “public” lives. By embodying values and supporting policies that run directly contrary to the Church’s timeless moral teachings, Biden, the 60 signatories of Congressional Democrats, and other pro-abortion Catholics are sowing confusion among American Catholics and non-Catholics alike about Church teaching and what their faith represents. They are engaged in what the Church defines as scandal, and as such, are hindering the Church’s ability to carry out its ultimate duty, which is to save souls and bring people to eternal salvation.
Though the relationship between Catholicism and American politics has long been complicated, Catholic politicians play an indispensable role in molding Americans’ views of Catholicism in public life. And by openly rebuking what his Church clearly teaches, President Biden is doing a tremendous disservice to his country, to his faith, and to the tens of millions of Catholics he claims to represent.