Joe Biden is only the fourth Catholic presidential nominee in U.S. history but his pro-abortion stance leaves him in broken communion with his profession of faith.
Millions of American Catholics who uphold the Right to Life as a foundational human right in accord with Catholic teaching and the Bill of Rights were disappointed in recent weeks. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the four liberal justices in a matter of life and death. The question before the Court was whether a Louisiana law requiring abortion practitioners to have admitting privileges at a local hospital was unconstitutional.
In the split (5-4) decision in favor of abortion providers, Chief Justice Roberts voted with the majority in a matter from which he had earlier dissented. This may not be the setback some in the pro-life movement have feared. The Court’s ruling in support of the precedent set in Planned Parenthood v. Casey did not address the precedent itself which inserted into the Constitution a right to abortion. This is a distinction that I wrote about early this year in “March for Life: A New Great Awakening.”
The timing of publishing this decision – in the final months of a highly charged presidential battle for the soul of America – reminded me of something that unfolded in these pages during the 2016 election. At that time, I wrote a post entitled “Wikileaks Found Catholics in the Basket of Deplorables.”
Among a vast media leak from the Hillary Clinton campaign back then was a set of email exchanges between Clinton campaign manager John Podesta and some progressive U.S. Catholics. The leaks exposed a plan to recreate U.S. Catholicism into an entity more appealing to the Democratic Party and its ever descending slide toward the left.
The central tenet of that plan was to move American Catholics away from any identification as a “Roman” Catholic Church into a state of mere symbolic authority from Rome. The result would be something more akin to the U.S. Episcopal church and its open embrace of identity politics, reproductive rights, same-sex marriage, transgender ideology, and a much-weakened moral voice in the public square.
Climate change, open borders, and a global identity were to be the new moral imperatives. Abortion without limits would quietly fall without challenge into the politically correct category of “settled law.” It is easy for the living, while descending toward the left, to compartmentalize their consciences and deny a right to life to the most vulnerable among us.
Back in 2016, Pope Francis raised an alarm among conservative Catholics and the pro-life mission when he was quoted in the media as suggesting that the Church cannot speak only about abortion. The left arm in Catholicism seized upon that, but since then Pope Francis has offered some clarity. You may not know about it because the mainstream media only hypes his more trite sayings such as “Who am I to judge?”
On the matter of life, however, Francis has been as unequivocal as his predecessors, articulating clearly his support for and continuance of the pro-life emphasis of Saint John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. Pope Francis affirms that the foundational human right is the right to life. He has stated that the right to life and transgender ideology are the most pressing moral issues of our time. To say that the Church should not speak only of these issues does not at all suggest what the 2016 Clinton and Podesta agenda suggested: that we just set them aside and not speak of them at all.
JOE BIDEN’S CATHOLIC COMMUNION
Among the moral issues of our time, Pope Francis agrees with the U.S. Bishops that the right to life is the most fundamental human right in Catholic moral teaching. This places Democratic nominee Joe Biden far outside the moral life and teaching of his professed faith. In response to the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown, Joe Biden said from his basement campaign forum:
- “We need to ensure that women have access to all health services during this crisis. Abortion is an essential health care service.”
Joe Biden is only the fourth Catholic in U.S. history to become the presidential nominee of a major political party. All four have been Democrats. The first was New York Governor Alfred Smith who was easily defeated by Republican Herbert Hoover in 1928. Smith’s Catholic faith was widely seen as a cause of his defeat. The anti-Catholic political ice was not broken again until 1960 when John F. Kennedy became the first Catholic U.S. President.
Neither Al Smith nor President Kennedy faced a pro-life question because Planned Parenthood v. Casey had not yet happened. The matter of Catholic identity and abortion first arose in 2004 when Massachusetts Senator John Kerry became the nation’s third Catholic nominee for president exposing a wide contradiction between his professed Catholic faith and his public promotion of abortion rights.
Senator Kerry lost the election when President George W. Bush won a second term. Throughout his campaign, Kerry openly defied Church teaching on abortion. For that he was endorsed by the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. His open defiance launched a debate among bishops about responding to pro-abortion Catholic politicians who receive the Eucharist, the ultimate sign of communion with their faith.
The argument was based on Canon 915 in the Code of Canon Law which holds that those who “obstinately persevere in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.” For an analysis of how this has applied to Catholic political candidates, I rely on an excellent account in the National Catholic Register by Lauretta Brown: “Biden and the U.S. Bishops” (May 24, 2020).
The matter of promoting abortion while pretending to be Catholic has been raised anew in the candidacy of former Vice President Joe Biden. As a Delaware Senator and vice-presidential nominee on the ticket with Barack Obama in 2008, Joe Biden declared on Meet the Press that he “was prepared as a matter of faith to accept that life begins at the moment of conception.” He qualified his belief, however, by stating that he would not impose that belief by promoting laws that reflect it.
Archbishop Charles Chaput and Bishop James Conley published a rebuttal, stating that the beginning of life is a matter not only of faith but of scientific truth. Embracing objective truth has nothing to do with imposing it on anyone. The two bishops wrote:
- “If, as Senator Biden said, ‘I am prepared as a matter of faith to accept that life begins at the moment of conception,’ then he is not merely wrong about the science of new life; he also fails to defend the innocent life he already knows is there.”
