What do you do when your Catholic President isn’t actually Catholic? The question, in fact, is even more critical: What do you do when your Catholic President actively undermines the Catholic Faith in word and policy?
That is the dilemma of the US Catholic bishops regarding Joe Biden, who is only the second Catholic ever to hold the office of President of the United States. The bishops, admittedly, are in a tough position because Mr. Biden not only considers himself a good Catholic, but is at the same time publicly, dishonestly, and obstinately opposed to everything the Catholic Church holds sacred. I use the word “obstinately” with emphasis and for good reason, as I’ll explain.
Recently, we got a sense of how the bishops are handling—let’s call it what it is—this scandal when Mr. Biden dismissively told a reporter at the White House that the bishops were not all taking a stance against taxpayer funding of abortions (“No they are not all doing that,” were his exact words.) Then, for good measure, he added, “Nor is the Pope doing that.”
For the record, Yes, our bishops – all of them – are “doing that” and standing unified like “a wall of brass” (Jer 15:20) against using our tax dollars to fund the killing of innocents. But it does not deter President Biden from promoting the most radical pro-abortion legislation in our country’s history.
As the President of the USCCB, Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese of Military Services, issued an immediate response to Biden, sending a clear message that this is simply a bridge too far for the bishops.
“The Catholic bishops of the United States are united in our commitment to life and will continue to work as one body in Christ to make abortion unthinkable. As the Holy Father, Pope Francis, has said, ‘It is not right to “do away with” a human being, however small, in order to solve a problem. It is like hiring a hitman.’” (Emphasis mine. Read the whole statement.)
That seems like very strong language from a bishop (and the pope) who, in the President’s mind, don’t care about the public funding of abortion. And we can only applaud Archbishop Broglio and the united body of bishops for pushing back so quickly and unambiguously on this issue.
A dissenting Catholic, no matter how high his or her profile, doesn’t speak for the Church. The bishops do. But all Catholics, in any sphere, have a responsibility not to contradict, by word or example, the teaching they supposedly embrace.
I’d like to think that the bishops’ patience is finally wearing out after decades of overt scandal from public figures who tout their Catholic credentials while they smugly slap the Church in the face. As every faithful Catholic in this country knows, it’s not only President Biden whose positions and behaviors are the cause of scandal.
Catholics make up 28% of the (newly-elected) 118th Congress. Bill Donohue of the Catholic League has analyzed the numbers and offered a stark reality check for bishops, clergy, and faithful alike:
- 65 Democrats in the House of Representatives claim Catholic affiliation, and 54 of these have a perfect pro-abortion voting record; all ten of the newly-elected Catholic Democrats are pro-abortion;
- Of the 15 Catholic senators, twelve of them (80%) have perfect pro-abortion records.
The scandal of public dissenters is far from being a small, localized blaze that can be put out with a bucket of water. When 98% of Catholic House Democrats and 80% of Catholic Senators are pro-abortion, you’re in the path of a massive wildfire raging out of control.
In the preparations for the Eucharistic Congress in 2024, the bishops have spoken a great deal about “Eucharistic coherence,” which is an abstract term that most of us understand as the principle of non-contradiction. Namely, people are not “coherent” if they say one thing and do another.
But the same can be applied on a macro level to the Church as a whole. If we say the Catholic Church believes in the sanctity of the Eucharist as well as the sanctity of life, marriage, and family, then it is a blasphemous contradiction to allow members callously to disregard these infallible teachings for political expediency, or for any other reason.
We either believe these truths or we don’t. The corollary is that we either discipline the offenders or we face the consequences of the disintegration of our own integrity as a community of believers. Archbishop Aquila of Denver recently made a similar point when commenting on the shrinking number of churchgoers.
In response to Mr. Biden’s championing the culture of death, our bishops have made it clear that they are not a house divided on the teaching of the Church. Every Catholic of good will undoubtedly stands united with them in their role as teachers.
Which brings us to the core of the issue.
We, as laity, can do nothing in the realm of church discipline for public officials. For that, we need our shepherds to live up to their office. The leaders of the flock are the only ones who can effectively speak out and exercise spiritual authority over their wayward sheep, some of whom are actually wolves in sheep’s clothing.
Recently, certain prelates, such as Archbishop Cordileone of San Francisco, have taken principled measures, in accord with canon law and due process rights, to correct high-profile members of their flock who are walking scandals. He was merely echoing the canonical process and logic voiced by His Eminence, Cardinal Burke, as far back as the 2004 presidential election. We support these few brave prelates wholeheartedly.
Denying communion to dissenters who obstinately persist in their scandalous behaviors is a forceful witness from churchmen who have the courage of their convictions. Remonstrating, exhorting, rebuking, reprimanding, excluding, denying communion—even excommunicating, as a last measure—are all time-tested measures of ecclesiastical governance that can be and should be directed against those who persist in causing scandal. But they must be applied by men in authority.
These are not random sinners we’re talking about. They are recalcitrant public sinners who cause immense spiritual damage to the Church when their scandal goes unaddressed by the hierarchy.
We need the bishops to draw a clear line of discipline to exclude those who cause grave scandal. When a bishop exercises his authority in such a way, it is an act of immense charity toward the sinner; the shepherd refuses to let the sheep be lost in their sin, or at least he attempts to save them from the real wolf who ever stalks the flock.
When a bishop exercises his authority in such a way, he is also greatly assisting in charity the faithful members of the flock who are responsible in our own ways for the souls of children and family members who are often led astray by heresy in high places.
To paraphrase a quote from the bishops themselves: “We deserve better.” We deserve righteous leadership and stand ready to support our priests and prelates who protect us from the wolves in Catholic clothing.
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