Press Review: Joe Biden and Francis on Abortion and Communion (1)

January 04, 2022
Cardinal Raymond Burke

On October 29, 2021, Pope Francis granted a 75-minute audience to Joe Biden, the President of the United States. The lengthy interview with a politician who is notoriously pro-choice sparked a lot of reaction in the Italian press.

Thus in La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana of October 30, where Nico Spuntoni notes that “a climate of cordiality between the two men is not at all ceremonial can be seen in the video images broadcast on a delayed basis by the Vatican media: broad smiles, repeated jokes, extended handshakes.”

And he says the conversation revolved around the environment, the fight against Covid-19, and migrants, but not Joe Biden’s support of abortion, while calling himself Catholic. The U.S. President even revealed to reporters at the Chigi Palace, seat of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, that the Pope called him a “good Catholic” and told him he must “continue to receive Communion.”

These remarks were likely to destabilize the American bishops who were to pronounce, in a plenary assembly from November 15 to 18, a declaration on the subject of the Eucharistic coherence required of Catholic politicians.

Nico Spuntoni recalls that, on the one hand, the current President of the United States recently opposed the Texas anti-abortion law, and that, on the other hand, most of the members of the Catholic Bishops' Conference United States remain firm on the line expressed in a 2004 memo from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, that a priest must refuse to give Communion to a Catholic politician who systematically campaigns for abortion.

In this context, one wonders what game Francis is playing. Nico Spuntoni responds indirectly: “A little over a month ago, the Pope returned to his condemnation of abortion in an aerial press conference [coming back from Slovakia], but he also confessed that he had never denied Communion to anyone. And, the reporter’s question referred precisely to the situation of pro-choice [pro-abortion] Biden.”

According to Andrea Gagliarducci on the Vatican Reporting blog on November 1, “Francis knew perfectly well what he was doing when he said these words to Joe Biden (in line with his usual modus operandi), it was a way of returning the ball to the American bishops’ court.”

In his previously quoted aerial press conference, “Pope Francis responded that the issue of Communion to pro-abortion politicians should not be resolved politically, but pastorally. Neither yes nor no, therefore. To be evaluated according to the circumstances.” "

And so Joe Biden, who recently defined abortion as a human right, was able to attend Communion at San Patrizio Church near the U.S. Embassy in Rome after the G20 meeting.

A Letter from Cardinal Burke

On October 28, the day before Joe Biden’s meeting with the Pope, Cardinal Raymond Burke published a letter on the issue of Communion for Catholic politicians who are abortion activists. He declared there:

“At their next meeting in November, the bishops of the United States will examine the application of Canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law:  ‘Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted, after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy Communion.”

“Their deliberations will address, in particular, the long-term and gravely scandalous situation of Catholic politicians who persist in supporting and advancing programs, policies and laws in grievous violation of the most fundamental precepts of the moral law, while, at the same time, claiming to be devout Catholics, especially by presenting themselves to receive Holy Communion.”

“I have thought it important to offer the following reflections as a help to us all in addressing now and in the future such a critical matter – a matter of life and death for the unborn and of eternal salvation for the Catholic politicians involved – in my homeland, as in other nations.”

On the subject of collegiality in the name of which the bishops could no longer decide alone, in particular on the question of the communion of pro-abortion politicians, Cardinal Burke reveals that he had met, when he was Archbishop of Saint-Louis, “one of the eminent members of the Conference of Bishops, who shook his finger at me, declaring: You cannot do what you have been doing without the approval of the Conference of Bishops.”

“To be clear, other bishops were following a similar pastoral action. I responded to his declaration by pointing out that, when I die, I will appear before the Lord to give an account of my service as Bishop, not before the Conference of Bishops.”

“Here, I must note that the pastoral action taken had nothing to do with interfering in politics. It was directed to the safeguarding of the sanctity of the Holy Eucharist, to the salvation of the souls of the Catholic politicians in question – who were sinning gravely not only against the Fifth Commandment but also were committing sacrilege by receiving unworthily Holy Communion – and to the prevention of the serious scandal caused by them.”

A little later in his letter, the American prelate specifies: “The most serious question of the application of Can. 915 of the Code of Canon Law to Catholic politicians who support and promote programs, policies and legislation in grievous violation of the natural law seemingly remains a question for the Conference of Bishops.”

“In fact, the obligation of the individual Bishop is a matter of universal Church discipline, regarding faith and morals, over which the Conference of Bishops has no authority. In fact, a number of Bishops have understood their sacred duty in this matter and are taking appropriate action.”

“A Conference of Bishops fulfills an important role of support for the Diocesan Bishop, but it cannot replace the authority that belongs properly to him. It is the Diocesan Bishop, not the Conference, that applies the universal law to a particular situation.”

On the undermining work of Catholic politicians, Cardinal Burke says: “In the spring of 2004, while I was in Washington, DC, for pro-life activities, I met privately for forty-five minutes with the one of the highest officials of the federal government, a non-Catholic Christian who manifested great respect for the Catholic Church.”

“[The latter assured me] that he could name for me 80 or more Catholics in the Senate and the House of Representatives, who regularly support pro-abortion legislation. The conversation in question was an eloquent testimonial to the grave scandal caused by such Catholic politicians. They have, in fact, contributed significantly to the consolidation of a culture of death in the United States, where procured abortion is simply a fact of daily life.”

“The Catholic Church’s witness to the beauty and goodness of human life, from its first moment of its existence, and the truth of its inviolability has been grievously compromised to the point that non-Catholics believe that the Church has changed or will change what is, in fact, an unchangeable teaching.”

“While the Church, carrying out the mission of Christ, her Head, for the salvation of the world is totally opposed to the attack on innocent and defenseless human life, the Catholic Church in the United States seems to accept the abhorrent practice, in accord with a totally secularized view of human life and sexuality.” - On the position of the bishops, the American cardinal shows himself here less optimistic and more realistic than Nico Spuntoni, quoted above.

On the alleged ineffectiveness of the pro-life struggle, Cardinal Burke replies: “I am told that the argument from the truth about human life is often ineffective, since the culture has no regard for objective truth, exalting the views of the individual, no matter how contrary to right reason they may be.” 

“Perhaps, the approach taken in assisting mothers and fathers contemplating abortion should be taken on a wider scale, namely the viewing of an ultrasound of the tiny human life at its beginning.”

“In my experience, when mothers and fathers thinking to procure an abortion view, first, such an ultrasound, the greater majority of them do not proceed to the abortion. The visible image of the beauty and goodness of human life convinces them of the evil of abortion.”