If President Joe Biden is such a “devout Catholic,” as we’re so often told, why is Pope Francis directly contradicting him on a key aspect of his personal beliefs?
On Wednesday, the pope had to affirm something no one would even bother questioning past pontiffs about: namely, whether abortion is murder.
Spoiler alert: The answer is still yes.
The question was phrased in the context of whether communion should be denied to the president because of, as Reuters’ Philip Pullella put it, “his support for a woman’s right to choose even though he is personally against abortion.” (This phrasing is wildly disingenuous, but we’ll get to that in a bit.)
“I never denied communion to anyone. But I never knew that I had in front of me anyone such as you described, that is true,” the pope said when the question was posed on the papal plane, which was returning from Slovakia to Rome.
“Communion is not a prize for the perfect … communion is a gift, the presence of Jesus and his church,” he added.
That part was in reference to the U.S. Conference of Bishops, which has debated whether pro-abortion Catholic politicians like Biden should be denied communion. In June, the conference moved forward on drafting rules that would clarify who could be denied the sacrament, which the church views as the literal body and blood of Christ.
However, the rest of the pull-quote from the pope’s answer will be uncomfortable for Biden and other high-profile “devout Catholic” Democrats, such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and California Rep. Ted Lieu.
“Abortion is murder. … Those who carry out abortions kill,” Francis said, according to Reuters.
Is Joe Biden a ‘devout Catholic’?
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“At the third week after conception, often even before the mother is aware [of being pregnant], all the organs are already [starting to develop]. It is a human life. Period. And this human life has to be respected. It is very clear,” he said.
“Scientifically, it is a human life.”
The question was reported in the context of the Biden administration’s decision to formally ask a federal judge to block enforcement of Texas’ fetal heartbeat law on Tuesday.
Pullella’s assumption about Biden is the same that many others have about the president — he supports “a woman’s right to choose even though he is personally against abortion.”
However, even if one isn’t to take offense at the phraseology of calling abortion “a woman’s right to choose,” a bit of anodyne euphemism we’ve all come to accept that ushers us past the realities of the gruesome practice, this framing of the issue remains problematic.
Earlier this month, the president said, “I respect them, those who believe life begins at the moment of conception and all, I respect that. Don’t agree, but I respect that.”
Here’s the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 2270-71: “Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. 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. Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable.”
Our president, who has made much hay out of being a “devout Catholic,” doesn’t agree with one of the cornerstone teachings of his own church.
While taxpayer funding of abortion isn’t directly mentioned in the catechism — the official teachings of the church as delivered to either children or converts — it’s also worth noting it’s one issue upon which you’d be hard-pressed to find a Catholic prelate who was willing to give their blessing. Again, it’s something Biden now supports.
This isn’t about whether or not the president should be denied communion; the pope seems to weigh in on the side of “not,” although the devoutest Catholic of them all seemed deliberately vague on the subject.
“Abortion is murder,” however, isn’t quite so vague — and the church is crystal clear on when life begins, which is where Biden seems deliberately vague.
But then, the president could be said to have “evolved” on the subject — and just when it seemed to benefit him the most. After all, this was then-Vice President Joe Biden in 2015:
He’s also “evolved” on the issue of taxpayer-funded abortions. In 2019, Biden formally announced his opposition to the Hyde Amendment, the rule banning elective taxpayer-funded abortions administered with federal dollars.
He had been an ardent — dare I say “devout?” — supporter of the rule for decades. That changed as soon as it became clear Democrat orthodoxy was moving against him for upholding the principle that taxpayers shouldn’t be forced to pay for procedures they believe are murder.
Whether this is a case of the U.S. Conference of Bishops making communion “political” is still a matter of debate. Canon 915 of Roman Catholic Canon Law states those “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.” As Barbara Kralis pointed out in a 2004 piece for Catholic Online, this would seem to encompass Biden.
“If a Catholic is a ‘manifest‘ sinner, that means he is ‘known,’ or ‘public.’ This must be differentiated from the Catholics who are in the state of ‘private‘ grave sin, to whom their sin is known only to themselves and God,” she wrote. “The private grave sinner cannot be denied the Eucharist because their sin is unknown to the bishop, to his priests, and his ministers of the Eucharist.”
“If a Catholic is gravely ‘manifest’ and ‘obstinate’ in his sin, that means he pigheadedly continues to ‘persist’ or ‘stand firm’ in grave sin that is ‘public’ in nature and causes scandal to others. This is quite different from those who persist in ‘private’ sin.
“‘Catholic’ pro-abortion politicians are certainly manifest, obstinate and persistent sinners and they are thus subject to the provisions of [Canon 915].”
That said, the world’s most powerful Catholic prelate is being circumspect about denying communion to the world’s most powerful Catholic adherent, however nominal or devout you believe that adherence is. The pope only said he preferred bishops to deal with the problem pastorally, not politically.
“A pastor knows what to do at any moment but if he leaves the pastoral process of the Church he immediately becomes a politician,” Francis said.
However, the intentional inexactitude of the rest of the pontiff’s statements wasn’t repeated when he addressed abortion. That was crystal clear: It’s still murder and, one presumes, this doesn’t change no matter when you personally believe human life believes.
The church has been both consistent and persistent on that matter. It’s Joe Biden who’s changed.