President Joseph Biden’s advocacy of legalized abortion while continuing to receive Holy Communion is the crucial issue confronting the Church in America today. Such a claim is certainly arguable considering the gravity of the evil of abortion and the incongruity of receiving the Body and Blood of Christ while facilitating such murder. Two petitions are currently facing off against one another that highlight the current controversy of a pro-abortion Catholic president’s worthiness to receive Holy Communion. Caught in the crosshairs is Archbishop Joseph Naumann, bishop of Kansas City, KA, who serves as the head of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee for Pro-Life Activities.
The anti-Naumann petition
One petition, now with nearly 20,000 signatures, calls for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to remove Naumann as head of the bishops’ Pro-life Committee. This petition is the project of Faithful America and Faith in Public Life. Its advocates, including John Gehring, Catholic Program Director for the latter group, want Naumann ousted due to his February 13th statement, in a CWR interview, that,
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.
One month later Naumann made similar remarks in a March 14th interview with The Atlantic, saying:
Obviously, the president doesn’t believe what we believe about the sacredness of human life, or he wouldn’t be taking the actions that he is. And yet, he continues to receive the Eucharist. We can’t judge his heart. But we consider the action itself a grave moral evil.
Add to this Naumann’s January 28th admonishment of Biden in the homily he delivered at the opening Mass for the National Prayer Vigil for Life: “We must pray and fast that the President will cease attempting to confuse people about Catholic teaching by trampling on the sanctity of human life while presenting himself as a devout Catholic.”
The anti-Naumann letter accuses the archbishop of maligning the “sincere” faith of the president, being narrowly focused on abortion, refusing “to give equal attention to other pro-life issues,” and failing to “follow the pastoral model of Pope Francis and other bishops” … who seek “common ground with the administration.” Finally, and perhaps most egregiously, it states that Naumann sows “real confusion” when bishops like him “weaponize the Sacraments.” According to Gehring, Naumann is guilty of “pastoral malpractice,” a bishop who is “more interested in being a culture warrior than a pastor.”
Those who defend Biden’s reception of Holy Communion often do so by characterizing denial of Communion as an illegitimate “politicizing” or “weaponizing” of the Eucharist. San Diego bishop Robert McElroy, Biden’s hometown bishop of Wilmington, DE, Francis Malooly and D.C.’s Cardinal Wilton Gregory have all made such criticisms in defense of Biden’s continued access to the Sacrament. They prefer, in the words of McElroy, “to convince people by argument and by dialogue” rather than “pummel them into submission on the issue.”
Even if the bishops seriously engaged in the pastoral efforts preferred by McElroy, the last fifty years of argument and dialogue have proven one thing—it simply has not worked. It is a failed paradigm. And, as I told one bishop, if anything, Biden’s bold advocacy of legalized killing of the unborn shows that matters are worse than ever. I am all in favor of bishops meeting face to face with Catholic public figures who actively promote immoral and unjust polices contrary to the faith they profess. I have personally urged key bishops to meet with Biden and to catechize him; but if he fails to reform, he should at least to be told to not present himself for Holy Communion. And the bishops then need to make it public that they have given him this admonition with a full explanation as to why.
The evil that Biden facilitates needs to be described in the clearest possible terms. The President supports a law that claims an entire people-group to be non-persons, and he helps to facilitate the extermination of unborn children through acts of violence at the rate of 2500 per day. To deny Holy Communion to such a Catholic is hardly to weaponize the Eucharist. Rather, it simply points out how support and facilitation of murder is in complete contradiction to obedience and true worship. One cannot desecrate the bodies of the unborn and then consume the sacred Body of Christ. The incongruity is staggering!
While Faith in Public Life opposes racism, and stands up for “Immigrant Justice” “Climate Justice” and “LGBTQ Equality”, justice for the unborn is not among its list of causes. To the group’s credit, at least it apparently does not advocate “Reproductive Justice”. Nonetheless, the absence of advocacy for the right-to-life of the unborn at least signals that the killing of the unborn is not of particular importance. The anti-Naumann petition is not simply against him but is also a defense of Biden as a “devout Catholic” and thus that here is no basis to deny him Communion. Certainly, such a defense fails to recognize the injustice committed against the unborn. Perhaps, indeed many of the signatories may even believe women have a right to abortion.
In any case, for them abortion couldn’t be that big of a deal. I argue this is so because, without doubt, if Biden supported a law that defined illegal immigrants as less than human and permitted their extermination these same folks would rightly picket the Washington D.C. cathedral every day and demand he be swiftly excommunicated. And, I may add, the bishops wouldn’t hesitate for a second to do so. No more committees, no more vote-taking—there would be action. But when it comes to the politically incorrect defense of the unborn it’s all about dialogue; as The Atlantic sub-headline stated, “the bishops are unsure about how to move forward.”
There is, I think, another reason why nearly 20,000 people signed the anti-Naumann petition: they are afraid that the bishops will sanction Biden. If the bishops at least told Biden not to present himself for Holy Communion, the feared consequence is that by doing so, the bishops will have discredited the policies and beliefs of the pro-abortion industry and its supporters. In fact, iit s Biden’s defenders on this point who are actually politicizing the Sacrament. It’s not Biden’s Catholicism that’s at stake, but rather what Biden stands for politically. But, ultimately, the two have become one, as Biden’s reception of the Eucharist is a political statement.
