As many as six bishops and two cardinals have warned Biden of the consequences of a challenge. To criticise the pope is to ‘show the uniform dislike for him displayed by many Catholics’
Catholic bishops have issued a warning to Joe Biden over his attack on the pope, warning him against breaking with church teaching on communion, and using the threat of losing communion to advance his political career.
The US bishops’ conference called for “unconditional pastoral care” of Biden.
Biden had said that Pope Francis ignored bishops who pointed out that the divorced and remarried had to stay on a path of reform, before suggesting that if priests abandoned them to “some sort of euthanasia or drug-induced coma” they could receive the sacrament. The pope’s critics interpret that statement as implicit approval of assisted suicide.
Biden’s comments created an uproar and left the Catholic Church, including some of his Democratic colleagues in Congress, alarmed.
Biden, a Catholic senator from Delaware, led Democrat campaigns for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Many are concerned that if a divorced and remarried person could receive communion, then a same-sex couple could too.
The Delaware Catholic diocese weighed in and sent a letter to the pope, telling him of the congressmen and a retired bishop in the state. “We do not seek to be confrontational,” the letter said. “We urge your words of intervention and clarifications on the matter to be accompanied by a visit by a homilist who will be sensitive to the concerns expressed.”
The US bishops then issued a statement calling on Biden to abide by Catholic teaching on communion.
“In our letter to you, we again respectfully note the pastoral concerns expressed by Bishop Christopher Coyne in Delaware … and ask that you be mindful of the teaching of the church on the sin of intentional excommunication,” the statement said.
“We are mindful of our past pastoral exhortations regarding the need to refrain from publicly advocating for non-Catholic nominees for public office. This is particularly important given the violence and fear of others with whom Catholics disagree on human matters. It is especially true given Catholic teaching that human beings can only be helped when there is a correct understanding of God’s grace.”
It added: “While we consider your recent comments to have been highly significant … to us, it is equally important that you do not seek to publicize this matter, or use your status as a Catholic to speak on it. This will contribute to the perception that you feel more a part of the Catholic Church, or the Democratic Party, than of the church and the office you hold.”
The statement did not make clear whether bishops plan to excommunicate Biden. If such a move were needed, it would be difficult, with the incumbent bishop having no formal jurisdiction over the senator.
“The USCCC [USCCB] communicates its concern about the recent statements of Senate Democrat Leader Chuck Schumer, Senator Elizabeth Warren, and Vice President Joe Biden, regarding issues of same-sex marriage and the sacrament of the sacraments in the context of the October 2017 Synod of Bishops,” a source close to the bishop’s conference said.
“This is a decision only the Holy Father can make. However, the USCCB provides unwavering pastoral care to all individuals seeking to strengthen Catholic identity and practice. We encourage the minister and pastoral leaders to be always careful in applying Catholic moral teaching in the context of their pastoral work. ”
Those in the cardinals’ conference who intervened against Biden have insisted they were not acting on behalf of the pope but on their own judgment.
A source involved in the deliberations said that even if Biden were to receive communion, the incident had hurt the pope. “That’s something that has hurt the pope,” the source said. “People are coming back to him now.”
Those who encouraged the bishops to intervene said that many priests would not recognise the comments Biden made as directly attacking the church. “A lot of priests in these large dioceses have big egos and no good sense,” the source said. “If I get up and call him an idiot, I’m not going to be in good standing.”