Joseph F. Naumann, 71, has served as Archbishop of Kansas City, Kansas since 2005. He was born in St. Louis, was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of St. Louis in 1975 and an auxiliary bishop in 1997. He served in a variety of parishes and administrative roles before coming to Kansas City as coadjutor archbishop (with the right of succession) in 2004.
Throughout his priesthood he has been active in supporting the pro-life movement, and serves as chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Pro-Life Activities. On January 28, Archbishop Naumann celebrated the annual March for Life vigil Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. In his homily, he admonished Catholics to fight the culture of death with “prayer, fasting and almsgiving.”
CWR: In January 2020, 100,000 people participated in the 2020 March for Life, and the featured speaker was President Donald Trump. Where do we stand today?
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann: The circumstances are very much different. I’d say we had many more than 100,000 at the March for Life a year ago, and would have had more than that this year had it not been for the virus and fears that the March would be taken over by people with other agendas. The passion that our people have to build a culture of life and to protect the most vulnerable, the unborn, is strong, particularly among our young people.
CWR: Do you think the 2021 March for Life was at all effective as a virtual event this year? What kind of participation did you observe?
Archbishop Naumann: The downside of having a virtual event is that we cannot observe the participants in the same way. But, considering the correspondence I’ve received, and what I observed at the Vigil Mass, I’d say a lot of people were tuned in and watching.
I was also pleased to see so many U.S. bishops from New Hampshire to Hawaii livestreaming Holy Hours after the vigil from their cathedrals. It was beautiful.
CWR: Do you think it was a mistake to cancel the March for Life? Will it return next year?
Archbishop Naumann: It was a wise and prudent decision to cancel the March, considering the event at the Capitol that happened a few weeks before. It was not the time to have a mass demonstration. And, God willing, it will definitely return next year.
CWR: Mr. Biden professes to be a devout Catholic, yet is 100% pro-choice on abortion. How do you think America’s bishops ought to respond to this situation?
Archbishop Naumann: I can tell you how this bishop is responding. The president should stop defining himself as a devout Catholic, and acknowledge that his view on abortion is contrary to Catholic moral teaching. It would be a more honest approach from him to say he disagreed with his Church on this important issue and that he was acting contrary to Church teaching.
When he says he is a devout Catholic, we bishops have the responsibility to correct him. Although people have given this president power and authority, he cannot define what it is to be a Catholic and what Catholic moral teaching is.
What he is doing now is usurping the role of the bishops and confusing people. He’s declaring that he’s Catholic, and is going to force people to support abortion through their tax dollars. The bishops need to correct him, as the president is acting contrary to the Catholic faith.
CWR: Fr. Robert Morey of St. Anthony Church in Florence, South Carolina (who retired this year) refused to give then-candidate Joe Biden Holy Communion at Mass in 2019 because of Biden’s pro-abortion stance. What do you think of Fr. Morey’s action?
Archbishop Naumann: I think he was acting on and following his conscience. I believe the president has the responsibility not to present himself for Holy Communion. When Catholics receive the Eucharist, they are acknowledging the Real Presence of Jesus, and also belief in the teachings of the Church. President Biden doesn’t believe in the Church’s teachings on the Sanctity of Human Life, and he should not put the priest in the situation where he has to decide whether or not to allow him to receive the Eucharist. He should know that after 78 years as a Catholic.
CWR: Would you give Mr. Biden Communion?
Archbishop Naumann: I don’t think I’ll ever be in that situation; I don’t anticipate him coming to Mass in Kansas and coming up to me to receive Communion.
I do believe that his bishop has a responsibility to dialogue with him about this issue. What he is supporting is a serious evil. I don’t know the disposition of his mind and heart, but his act of supporting legal abortion is wrong.
