Catholics have never been more confused than now about what they are supposed to believe. The causes of the confusion are not difficult to find: widespread immorality among priests and bishops and even more widespread coverup of same; a pope who affirms traditional teaching one moment, and tears it down the next; Church leaders who seem more concerned about climate change than Christian persecution; and the introduction of pagan elements into Catholic liturgy.
To add to the confusion, a highly contagious virus swept across the world in 2020. Although the virus had a low fatality rate, reporters and politicians alike treated it as though it were the second coming of the Black Death. Schools and shops were shut down, and so were churches. Catholics got used to “attending” Sunday Mass in front of computer screens. The fact that the vast majority of bishops readily complied with the shutdown gave the impression to many that worship of God was not, after all, a very important activity.
For American Catholics, the confusion has now been compounded by the election of a Catholic president who rejects essential Catholic teaching, yet is warmly welcomed by the pope along with many American bishops.
Of course, several past American presidents have pursued policies that contradict Catholic teaching and they, nevertheless, received good wishes from the Catholic hierarchy. The difference is that they were not Catholics, and there was no danger that their policy positions would be mistaken for Catholic positions.
But that’s not the case with President Biden. Not only is he a Catholic, but he also makes a show of his Catholicism. He attends Mass weekly, wears rosary beads around his wrist, blesses himself in public, refers to scripture and Catholic hymns during political speeches, and speaks often of how his Catholic faith has helped him through difficult times. To top it off, he has installed a photo of Pope Francis in the Oval Office.
In many respects, Joe Biden appears to be a traditional pious Catholic. Yet Biden is strongly pro-abortion and favors policies that would spread abortion throughout the developing world. In addition, he seems to be on board with the whole LGBT agenda. He officiated at a wedding of two gay men, wants to reverse the transgender military ban, favors the Equality Act which allows men to compete in women’s sports, and believes that 10-year-olds should be able to choose whatever gender they please. And, in what seems a deliberate slap at the Catholic concept of gender, he has appointed Dr. Rachel Levine (nee Richard Levine) as Assistant Secretary of Health despite his/her minimal qualifications for the job.
Attempts to present Biden’s brand of Catholicism as the real thing is bound to have a confusing effect on both Catholics and non-Catholics. Stephen P. White, Director of The Catholic Project, observed that “Biden’s words and actions will shape how the Catholic faith is perceived and understood.” Some bishops understand this, and they realize that simply extending good wishes to the new president is not a sufficient response to the new situation—namely a President who proudly proclaims his Catholic identity while trampling on central Catholic beliefs about marriage and sexuality.
It was refreshing, then, that a statement issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) tempered the congratulations with sharp criticism. Archbishop Jose Gomez, the president of the USCCB, wrote:
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. Of deep concern is the liberty of the Church and the freedom of believers to live according to their consciences.
At a time of great moral confusion, this is exactly the kind of clarity that Catholics need to see and hear. But this is not only a time of confusion. It’s also a time of great danger—a time when Catholics and other Christians stand in danger of being stripped of their right to free speech and freedom of religion. Hence, Archbishop Gomez adds: “Of deep concern is the liberty of the Church and the freedom of believers to live according to their consciences.”
As some of the bishops are beginning to realize rather late in the day, the party that is coming to power in Washington has a totalitarian streak a mile wide. How much longer will priests and bishops be able to tell their congregations that abortion and same-sex “marriage” are contrary to God’s laws without being fined—or worse?
In his statement, Archbishop Gomez, says “Rather than impose further expansion of abortion and contraception, as he has promised, I am hopeful that the new President and his administration will work with the Church and others of good will. My hope is that we can begin a dialogue…”
But what if the dialogue never gets off the ground? What then? If Biden goes ahead with his pro-abortion policies, and the bishops do nothing, except to ask for more dialogue, it will only serve to confuse Catholics even more. Unfortunately, many will conclude that abortion can’t really be that serious. If it was, the bishops would surely have taken stronger action.
And so, they must. Moreover, the action they should take is no mystery. The bishops already understand full well that after dialogue fails, the next option is denial of Communion, and after that, excommunication. These are options, not requirements. And in the case of ordinary Catholics, these two remedies are rarely used. However, Joe Biden is no ordinary Catholic. He is, as Stephen White puts it, “the most powerful and influential Catholic layman in the world.” Moreover, Biden presents himself as one who is in full communion with the Catholic Church. But someone who persists in promoting such a grave sin as abortion has already broken communion with the Church. And denial of Communion is just an acknowledgment of that fact.
