by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
In 1995 when I was first appointed a vicar general in St. Louis and began working in the chancery, a friend of mine who had already been working in the chancery for several years gave me some sage advice.
He counseled me that many people, when they call the chancery, are often upset with someone in the church and they want someone’s head lopped off!
He advised: “The first thing you need to tell them is that we are not in the business of head-lopping.” This does not mean the concerns of the person, who is upset, are not valid. They may very well be legitimate and need to be addressed, but usually not with head-lopping.
In recent weeks, many people have been understandably disturbed by the promises and now actions of President Biden to codify the Supreme Court’s decisions legalizing abortion.
He wants to have the Congress pass laws that would preserve the legalization of abortion through all nine months of pregnancy, because of a hopefully well-founded fear of abortion advocates that the Supreme Court may overturn, or at least significantly modify, its Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton decisions legalizing abortion in the United States.
What infuriates many Catholics even more is that President Biden and his press secretary seem to never tire of stating that he is a devout Catholic who often attends daily Mass and receives holy Communion.
They wonder: How can President Biden act in a way that is contrary to Catholic moral teaching and violates the most fundamental of human rights and then boast that he is a devout Catholic?
I thought Archbishop José Gomez’s statement on the day that Mr. Biden was inaugurated was very appropriate in both its content and tone. Archbishop Gomez acknowledged several areas of agreement between President Biden’s legislative priorities and Catholic teaching.
Archbishop Gomez stated “it will be refreshing to engage with a president who clearly understands, in a deep and personal way, the importance of religious faith and institutions. Mr. Biden’s piety and personal story, his moving witness to how his faith has brought him solace in times of darkness and tragedy, his longstanding commitment to the Gospel’s priority for the poor — all of this I find hopeful and inspiring.”
Archbishop Gomez, however, went on to say: “At the same time, as pastors the nation’s bishops are given the duty of proclaiming the Gospel in all its truth and power, in season and out of season, even when that teaching is inconvenient or when the Gospel’s truths run contrary to the directions of the wider society and culture.
“So, 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 area 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.
“Our commitments on issues of human sexuality and the family, as with our commitments in every other area — such as abolishing the death penalty or seeking a health care system and economy that truly serves the human person — are guided by Christ’s great commandment to love and to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters, especially the most vulnerable.
“For the nation’s bishops, the continued injustice of abortion remains a preeminent priority. Preeminent does not mean only. We have deep concerns about many threats to human life and dignity in our society. But as Pope Francis teaches, we cannot stay silent when nearly a million unborn lives are being cast aside in our country year after year through abortion.
“Abortion is a direct attack on life that also wounds the woman and undermines the family. It is not only a private matter, it raises troubling and fundamental questions of fraternity, solidarity and inclusion in the human community. It is also a matter of social justice. We cannot ignore the reality that abortion rates are much higher among the poor and minorities, and that the procedure is regularly used to eliminate children who would be born with disabilities.”
Archbishop Gomez expressed a desire to engage in a sincere dialogue and conversation with the president about these important social and public policy issues. I applaud Archbishop Gomez’s honest and yet humble desire to enter into this important dialogue.
Christianity is all about conversion. We must pray and intercede for the Holy Spirit to enlighten the mind and change the heart of the president regarding these extremely important issues.
Sometimes, Catholics are accused of being inhospitable because we do not invite non-Catholics to join us in receiving holy Communion. We do this, not to be exclusive, but out of respect for those who do not share our Catholic faith.
When a baptized Christian after prayer and reflection is received into full communion with the Catholic Church, they make the following profession: “I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches and proclaims to be revealed by God.”
Each time we come to receive Our Lord in holy Communion, the priest says: “The body of Christ.” The recipient replies: “Amen.” Our Amen expresses not only our belief in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, but also our belief in the church that Our Lord empowered to make himself present through the Blessed Sacrament.
In effect, our Amen when receiving Our Lord is an affirmation that we believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches and proclaims to be revealed by God. We do not want a non- Catholic Christian to profess something that they do not believe.
Similarly, integrity requires a Catholic not to receive the Eucharist while acting in a manner incoherent with fundamental Catholic teaching.
I believe that Archbishop Gomez and Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington, D.C., should engage in a dialogue with President Biden if he is willing. We must always believe in the power of God’s grace to change hearts.
At the same time, this is not President Biden’s first rodeo. He has been in public office for almost 50 years. He has had decades to study these issues and ponder the application of the church’s moral teaching.
If the president persists in acting in a manner in opposition to the sanctity of human life and other important moral issues, then integrity requires that he choose not to receive holy Communion. The president should not need a priest or bishop to tell him not to present himself for Communion.
The people of the United States have entrusted enormous power and responsibility to President Biden. However, the presidency does not empower him to define Catholic doctrine and moral teaching.
Now, more than ever, the president needs to pray privately as well as to participate in Mass but not receive the Eucharist. We also need to pray and fast for the enlightenment of the president.
Until the incoherence of the president’s actions with Catholic moral teaching is reconciled, he would do well also not to identify himself as a devout Catholic.