CWR: You had some good news in Kansas; the Kansas Senate joined the Kansas House in passing by a two-thirds majority the Value Them Both amendment to counter the Kansas Supreme Court’s finding of a right to abortion in the state constitution. The public will vote on it in August 2022. What do you think the campaign for and against this amendment will be like over the next 1.5 years, and how do you anticipate the vote will go?
Archbishop Naumann: The way a constitutional amendment works in Kansas is that it needs a supermajority of the legislature, or a two-thirds vote, to put it on the ballot before the voters. We were able to get this supermajority in January. I am grateful and proud of our leaders in the Kansas legislature that made this happen.
Now we need a majority of Kansans to vote in favor of the amendment. I do believe they will do so, although we face a challenging opposition which is already trying to confuse the public about what the amendment says and doesn’t say. The amendment corrects an error of the Kansas Supreme Court, which says the state constitution has a right to abortion. That puts all our pro-life legislation in jeopardy, and makes it impossible to pass more pro-life legislation in the future.
CWR: What is your opposition saying?
Archbishop Naumann: They falsely suggest that the amendment will outlaw all abortions. While I hope someday that legislation will be in place to protect every unborn child, this amendment does not outlaw all abortions. It corrects what the Kansas Supreme Court said, and allows people, through their representatives, to decide what our public policy will be, rather than what just a few people on the Supreme Court say.
CWR: You’ve had some public conversations recently about the morality of receiving COVID-19 vaccines which may have been developed using human tissue taken from aborted babies. Your focus, if I am correct, is whether or not Catholics could morally receive such vaccines, not if they should or shouldn’t. Is that correct?
Archbishop Naumann: Yes, that is a statement I made with Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana. We said that it is permissible for Catholics to receive the vaccine if they choose to do so, and their motivation may be a positive one, concern for spreading the virus to the vulnerable in our society. We all have a moral obligation to work for the common good, and protecting the vulnerable through a vaccination can be a good, but you should not be compelled to do so.
People may have good reasons for not wanting to be vaccinated. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have a remote connection to cell lines that came from tissue taken from aborted babies, and they may want to separate themselves from that. People also may have concerns about the side effects of vaccines.
But we said taking the vaccine despite its remote connection to abortion is not an immoral act because preserving one’s health and that of others outweighs that, and the past abortions were neither desired nor intended by those now using the vaccines.
CWR: Some bishops have gone beyond saying that the vaccine is morally permissible, insisting that Catholics do have a moral obligation to take the COVID-19 vaccine. Pope Francis is reported to have said in an interview on January 10: “I believe that morally everyone must take the vaccine. It is the moral choice because it is about your life but also the lives of others … There is a suicidal denialism that I would not know how to explain but today people must take the vaccine.”
Archbishop Naumann: Did the pope really say that? It was reported by the secular press, but I’m not sure what Pope Francis said. I am not saying people have a moral obligation to take the vaccine.
CWR: What other pro-life concerns do you have?
Archbishop Naumann: On a national level, the greatest concern I have is that the president and speaker of the House want to do away with the Hyde amendment, which prohibits federal tax dollars from funding abortion.
The pro-abortion side is moving away from the language of “choice,” and is coercing people to get involved with abortion, in this case using their tax dollars for something they believe is immoral. We need to speak strongly to our representatives. This is unacceptable.
CWR: Are you concerned about passage of H.R. 5, the so-called “Equality Act,” which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said will be “a momentous step toward finally and fully ending discrimination against LGBTQ Americans.”
Archbishop Naumann: Yes, it concerns me very much. I fear it will coerce religious institutions like ours to do things that violate our conscience or prevent us from participating in government programs. This is related to gender issues and other issues as well. Unless it can be improved, I would oppose it vigorously.
CWR: Any other thoughts?
Archbishop Naumann: The Church has a comprehensive approach to building the culture of life. I would like to make people aware of a USCCB program, Walking with Moms in Need, which helps mothers in difficult pregnancy situations to get the help they need. It is our goal not only to make abortion illegal, but unthinkable.
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