What's Tony Thinking

Should Biden Be Barred from Communion?


One of you, dear readers, asked what I thought about the reports that some Catholic bishops are threatening to bar political leaders President Biden and Speaker of the House Pelosi from the sacrament of communion because of their support for legal abortion. In particular the San Francisco Archbishop, Salvatore Cordileone, is pressing the issue.

This seems to me like a pretty good illustration of my contention that, “Our politics have become too religious, and our religion too political,” cited in last week’s blog America Without God.

A bishop or archbishop who is pushing such a high-profile threat, targeting someone like the President, is politicizing the issue. Beyond that, he looks to me like someone looking to thrust himself into the media spotlight.

I would point out that a person in the position of President of the United States has the responsibility to enforce the civil law. If he or she cannot do that without violating their religious convictions, then they should resign the office. But it is not appropriate to insist that a civil official obligated to uphold existing law must let church mandates supplant their civil and legal obligations. If someone is required by their conscience or convictions to oppose existing law, by all means do so, but not if, as President of the United States, they have a responsibility to uphold the nation’s laws.

I am remembering Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen of the Diocese of Seattle. In the late 70’s and 80’s Hunthausen spoke out against nuclear weapons and the escalation of the nuclear arms race. He spoke about the issue, but not — to my knowledge — about individuals.  Nor did he threaten to bar political or military leaders from the church’s sacraments. That seems to me a useful distinction. Attack the issue, not an individual.

Archbishop Cordileone is quoted as saying, “To those who are advocating abortion . . .” At least with respect to Biden and Pelosi, I’m not sure that’s fair or accurate. There’s a difference between support for abortion being legal and “advocating” abortion.

Let’s return to the book by Daniel K. Williams The Politics of the Cross, cited in my last blog. Williams is opposed to abortion but he argues that the strategy of the pro-life movement to opt for a pitched legal battle over Roe v. Wade has been the wrong move, one that is more about the politicizing abortion for electoral gain than addressing the issue. Here’s Williams, following on a case-study of a woman named “Erin” who had two abortions.

“If pro-lifers really want to lower the abortion rate and give women such as Erin the power to carry their pregnancies to term, they will support expanded economic assistance, beginning with health-care funding.” (This, by the way, is not just his opinion. He cites research and evidence in support.)

In other words, you can rail all you want about abortion being a sin or evil, but if you want to make a difference, get down off your moral high-horse and work on the practical and economic issues that push people to elect an abortion.

“Legal protections for unborn children,” continues Williams, “are desirable where they can be implemented and where they are supported by a broadly based cultural consensus, but a far more effective way to reduce the abortion rate and save unborn lives is to expand health-care availability and ensure that the working poor are given better wages and improved opportunities.”

This is not all Williams has to say about abortion. He points out both the way our understandings and practices of marriage have changed, which also effect the choice for abortion. This is what he has in mind in the reference above to a “broadly based cultural consensus.”

Nevertheless, targeting Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi for possible exclusion from sacraments seems to me political posturing. It’s less headline grabbing but more important to work at mitigating the conditions that lead women, usually with great regret, to conclude they must choose abortion.




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