Mr. Biden was also criticized by Bishop Francis Malooly during the 2008 presidential campaign for his public misrepresentation of Church teaching on abortion. And he was criticized by Bishop John Ricard for receiving Communion during a campaign trip to Florida. This raised anew the debate among bishops about Communion for Catholic politicians who promote abortion.
NOW COMES CARDINAL THEODORE McCARRICK – AGAIN!
Cardinal Raymond Burke, then Archbishop of St. Louis, was one of the first bishops to state in 2004 that he would deny Communion to Catholic candidate John Kerry due to his public stance on abortion. Many bishops joined him in support of that view. In June of 2004, the U.S. Bishops Conference released a document entitled “Catholics in Political Life.” It communicated the U.S. Bishops’ unqualified “commitment to the legal protection of life from the moment of conception until natural death.”
Previous to the publication of that document, however, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, then Archbishop of Washington DC, was appointed by the bishops to chair a USCCB Task Force on Catholic Bishops and Catholic Politicians. McCarrick quietly lobbied other bishops to oppose denying Communion to pro-abortion politicians. There was significant foul play in McCarrick’s lobbying effort.
In 2004, The USCCB Task Force received a letter from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. This was a year before the death of Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger’s election at the Conclave of 2005. As Task Force Chair, McCarrick received the letter from Cardinal Ratzinger on behalf of the other members. The future Pope Benedict’s letter was entitled, “Worthiness to Receive Communion: General Principles.” Here is one of its major points:
- “[R]egarding the grave sin of abortion or euthanasia, when a person’s formal cooperation becomes manifest (understood in the case of a Catholic politician as his consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws) his pastor should instruct the person about the Church’s teaching and tell him not to present himself for Communion.”
However, in his own report Cardinal McCarrick misrepresented the Ratzinger letter and manipulated the Task Force findings and recommendations to the U.S. Bishops in 2004. He instead reported to the bishops that it was the Task Force Commission’s conclusion that denial of Holy Communion to Catholic politicians could further divide our Church and could have serious unintended consequences.” The report concluded:
- “In light of these and other concerns, the Task Force urges for the most part renewed efforts and persuasion, not penalties.”
An official who assisted Cardinal Ratzinger in the writing of that letter tells me today that it carefully referenced Canon 915, instructing that those who obstinately persevere in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.
In revealing his Task Force Report to the U.S. bishops in 2004, Cardinal McCarrick attempted to hide the Cardinal-Prefect’s letter and his misrepresentation of it. The letter from Cardinal Ratzinger was later leaked by an unknown source exposing the manipulation, but only after the bishops accepted McCarrick’s more accommodating view – that pro-abortion politicians should be instructed but not penalized.
THE PRO-LIFE SENSUS FIDELIUM
What those “unintended consequences” cited by Cardinal McCarrick were can only be imagined. However, hindsight sheds some light on them. There are some who viewed McCarrick in the same way he apparently viewed himself – as a power-broker in the politics of both Church and state.
The full report on Theodore McCarrick’s rise and fall will likely soon be released by the Holy See. It will be interesting to see whether and how it reflects this, and reflects his manipulation of the U.S. Bishops’ collective approach to politicians who claim to be Catholic while dissenting with impunity from Catholic moral teaching on something as fundamental as the Right to Life.
In 2020, the U.S. Bishops formulated a new letter for Catholic voters that specifically cited the priority of life and abortion as “preeminent” priorities. It adopted the language of Saint John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI with clarity about the central importance of life issues in the current political climate.
Meanwhile, Candidate Joe Biden continues to espouse his Catholic identity while moving even further left in his promotion of abortion rights up to and including late-term abortion. In recent months he has withdrawn his four decades of support for the Hyde Amendment, a 1974 bilateral agreement between parties that protected U.S. taxpayers from violating their consciences by government application of their tax dollars for abortions.
There are few steps left to take for a Catholic candidate who openly rejects the Right to Life and other tenets of Catholic moral teaching, but Candidate Joe Biden has discovered them. He has officiated at a same-sex “marriage” and promotes the full spectrum of LGBTQ+ ideology and identity politics. Most recently Mr. Biden has called for codifying the right to abortion in federal law. After a recent Supreme Court decision on religious liberty, he vowed to roll back rights extended to the Little Sisters of the Poor concerning forced contraception coverage.
Some courageous bishops would deny him Communion for the simple but grave fact that he is no longer in communion with his faith. Other pro-life Catholics have asked for his excommunication.
Canon Law limits such a step to those who actively perform or otherwise cause abortion.
Joe Biden’s unabashedly pro-abortion rhetoric and promotion may collectively rise to that standard. In such a case, the Sensus Fidelium may call for something as decisive as excommunication. It would not be a penalty, but a discipline, an invitation to tend to the state, not only of Mr. Biden’s politics, but of his soul.
And how utterly strange and unacceptable that the current Archbishop of Washington, DC, while remaining silent on the Democratic nominee’s pro-abortion politics, chose this moment for a public repudiation of the only major party candidate who has been unequivocal in his support for the Right to Life, his promotion of religious liberty, and his efforts to appoint pro-life judges to the federal judiciary.
I can only ask the same question that has been on the minds of many faithful Catholics in recent weeks:
What in Hell is going on here?
+ + +
Editor’s Note: Please give some volume to this Voice in the Wilderness by sharing this post with others and on your social media. Please Subscribe to These Stone Walls and Follow us on Facebook. You may also like these related posts: