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Cardinal Burke: Biden should not receive Holy Communion

“… I would tell him not to approach Holy Communion out of charity toward him,” says the former prefect of the Church’s highest court, “because that would be a sacrilege, and a danger to the salvation of his own soul.”

Cardinal Raymond L. Burke leaving a papal audience to exchange Christmas greetings with members of the Roman Curia at the Vatican in this Dec. 22, 2016, file photo. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

CNA Staff, Sep 29, 2020 / 01:02 pm (CNA).- Cardinal Raymond Burke, a canon lawyer and formerly the prefect of the Church’s highest court, has said that Catholic politicians supporting abortion should not receive Holy Communion, including pro-choice Catholic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

Biden “is not a Catholic in good standing and he should not approach to receive Holy Communion,” Burke said in an Aug. 31 interview with Thomas McKenna, who as head of an organization called Catholic Action for Faith and Family periodically conducts interviews with the cardinal.

“This is not a political statement, I don’t intend to get involved in recommending any candidate for office, but simply to state that a Catholic may not support abortion in any shape or form because it is one of the most grievous sins against human life, and has always been considered to be intrinsically evil and therefore to in any way support the act is a mortal sin.”

Asked specifically about Biden, Burke said he “has not only been actively supporting procured abortion in our country but has announced publicly in his campaign that he intends to make the practice of procured abortion available to everyone in the widest possible form and to repeal the restrictions on this practice which have been put in place.”

“So, first of all, I would tell him not to approach Holy Communion out of charity toward him, because that would be a sacrilege, and a danger to the salvation of his own soul.

“But also he should not approach to receive Holy Communion because he gives scandal to everyone. Because if someone says ‘well, I’m a devout Catholic’ and at the same time is promoting abortion, it gives the impression to others that it’s acceptable for a Catholic to be in favor of abortion and of course it’s absolutely not acceptable. It never has been it never will be.”

Burke was the Bishop of La Crosse, Wisconsin and the Archbishop of St. Louis before in 2008 he was appointed prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, the highest canonical court in the Church. The cardinal was the Signatura’s prefect until 2014 and remains a member of the court.

In 2007, Burke published in the prestigious canonical journal “Periodica” a scholarly article on the admission of Catholics in grave public sin to Holy Communion. The article is regarded by many canon lawyers as the definitive scholarly and technical treatment of the subject.

In the interview, obtained by CNA Tuesday, Burke said it is the historic teaching of the Church that those in a condition of grave sin should not be admitted to Holy Communion, citing St. Paul’s admonition in 1 Corinthians, that anyone who “eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty” and “eats and drinks judgment on himself.”

The cardinal discussed the notion of scandal, saying that “scandal means that you lead others into wrong thinking and wrong acting by your example.”

“If people were perhaps questioning in their mind about abortion, and they see this man who pronounces himself to be a devout and he’s promoting abortion in the strongest possible way, this leads people into error thinking well it must be morally acceptable to commit abortion and so the person then bears responsibility — not only the person who gives the scandal, not only for his own wrong actions in supporting abortion but also for leading others into thinking that abortion is acceptable,” Burke said.

“I can’t imagine that any Catholic wouldn’t know that abortion is a grievous sin, but if they don’t, once they’ve been told, then they either have to cease to support abortion or accept the fact they are not a Catholic in good standing and therefore should not present themselves for Holy Communion,” he added.

Burke explained that when he, as a diocesan bishop, became aware of pro-choice politicians in his dioceses, it was his practice to contact them “to make sure that they understood.”

If, after a conversation about the Church’s teaching on human life, they were “still unwilling to act accordingly then I simply had to tell them ‘you may not present yourselves for Holy communion,’” the cardinal explained.

Burke’s comments drew from canons 915 and 916 of the Code of Canon Law, which explain that a person conscious of grave sin should not approach Holy Communion without first making a sacramental confession, and that Catholics “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.”

Among U.S. bishops, disagreement over the meaning of the canon, and its application to pro-choice Catholic politicians, has been ongoing since John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign.

In 2004, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then head of the Church’s doctrinal office, wrote a memorandum to the U.S. Catholic bishops, explaining the application of canon 915 to the question of pro-choice politicians.

