Paul Tuns:

Washington Post political reporters routinely refer to U.S. President Joe Biden as “devoutly” or “deeply” Catholic despite his support for abortion. Biden calls himself personally pro-life, but has completely abandoned his prior support for the Hyde Amendment which outlawed taxpayer funding for abortion through Medicaid. Upon becoming President, he reversed the Mexico City Policy which outlawed the use of American taxpayer money to fund abortion abroad through foreign aid or international agencies. Biden has called for the enshrinement of abortion rights in law, effectively codifying Roe v. Wade in law. A Washington Post story by its religion reporter, Michelle Boorstein, was tweeted with the words, “a very Catholic president who supports abortion rights.”

Pro-life advocate Lila Rose responded on Twitter: “’Very Catholic who supports abortion rights’ is impossible, like saying ‘a devout Muslim who loves pork’.” She added it would be “an insult to Muslims” and likewise “this headline is an insult to Catholics.”

When Biden was inaugurated, with great fanfare about his supposedly devout religious beliefs as America’s second elected Catholic president, the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, said, “I must point out that our new President has pledged to pursue certain policies that would advance moral evils and threaten human life and dignity, most seriously in the areas of abortion, contraception, marriage, and gender.” Gomez added: “As Pope Francis teaches, we cannot stay silent when nearly a million unborn lives are being cast aside in our country year after year through abortion.”

Some pro-life Catholics have raised the issue of scandal — the flouting of moral teaching by an ostensibly committed Catholic — and how American bishops might respond, including by denying him communion.

In 2019, when Biden abandoned his modest pro-life credentials while running for the Democratic presidential nomination, Fr. Robert Morey, a priest in the Diocese of Charleston, S.C., denied Biden communion when he visited St. Anthony Catholic Church. Fr. Morey told the Florence Morning News, “Any public figure who advocates for abortion places himself or herself outside of Church teaching.”

In 2013, Pope Francis affirmed a 2007 statement on the topic, which said Catholics “cannot receive Holy Communion and at the same time act with deeds or words against the commandments, particularly when abortion, euthanasia, and other grave crimes against life and family are encouraged. This responsibility weighs particularly over legislators, heads of governments, and health professionals.”

LifeSiteNews reports that “A doctrinal committee of the USCCB is now considering a document on ‘Eucharistic coherence’ that aims at clarifying the Church’s stance when it comes to dealing with Catholic politicians who champion abortion while receiving Holy Communion.”

American prelates seem divided. Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, chair of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities, said that a public figure’s support for “grave moral evil” must be addressed by the U.S. bishops. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception,” because, “From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person – among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.”

Archbishop Naumann told the Associated Press, “Because President Biden is Catholic, it presents a unique problem for us,” explaining, “How can he say he’s a devout Catholic and he’s doing these things that are contrary to the Church’s teaching?”

A vote on the issue is expected within the USCCB in June, but there are vocal opponents of denying the President, or any politician, communion.

San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy is one such bishop. He said, “I do not see how depriving the president or other political leaders of the Eucharist based on their public policy stance can be interpreted in our society as anything other than a weaponization of the Eucharist.”

Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory has said he will not deny Biden communion. Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York has said he will not deny New York Governor Andrew Cuomo communion despite pressure to do so from the laity because, he argued, Cuomo would then present himself as a “martyr to the cause” of abortion and euthanasia.

Michael Sean Winters of the left-wing National Catholic Reporter said that there will never be agreement among the bishops to formally call for self-described pro-abortion Catholic politicians to be denied communion. He said the debate within the USCCB is “all just about trying to delegitimize Biden.”

San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone told the Associated Press that he hopes that a strong statement from the USCCB to pro-abortion politicians will “move them in their conscience” to embrace the pro-life position. “They need to understand the scandal that is caused when they say they are faithfully Catholic and yet oppose the Church on such a basic concept.” 

Robert Royal, editor of The Catholic Thing, asked, “Why make abortion a line in the sand?” before answering it: “Killing innocent human life is on an entirely different plane,” than other so-called political issues, and whereas there is legitimate debate about how to address immigration, economic or environmental questions, the Catholic Church is clear in its opposition to abortion.