Should Joe Biden have been denied Communion?

2 mins read
Former Vice President Joe Biden listens to speakers during a memorial service for U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., at North Phoenix Baptist Church in 2018. (CNS photo/Matt York, Pool via Reuters)

The recent report that a priest in the Diocese of Charleston, South Carolina, refused holy Communion to former Vice President Joe Biden brought to center stage, once again, the question of how the Church, in its discipline and pastoral practice, should react to political figures who identify themselves as Catholics but politically or legislatively enable abortion — a grave evil in the mind of the Church.

First, it is not just an American problem. It is worldwide. A Canadian reader of Our Sunday Visitor often wrote to me to lambaste political figures in his country who are friendly to abortion but list themselves as Catholics. In reply, I noted to him that of Canada’s nine prime ministers in the last half-century, five have referred to themselves as Roman Catholics, and each of these five, including the incumbent, have supported legal abortion.

Go below the top level of politicians. The number of Catholics who sit in our Congress or in parliaments abroad and declare themselves to be Catholics but are in favor of abortion on demand, frankly, is shocking.

Church law regarding abortion excommunicates the mother of the aborted child and anyone who assisted in the actual procedure. Many Canon lawyers say the restriction stops with a narrow reading of the statute. Others disagree.

Some years ago, Belgium’s King Baudouin, a very devout Catholic, now deceased, and uncle of the present Belgian king, looked at his official conduct regarding abortion. He did so with his faith first and foremost in his thinking. Belgium’s parliament, democratically elected in every sense by a population that overwhelmingly identified itself as Catholic and composed of mostly Catholic members, passed a bill legalizing abortion.

Under the Belgian constitution, no parliamentary act could become law without the monarch’s approval. No monarch had refused approval in over 130 years, but Baudouin said that, as a believing Catholic, he could not give his consent.

This was his reasoning. Realizing his authority under the constitution and knowing that the constitution allowed him to act as he saw fit, he would have to take at least some responsibility if abortion was legalized.

The politicians howled, but the king stood his ground. Finally, parliament declared him unfit to reign, for the moment, and the law took effect, but Baudouin never relented.

God bless the memory of this courageous and deeply Catholic modern king.

The same line of thought applies to other figures, anywhere in the world, who have a role in lawmaking. Obviously many opinions occur in societies. For a Catholic or for anyone who analyzes what abortion is, rights — indeed the most basic, the right to life — are denied to the human being most affected: the unborn child. Catholics can have no part of it.

The incident involving former Vice President Biden was defended as being within the expressed policy of the Diocese of Charleston, enacted in 2004. To be honest, not every diocese in the universal Church has such a policy, declared in such precise terms.

As a result, while many Catholics find the situation of these politicians utterly unacceptable, others cite the exact terms of Church law and say that such politicians, who regard themselves as Catholics but condone abortion on demand, are within the law.

Only the Roman pontiff can authoritatively interpret, change or amend Church law for all to obey. Many bishops think that they should take their cue from Rome. Since abortion came to be legal throughout the world, no recent pope in office — Pope St. Paul VI, Pope John Paul I, Pope St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI or Pope Francis — has explicitly included in the law an item regarding holy Communion to political supporters of abortion.

In no democracy do politicians just seize power. Voters elect them. Individual citizens, specifically including Catholics, put politicians in office, so citizens are responsible.

Society needs to learn what abortion actually is and whom it ultimately affects.

Msgr. Owen F. Campion is OSV’s chaplain.

Msgr. Owen F. Campion

Msgr. Owen F. Campion is OSV’s chaplain.