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Chaput says denying Biden Communion is ‘pastoral’ not ‘political’

CNA 5331d66f90ea2 27688 Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia speaks about the 2015 World Meeting of Families during a press conference at the Vatican Press Office, March 25, 2014. / CNA

Archbishop Charles Chaput said that Catholic president-elect Joe Biden should not receive Holy Communion because of his support for the “grave moral evil” of abortion.

Writing in the magazine First Things on Dec. 4, the archbishop emeritus of Philadelphia also warned that individual bishops who publicly announce their intention to give Biden Communion risk doing a “serious disservice” to Biden, and to the rest of the American bishops.

Biden will become the second baptized Catholic to be sworn in as U.S. president. During his campaign he frequently referenced his Catholicism while taking stances in direct opposition to various aspects of Church teaching, including his support for enshrining unrestricted access to abortion in federal law.

“By his actions during the course of his public life, Mr. Biden has demonstrated that he is not in full communion with the Catholic Church,” Chaput wrote.

“To his credit,” Chaput noted, Biden “has championed many causes and issues that do serve the common good. However, many of his actions and words have also supported or smoothed the way for grave moral evils in our public life that have resulted in the destruction of millions of innocent lives.”

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“Mr. Biden has said that he will continue to advance those same policies as president, and thus should not receive Holy Communion. His stated intention requires a strong and consistent response from Church leaders and faithful.”

Chaput, who retired as Archbishop of Philadelphia in January 2020, also noted that when he was a serving diocesan bishop, he was not always in favor of publicly denying politicians Communion over their political stances.

“I believed then, and believe now, that publicly denying Communion to public officials is not always wise or the best pastoral course,” said Chaput. “Doing so in a loud and forceful manner may cause more harm than good by inviting the official to bask in the media glow of victimhood.”

Chaput recalled that in 2004, John Kerry – also a Catholic – was the Democratic nominee for president and also took policy stances at odds with the Church’s moral teaching, a situation which resulted in “internal tensions among U.S. bishops about how to handle the matter of Holy Communion.”

“At the time, Washington’s then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, along with Pittsburgh’s Bishop Donald Wuerl [who succeeded McCarrick in Washington], had very different views from my own regarding how to proceed,” Chaput said.

“What I opposed in 2004… was any seeming indifference to the issue, any hint in a national bishops’ statement or policy that would give bishops permission to turn their heads away from the gravity of a very serious issue.”

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Chaput noted that, in answer to that situation, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) issued a letter clarifying that Catholic politicians who campaign and vote for laws promoting abortion and similar grave moral evils should be “instructed” by their pastor on Church teaching and warned that they would be denied Communion. If they continued “with obstinate persistence” in their stance and still presented themselves for Communion, the CDF said, “the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it.”

“To my knowledge, that statement remains in effect,” Chaput said on Friday. “The implications for the present moment are clear. Public figures who identify as ‘Catholic’ give scandal to the faithful when receiving Communion by creating the impression that the moral laws of the Church are optional.”

“And,” Chaput continued, “bishops give similar scandal by not speaking up publicly about the issue and danger of sacrilege.”

During their Fall General Assembly last month, the U.S. bishops noted that Biden’s public Catholicism and his policy platform presented a unique set of challenges for the bishops as they sought to work with the incoming administration.

The conference president, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, closed the meeting on Nov. 17 by announcing the creation of a bishops’ working group to prepare for the Biden presidency.

The USCCB president noted several Biden policies that “pose a serious threat to the common good, whenever any politician supports them.”

Gomez went on to observe that “when politicians who profess the Catholic faith support them, there are additional problems. Among other things, it creates confusion among the faithful about what the Church actually teaches on these questions.”

As a consequence, he announced the formation of a special committee, chaired by Archbishop Alan Vigneron of Detroit, and made up of the heads of various USCCB committees to “emphasize our priorities and enhance collaboration.”

Despite the announcement of this committee, on Nov. 24, Washington archbishop Cardinal Wilton Gregory announced in an interview that he would not deny Communion to Biden, and committed himself to dialoguing with the president-elect to “discover areas where [he and Biden] can cooperate that reflect the social teachings of the Church, knowing full well that there are some areas where we won’t agree.”

As the Archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Gregory would be Biden’s local bishop when he arrived in the White House. In his interview, the cardinal dismissed the possible “confusion” over Church teaching caused by a Catholic president promoting unrestricted access to abortion.

“It’s not a matter of confusion,” Gregory said. “On my part, it’s a matter of the responsibility that I have as the archbishop to be engaged and to be in dialogue with him, even in those areas where we obviously have some differences.”

Chaput wrote on Friday that “Those bishops who publicly indicate in advance that they will undertake their own dialogue with President-elect Joseph Biden and allow him Communion effectively undermine the work of the task force established at the November bishops’ conference meeting to deal precisely with this and related issues.”

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Chaput said that unilateral action by bishops on Biden and Communion “gives scandal to their brother bishops and priests, and to the many Catholics who struggle to stay faithful to Church teaching.”

“It does damage to the bishops’ conference, to the meaning of collegiality, and to the fruitfulness of the conference’s advocacy work with the incoming administration.”

“When bishops publicly announce their willingness to give Communion to Mr. Biden, without clearly teaching the gravity of his facilitating the evil of abortion (and his approval of same-sex relationships), they do a serious disservice to their brother bishops and their people,” said Chaput.

The archbishop went on to argue that denying a Catholic in a state of grave sin Communion was an essential pastoral action.

“This is not a ‘political’ matter,” he said, “and those who would describe it as such are either ignorant or willfully confusing the issue. This is a matter of bishops’ unique responsibility before the Lord for the integrity of the sacraments.”

“Moreover,” Chaput concluded, “there is also the pressing matter of pastoral concern for a man’s salvation.”

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