The case of a Catholic politician who is “consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws” would constitute “formal cooperation” in grave sin that is “manifest,” the letter explained.

In such cases, “his pastor should meet with him, instructing him about the Church’s teaching, informing him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist,” Ratzinger wrote.

If the individual perseveres in grave sin and still presents himself for Holy Communion, “the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it.”

Shortly after Ratzinger wrote that memo, the U.S. bishops agreed the application of those norms should be decided by individual bishops, rather than by the bishops’ conference, largely under the influence of Theodore McCarrick, then-Archbishop of Washington, who paraphrased the letter, which was not yet publicly available, but did not present it in its entirety to the bishops.

Some bishops have prohibited politicians advocating for “permissive abortion laws” from receiving communion, but others have demurred, or said outright they would not deny such politicians the Eucharist.

Asked by a journalist, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York said in October that he would not deny Biden the Eucharist. Before that, in January 2019, Dolan had said that he would not deny the Eucharist to New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo, who signed into law one of the most permissive abortion laws in the country’s history.

Biden’s own shepherd, Bishop William Malooly, has said in the past that he does not want to “politicize” the Eucharist by denying communion to politicians. Washington, D.C.’s ordinary, Archbishop Wilton Gregory, has said that the Eucharist should be denied only as a last resort, and is not on record as ever having done so.

Biden was in October 2019 denied the Eucharist at a South Carolina parish.

“Holy Communion signifies we are one with God, each other and the Church. Our actions should reflect that. Any public figure who advocates for abortion places himself or herself outside of Church teaching,” Fr. Robert Morey, pastor of St. Anthony Catholic Church in the Diocese of Charleston, told CNA after Biden was denied Holy Communion.

CNA reported after Biden was denied the Eucharist that the policy of the Charleston diocese requires priests to withhold the Eucharist from politicians and political candidates who support legal protection for abortion.

“Catholic public officials who consistently support abortion on demand are cooperating with evil in a public manner. By supporting pro-abortion legislation they participate in manifest grave sin, a condition which excludes them from admission to Holy Communion as long as they persist in the pro-abortion stance,” says a 2004 decree signed jointly by the bishops of Atlanta, Charleston, and Charlotte.

In the interview released this week, Burke responded to those who say that Catholics ought not judge the interior dispositions of pro-choice politicians, among them Fr. James Martin, SJ, who was mentioned specifically by McKenna.

“We judge people on the basis of objective facts. On their actions, their public record, their public statements, and certainly, Vice President Biden hasn’t left any doubt in anyone’s mind what his position is. He clearly knows what the Church’s teaching is,” Burke said.

“God put an order into the world, killing, directly killing an unborn human life is evil no matter how you look at it….and of course the conscience can’t justify it in any way,” Burke added.

“Our heart isn’t something that’s hidden, our heart manifests itself in our actions. As our Lord said, we know the tree by its fruit,” the cardinal said.

Speaking on scandal, Burke recounted the story of a non-Catholic government official he knew who said he expected that Catholic teaching might change, or that the Church must not take it seriously because, Burke said, of the number of Catholics in Congress who voted for permissive abortion legislation.

“Catholics going around announcing themselves, and then on the other hand being 100% in favor of abortion, or in favor of abortion in any way, give a great scandal,” Burke said.

“The Church’s teaching on abortion will never change because it’s part of the natural moral law. It’s part of the law which God has written on every human heart, namely that human life is to be safeguarded, and protected and promoted.”

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  1. We should remember that this applies not only to Biden but also to Pelosi and ALL the other ‘catholics’ in the democratic party. It’s good to see this, and it’s also about time.

    Pray for our country – please.

    • yes and I do not understand how bishops do not excommunicate ? we see how sin distorted Benedicts letter to bishops by the wearing of it to the catholic bishops, but now it is well known—-

      it is terrifying to witness

      to deny it is sin, it is evil, is a terror field before us, I tremble

  2. If Biden wins, then I guess it’s not a big deal to God. We’ll see whether God prefers the rosaries said by his faithful or the Democrats. We’ll see. If the Democrats win, it’s pretty much over for faithful Christians in America, and at least I will wonder about providence and whether I should work very hard in the vineyard anymore. It all seems to have been for nothing. Why build sand castles that just get swept away? What kind of life is that?

