On the inauguration of Joseph R. Biden as the 46th President of the United States, Archbishop Gomez, the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) issued a statement praising Biden for his personal piety and longstanding commitment to the poor but criticizing him for policies that threaten human life, especially abortion, the “preeminent priority” of the USCCB. This criticism of Biden signaled the desire of some bishops to deny communion to Catholic politicians who support legal abortion.
This is not the first time Joe Biden has faced this threat. In 2008, Joseph Bambera, bishop of Scranton, Pa. declared that Joe Biden running for vice-president on the Obama ticket could not receive communion in his diocese because of his support for legalized abortion. During the 2020 campaign Fr. Robert Morey, the pastor of St. Anthony Catholic Church in Florence, South Carolina very publicly refused to give communion when he came forward to receive, because as he said, public figures who “advocate for abortion place themselves outside of Church teachings.” Later, Morey explained that “holy communion signifies we are one with God, each other and the Church” and that he had a moral responsibility to be a faithful minister of the Church, “even in the most difficult situations,” adding he would pray for Mr. Biden.
After President Biden’s inauguration, some Catholic bishops publicly argued he should not be allowed to receive communion. For example, retired Archbishop Charles Chaput insisted that Catholics like Biden who go to communion “give scandal to the faithful” by creating the impression that the moral laws of the Church are optional. Furthermore, bishops who are willing to allow Biden to receive communion “do a disservice to their brother bishops and their people.” Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas said Biden should stop “defining himself as a devout Catholic” and should refrain from presenting himself for communion at Mass.
After the USCCB decided not to adopt a national policy forbidding communion to any public officials, individual bishops could take the initiative to restrict communion to certain individuals in their own diocese. For example, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone said in May of 2022 that then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi could no longer receive communion in his diocese because she continued to support legal abortion. In a public letter, the archbishop said that after numerous attempts to talk to Pelosi about “the grave evil she is perpetrating, the scandal she is causing, and the danger to her own soul she is risking,” he decided to ban her from communion in his diocese.
For her part Pelosi who considers herself a “devout Catholic” and regularly goes to Mass said not being able to receive communion would be a “severe blow.” She continues to receive communion in Washington and in June 2022 received communion at a papal mass in the Vatican. While the restrictive approach of Archbishop Cordileone and a few others have generated media attention, most U. S. bishops have quietly avoided direct confrontations and public rebukes.
What is my opinion on denying communion to Catholic politicians who are personally opposed to abortion but think it should be legal?
The next meditation: Abortion: Do not weaponize the Eucharist
About the Author
Fr. James J. Bacik has served as a priest of the Diocese of Toledo since his ordination in 1962. He is a widely regarded theologian, writer, lecturer and pastor who served as campus minister and adjunct professor of humanities at the University of Toledo for more than 30 years. Fr. Bacik is an AUSCP member. Visit his website at frjimbacik.org.