Because of his position and influence, the bishops have a duty to make clear that Biden’s brand of “progressive” Catholicism is in opposition to Catholic teaching. But there is a difficulty involved in refusing Communion to Biden. The difficulty lies in getting all the bishops to agree to this approach. We already know that Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the Archbishop of Washington, D.C., will not deny Communion to Biden, and undoubtedly there are many other progressive bishops who will follow suit. Since Biden will, for the most part, be attending Mass in Washington, D.C., he will continue to receive Communion.
Of course, Biden will have to travel from time-to-time, and individual priests and bishops in different states may refuse him Communion. But this will only serve to strengthen the impression that Catholicism is a pick-and-choose religion. Many will conclude that, if the bishops are divided on the issue, it can’t be that important after all. Many will further conclude that, as the pro-choice forces would have us believe, it’s up to each individual to decide whether abortion is right or wrong.
Moreover, don’t expect that refusal of Communion by a single cleric will be a big news event which will put Biden in an awkward position, and force progressive Catholics to search their souls. Father Robert Morey of St. Anthony Church in Florence, South Carolina did refuse Communion to Biden in November, 2019 and the news was largely ignored by the mainstream media. It seems that a scattershot approach to challenging Biden’s anti-Catholic version of Catholicism will simply not work. If the American bishops wish to make a sufficient impact, a unified plan of action will be required.
There is another, more serious option to consider: excommunication. While denial of Communion is similar in some ways, it is not the same as a formal excommunication. There is a strong possibility that a denial policy won’t have the intended effect because many bishops and priests will simply ignore it, with the result that more Catholics will be left wondering why they too can’t ignore Church rules they disagree with.
Given the current situation, it seems that the strongest possible penalty is required. Biden advertises his Catholicism at every opportunity, and his acolytes in the media are now portraying him as if he were a new Saint Francis. If the bishops do nothing, Biden and his backers will get to define what it means to be a good Catholic. It is even possible to imagine the eventual creation of a state-run church along the lines of the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association—a church where elements of Catholicism and party doctrine are skillfully blended. Don’t dismiss the possibility. If the past year has taught us anything, it’s that strange and unexpected developments have become the order of the day.
Undoubtedly, many in the media and in the Church itself will dismiss excommunication as a relic of medieval times. But there is a relatively recent precedent for excommunicating Catholic politicians, and it’s one which liberals would find it difficult to criticize. On April 16, 1962, Joseph Francis Rummel, the Archbishop of New Orleans, publicly excommunicated three local political figures for their flagrant opposition to the desegregation of New Orleans Catholic Schools.
One wonders what Cardinal-Archbishop Wilton Gregory thinks of Rummel’s action, and why he thinks the current case of a Catholic politician who flagrantly promotes abortion should be treated any differently.
Not coincidentally, the mention of Archbishop Gregory’s name brings up one of the chief difficulties with pursuing the path of excommunication. Normally, the jurisdiction to pronounce an excommunication belongs to the local bishop. In Biden’s case that would be Wilton Gregory, and, barring a miracle, Gregory would refuse to excommunicate.
However—at least to a layman’s eyes—the issue of jurisdiction is a very fuzzy one. In the case of the President of the United States, it would seem that jurisdiction should not belong to the local bishop (Gregory) because the President is not just the President of the District of Columbia, but of the whole nation. His decisions affect the lives of millions of Catholics outside D.C. Arguably, the bishop who should have jurisdiction should be an American bishop in a position comparable to the one held by the President. And that would be Archbishop Jose Gomez, the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Unlike Cardinal Gregory, he was elected to his position by a vote of his fellow bishops. Moreover, unlike Gregory, he understands that this is not a time for business as usual. Gomez has already indicated that certain of Biden’s policies “advance moral evils.” Consequently, the claim that Biden is a Catholic in good standing cannot be left unchallenged.
More than many in the hierarchy, Archbishop Gomez seems to realize that the election of Biden has brought the Church to a major turning point. Let’s hope and pray that he has the courage to move it in the right direction.
William Kilpatrick is the author of What Catholics Need to Know about Islam and other books about culture and religion. His work is supported in part by the Shillman Foundation.
Pictured above: President-elect Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden attend services at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle
Photo credit: FOX 5 DC