    • Don’t blame God for what we do. He allows evil by his permissive will. That doesn’t mean he causes it. Sometimes we are called to be faithful and suffer under unjust governments. We should still do our job, just as early Christians did under evil Roman emperors. Oh and I don’t think many Democrats spend their time praying rosaries anymore.

    • Do not despair. Many Catholics have gone through so much suffering in the past in other places around the world. We’re getting a taste of that now. Everything works for our greater good,
      and God will remain with us. But if Biden wins, we will all have a tough, uphill battle for sure. Pray, like you never have before.

      • If Biden wins, it is the end point of a general lackadaisical approach of the opposition to abortion by the Catholic hierachy and the people in the pew. There has been very little to voice the Catholic opposition to abortion, except for a few. While I am saying my 54 day Novena Rosary asking God to prevent Biden from being president. I can understand God saying where have you been all these years, now America will pay for the sin of butchering millions of babies since Roe Vs Wade.

  3. I like and admire Cardinal Burke. He has said and done much good for the Church. But I am afraid that his statements in this article point out a great weakness in our bishops. He said that persons like Biden should not present themselves for holy communion. That is not what canon 915 says. It says that “those obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be ‘admitted’ to holy communion.” The onus for upholding this canon is on the bishop and his priests, not on the recipient. We had one example of this year of a priest in the south refusing Biden communion. It was so unusual that it was national news. I am not holding my breath on this. Bishops like Cardinal Dolan have said flat out that they would not refuse communion to someone like Biden. Given what Cardinal Burke said about it being a sacrilege, would the bishop or priest administering holy communion be participating in the sacrilege?

    • Thank God for Cardinal Burke! “Any man more right than his neighbours constitutes a majority of one” -Thoreau
      “Right’s right if nobody’s right. Wrong’s still wrong if everyone’s wrong” –St Augustine
      And Yes, gentlemen of the USCCB, sitting there looking like butter wouldn’t melt in your mouths, –he’s talking to YOU.

  4. It will be interesting to see if The March For Life is still allowed in 2021 should Biden/Harris prevail this November.The fork in the road is very clear for Americans.
    After over 60 Million lost souls.Will Americans have the love for life to STOP it?

  5. Bravo for Cardinal Burke. What is wrong with Bishops who refuse to stand up for the teachings of the church? Are they that afraid of a reduced collection plate?? Or do they fear being unable to say ” as I was telling the Governor yesterday…” in order to pump up their own self esteem? The Bishops remarks should be printed in church Bulletins all over the country. It would not hurt and might actually help parishioners who feel they can go to communion no matter what the state of their soul . And to be made to think about socially acceptable behaviors like abortion and all sorts of sexual behaviors which are NOT acceptable to the church. Maybe some will be upset at the idea of not going to receive, and maybe they will not. But at least there would be some badly needed clarity. There could also be a change in behavior. I was certainly taught about the love of God as a child. But I was NEVER taught that engaging in any behavior at all was permissible because I felt like doing it or “society” gave it the OK? . I was also taught it was NOT ok to receive communion if you are in a state of serious sin. ( Particular note to young couples living together). Thank you to the sisters of my Catholic school school days!

  6. I think we have, overall, a general lack of leadership from our bishops across a whole spectrum of issues. The covid pandemic put this on full display. Priests have been known to turn away people from Mass for refusing to wear a mask (where Mass is actually “allowed”), not out of fear of sickness but for fear of discipline from their bishop. Think about that: a bishop could discipline a priest for refusing turning away a non-masked Mass-goer. This has nothing to do with the faith, and everything to do with politics. It’s little wonder the flock is confused. And of course, mask-donning Biden, the “catholic” abortion proponent, seems like such a great guy, because he “cares.” Aaaaarrrrggghh!!!

