Larry O’Connor, The question of whether American priests should deny President Joe Biden communion over his stance on abortion is actually based on an incorrect understanding of Mr. Biden’s direct responsibility in this ongoing controversy.
The question is not whether priests should deny Mr. Biden the Holy Eucharist; the question is should Mr. Biden deny himself access to the Blessed Sacrament. And the answer, if one is to take the teachings of our Church seriously, is an emphatic “yes.”
This week, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is expected to debate the issue of denying communion to Catholics who outwardly oppose (and directly work in opposition to) the Church’s teachings on important moral issues like abortion and homosexuality.
As a humble and imperfect Catholic, I am entirely confused over what this debate is even about. As usual, the USCCB appears to be entirely beholden to media pressure and political entanglements that confuse an otherwise straightforward understanding of what our Church believes and stands for.
Even more troubling, the USCCB sends a confusing message on what is expected of the laity with regard to our responsibility to Holy Mother Church and our participation in the Holy Eucharist.
President Biden often goes out of his way (either directly or through his various spokespersons and representatives) to let the world know that he is a “devout Catholic.” This always has rubbed me the wrong way because, in my mind, proclaiming oneself as a “devout Catholic” carries a certain level of arrogance that does not mesh with the humility that any servant of Christ should wear as his daily garment.
“I am a devout Catholic” smacks of “Look at me, everybody! Look at me! I have a Rosary within arms reach, and I won’t hesitate to pray with it so everyone can see just how Catholic I am!”
To me, most Catholics I tend to admire would be the last ones to proclaim themselves to be “devout Catholics.” They tend to be the ones who would say, “I’m Catholic, and I do my best to attempt to live up to what our Church expects of me.”
Add to the public Catholic preening of President Biden the very troubling disposition of his public policy positions on issues that are gravely sinful, and we Catholics are left with a bit of a scandal that is solely the responsibility of Mr. Biden himself.
Biden knows full well the teachings of our Church, and he knows full well that because of his public positions and advocacy for a practice that is unambiguously sinful, he has willfully put himself in a position that is contrary to a fundamental moral teaching of Scriptures, Tradition and the Church’s Magisterium. He is not in communion with the Church, and it is his obligation to not avail himself of the Holy Eucharist.
It’s not even a close call.
“A person who is conscious of a grave sin is not to receive the body of the Lord without prior sacramental confession.” That comes directly from documented instructions from the USCCB itself.
Further, a person who is conscious of grave sin and presents himself to a priest to receive communion is compounding his sin by creating a scandalous environment in the Church and forcing his priest into an awkward public situation.
I know because I have refused myself communion for many years now.
I was married in the Catholic Church. I am divorced. I am remarried, outside the Church, and without the benefit of an annulment.
As a practicing Catholic with full knowledge of my Church’s expectations, I know full well that my current living situation puts me outside communion with the Church.
I attend Mass. I pray. I practice my faith. I do not offer my hands up to a priest during communion to receive the Blessed Sacrament. It would be wrong to receive it, and it would be wrong to put a priest in the awkward situation to give or deny me communion.
It is my responsibility to know my disposition with the Church just as it is Biden’s responsibility to know his.
By publicly making himself available for Eucharist, he is creating a scandal, and he is damaging the Church he claims to love.
As one of the highest-profile Catholics in the world, he is sending a confusing and ambiguous message to Catholics worldwide about our responsibilities to our faith, to our Church, and, most importantly, to our Lord.
The real scandal here is that Biden has now forced this issue on the USCCB. He is forcing the American bishops to publicly proclaim that Biden is not in communion with the Church, which is the only conclusion they can reach.
It didn’t have to be like this.
If Biden had done what millions of Catholics do every Sunday and approached the altar with his arms crossed on his chest, signaling to his priest that he is not receiving communion, this entire public escapade would have been avoided.
But his own pride and ego have now forced the bishops into a public rebuke of the president of the United States, which will cause confusion for non-Catholics and more division in our Church and our country. And, sadly, for many non-Catholics, it will cause more anti-Catholic sentiment in our country as this story will be misreported by a mainstream media already hostile to our faith.
It is lamentable, and it is infuriating. If I can deny myself, Biden can and should deny himself. It’s that simple.