The pro-Naumann petition
In direct response to the anti-Naumann open letter, Catholic Vote has circulated its own in support of the Kansas City prelate, posted March 25th at CatholicVote.org. The letter, as of this writing, has received over 47,000 signatures, more than twice that of the letter opposing Naumann. Many of those signing are well-known Catholic scholars.
Biden’s defenders employ a certain rhetorical strategy—namely, insisting that those who believe the President should not receive Communion are out of step with Pope Francis. The Faith in Public Life/Faithful America petition, for example, called for Naumann to be replaced by a bishop who follows Pope Francis “pastoral model” in “building bridges” and “join Pope Francis in seeking common ground with the administration.” The Catholic Vote open letter counters this ploy:
Ostensibly, the hard-left group who … call for your removal is based on what they erroneously believe to be an incompatibility with the priorities of our Holy Father. The letter’s author seems completely unaware that Pope Francis himself boldly compared having an abortion to ‘hiring a hitman.’ The Holy Father said, ‘Is it right to hire a hitman to solve a problem? It is not right to kill a human being, regardless of how small it is, to solve a problem!’
If anyone is out-of-step with the Pope on this key issue it is President Biden. Nonetheless, the Pope’s pro-life advocacy is one thing, and the manner in which he may deal with a wayward son something else altogether. On November 12, 2020, Pope Francis called Biden to congratulate him on his election to the presidency. Biden pledged that he wished to work with the Pope on “the basis of a shared belief in the dignity and equality of all humankind on issues such as caring for the marginalized and the poor, addressing the crisis of climate change, and welcoming and integrating immigrants and refugees into our communities.” Thus, the impression exists, and is exploited by Biden’s defenders, that the Holy Father, rather than confronting Biden, seeks to indeed build those bridges.
Moreover, on January 20, 2021, the day of Biden’s inauguration, Archbishop Jose Gomez, head of the USCCB, was prepared to issue a statement lamenting the new president’s pursuit of “certain policies that would advance moral evils and threaten human life and dignity, most seriously in the areas of abortion, contraception, marriage, and gender.” Some bishops, unhappy with Gomez’s critical remarks notified the Vatican, apparently fearful that such remarks would force the Pope to deal with Biden’s policies that contradict the faith. The Vatican Secretariat of State intervened with an order that the statement not be released before Pope Francis issued his communication to Biden, extending his “cordial good wishes” and pledging his prayers that Biden’s decisions would be motivated by an “unfailing respect for the rights and dignity of every person, especially the poor, the vulnerable and those who have no voice.” Unlike the Gomez statement, the Pope did not raise any concerns about Biden’s policies. This was more fodder for the narrative that those calling for Biden to not receive Communion failed to be in line with Francis’ pastoral approach.
At this point, the bishops’ response to Biden’s reception of Holy Communion is somewhat in limbo. There were signs soon after the November election that the bishops were prepared to take action regarding what has come to be known as Biden’s “Eucharistic incoherency.” On November 17, 2020, under Gomez’s direction, a Working Committee was formed headed by Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit, tasked to make recommendations on how to deal with the Biden scandal. However, the work of the committee was seriously compromised when just a week later Cardinal Wilton Gregory—knowing full-well the committee was in place—announced that he would not deny Holy Communion to Biden.
In mid-February 2021 the Working Committee was “disbanded”—handing off the task of dealing with Biden to the USCCB Committee on Doctrine, headed by Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne/South Bend, with the recommendation that a pastoral statement be issued on the meaning of Eucharistic worship and “Eucharistic coherency.” However, that such a statement should be issued is now subject to a vote by all the bishops at their upcoming USCCB Spring General Assembly, to be held June 16-18, 2021. In other words, it is not at all certain that such a pastoral statement will even be made. Furthermore, should the bishops approve the Doctrine Committee moving forward, there’s no guarantee that a statement on Eucharistic coherency will include any sort of admonishment to Biden and other pro-abortion Catholic politicians.
In the meantime, Biden often attends Mass and receives Holy Communion at Holy Trinity Church in Georgetown. Holy Trinity’s pastor Fr. Kevin Gillespie justifies Biden’s reception of Communion by stating, “It’s really an encounter with God…”, a “sacred and intimate moment” that is a “gift that enhances his faith, and it energizes his witness,” and further saying that “we most certainly encourage him to improve his intimacy with God through the Eucharist.” Apparently, it has not occurred to Fr. Gillespie that Biden’s strong and open political support for facilitating the killing of millions of innocent people is an obstacle to that sacred encounter. One cannot worthily receive the Body of Christ and at the same time kill the Lord’s brothers and sisters. The essential words of St. Paul should be front and center here: “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily sins against the Body and Blood of the Lord.” Thus, rather than “improving intimacy with God”, Fr. Gillespie’s pastoral approach could be doing Biden far more spiritual harm than good.
Hopefully, the bishops will act and will do their duty as successors of Jesus Christ to protect souls and to protect the integrity of what it means to participate in Eucharistic worship. In the meantime, there apparently will only be occasional voices such as that of Archbishop Naumann, crying out with clarity in a wilderness dominated by the distraction of “dialogue”.
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