  7. I don’t know if we should be judging Joe Biden I think this has become political and that’s unjust to take towards an individual especially when you have Cardinal Dolan making statements that he will not deny an individual communion however since we keep making it so public to embarrass Vice President Biden that’s a sin in itself. I do not hear anyone speaking about Donald Trump’s wife who is Catholic and stating that she should not be going to communion because she’s in adultery I never hear that and that is one of The Commandments and that’s just as sinful as a “pro-choice” candidate. I believe that the position of the politicians is pro-choice meaning it’s up to the individual to make the choice I don’t know and they may be an argument there regarding what Dolan and the heretical Jimmy Martin says they may be right in one way, however this should not be public we should not be talking about who should be receiving and who shouldn’t be receiving communion but if you are going to judge then Melania Trump is an adulteress and it’s an injustice not to mention her name also it may also be an injustice to play the Ave Maria while her and Donald hug each other. So who am I to judge!!!

    • AL d, we can’t judge an individual’s soul, but we certainly can and should judge their actions. Biden is running for president, and we have a decision to make. We’re not embarrassing him, he’s embarrassing himself by his actions, claiming to be Catholic while persisting in a public sin of supporting abortion. Where I come from, that’s called two-faced.

      As for Melania, she is not running for office. If she were, her personal choices indeed would be scrutinized, especially if she were attempting to codify any sinful choices into law.

      When voting, it is prudent to judge actions, not be duped by words.

    • I have strong feelings about being just and charitable in our conversations and I think the best way to go about things is the scriptural way of approaching sinners first privately , then with a few other believers and lastly making it public.
      That said, Mr Bidens voting record is already public knowledge.

    • True, but abortion is breaking the commandment against murder–which they did consider illegal. They may or may not have thought it in those terms back then, but we have both the scientific knowledge and means to understand it today very clearly.
      And this is also a matter of faith–Biden is pro-abortion (sorry, pro-choice) and in favor of funding it. The rules of the faith say that is one of the non-negotiables and has been since the very beginning. This is not an area where one can legitimately dissent.

    • Ah — We know what Aquinas and Augustine think about the immoral and the illegal; –how about that which fell into the category of “fattening”?

  8. OK, there’s still a few decent bishops left in the Church. Not ass is lost.
    Let’s pray he sets a trend for those other knuckleheads in the hierarchy to follow.

  9. Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict after he wrote the 2004 memo to the US bishops. I remember his memo. It was written in a thoughtful, non-accusatory manner as a clarification of Catholic doctrine. I believe he was reacting to actions of US bishops. I find it troubling that Archbishop McCarrick “paraphrased” the memo and did not release it in its entirety to the bishops. Ratzinger’s memo stated that Catholics can honestly disagree with the Holy Father on certain matters like war and the death penalty and still be in communion with the Church. However, there are certain absolutes within Catholic doctrine that are not up for interpretation. One is the sanctity of Mary. Another is the sanctity of life. He addressed the topic of politicians who supported abortion. His memo said that a Bishop should discuss the issue privately with the offending politician.Then, if the behavior persists, the politician was to be denied communion.
    It’s interesting that Cardinal Dolan and Bishop Malooly would not deny Biden communion. In my opinion, both men are de facto politicians because of their role in public discourse. As such they should be held to the same standards as Biden and N. Pelosi – meet with them in private, discuss Catholic doctrine, ask that they abide by Church teaching, then deny them communion if they obstinately persist in the unacceptable behavior. In fact, this should be enforced throughout the Church. Those who support abortion or enable it through muddled discourse, whether they are politicians, clerics, or lay persons, are not Catholics.

  10. It is about time someone awaken the sleeping Catholics, this just the first step in loosing IT All fellow AMERICANS,,,I an hear some of you now “ IT CAN NEVER HAPPEN T0 US!!!!
    Really , look around you and wake up #######

  11. Please continue to pray. The election battle is still not over. President Trump is the first president that I remember who s so strongly Pro-Life, and publicly against abortion. He is brave and fights for all Americans, from the womb to the tomb. God gives all of us free will. I believe He sent us Donald Trump to combat the radical leftist ways. But what all of us do with this blessing of Donald Trump for the betterment of our country is in our hands with guidance from God Almighty. Pray that we All open our minds and hearts to God’s Guidance, and that justice will prevail, and Donald Trump will be inaugurated President if the United States in January, 2021. Either way, God loves each and every one of us (while not all of our immoral actions), and He will still be guiding us and loving us through, if the country falls into the hands of those who do not follow God’s guidance. Pray for all in office that they will be enlightened. I say his to myself as well, because I am very disturbed too.

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