Pastor’s refusal of Communion to Biden in South Carolina sparks lively discussion

Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks Oct. 26 at the Second Step Presidential Justice Forum at Benedict College in Columbia, S.C. Biden attended morning Mass Oct. 27 at St. Anthony Church in Florence and was refused Communion by the pastor, Father Robert E. Morey, over Biden's support for legal abortion. CNS /Sam Wolfe, Reuters

A month before former Vice President Joe Biden presented himself to receive the Eucharist at a Mass in South Carolina — and was refused by the pastor — the Democratic presidential candidate was the subject of an open letter penned by Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life.

“As the Presidential race for 2020 progresses,” began Father Pavone, “we are likely to see a repeat of some of the contentious arguments in past elections over candidates and public officials who self-identify as Roman Catholics, but who at the same time refuse to advance the legal protection of children in the womb from the violence of abortion.

“You, of course,” the priest wrote to Biden, “fit into this category.”

Among the topics Father Pavone went on to address in his 20-paragraph letter was the one that would make national news when Biden was refused Communion at St. Anthony Church in Florence, S.C., on Oct. 27.

“I urge you to refrain from holding the ridiculous position that you want to be able to receive Communion and support abortion,” wrote Father Pavone in September. He then posed a question.

“Which is easier to believe, Mr. Vice President — that the Host is the Body and Blood of Christ, or that the child in the womb is human? If you defer to the Church’s authority to believe that what looks like bread is actually the Body of Christ, why do you reject that same authority of that same Church that requires you to protect the bodies of children in the womb?”

The denying of Communion to Biden made headlines and sparked discussion inside and well beyond Catholic circles.

“Holy Communion signifies that we are one with God, each other and the church,” said Father Robert Morey, the pastor in South Carolina who admitted he was saddened by the situation. “Any public figure who advocates for abortion places himself or herself outside of church teaching.”

That fact has been clearly taught. Nearly 30 years ago, Peoria Bishop John J. Myers penned these words in his pastoral letter, “The Obligations of Catholics and the Rights of Unborn Children”:

“Catholic faith does not recognize a ‘right’ to dissent from teachings that have been proposed authoritatively by the Church and are integral to Christian life. One who practices such dissent, even in the mistaken belief that it is permissible, may remain a Catholic in some sense, but has abandoned the full Catholic faith. For such a person to express ‘communion’ with Christ and His Church by the reception of the Eucharist is objectively dishonest.”

The bishop of Biden’s home diocese of Wilmington, Delaware, doesn’t disagree. But Bishop W. Francis Malooly is cautious about public confrontations, getting drawn into partisan politics, and what he calls “politicizing the Eucharist.”

“It is my belief that Catholics of all occupations have the same duty to examine their own consciences before determining their worthiness for the reception of Communion,” he wrote in 2008, according to Catholic News Service reports. “I think I will get a lot more mileage out of a conversation trying to change the mind and heart than I would out of public confrontation.”

The topic of refusing Communion to Biden made for lively discussion on The Catholic Post’s Facebook page last week. Asked their preference, 130 respondents said that denying Communion to Catholic politicians who advocate for abortion is a difficult but necessary action. Twenty-eight thought, like Bishop Malooly, the matter should be addressed privately.

What all Catholics can and should agree on is the need for prayer to our eucharistic Lord for wisdom — for public officials, church leaders, and ourselves — and always in thanksgiving for Jesus’ Real Presence in the Sacrament of Unity. — Thomas J. Dermody

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