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Pope Francis urges Biden to receive Communion

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Oct 29, 2021

We do not know inside details of the Pope’s meeting with President Biden today, but Biden himself did feel free to report that Francis had called him a “good Catholic” and encouraged him to keep receiving Communion (see, for example, the report from The New York Times). Ludicrous as this seems, it is no more surprising than the wailing and gnashing of teeth by the press over their exclusion from live coverage of the meeting.

Many hoped, perhaps, that the deliberate Vatican privacy imposed on the meeting indicated the Pope’s willingness to offer hard sayings for the President’s serious consideration. But there have been no precedents in this papacy which could have led anyone to that conclusion. Rather, all any of this proves, once again, is that Pope Francis is no more willing than the Washington press to be placed outside the warm limelight of the dominant culture.

Communion

It also means that Pope Francis is very serious about not pressing Eucharistic coherence into the political realm. Never mind that it is absurd that the behavior of Catholics in the political realm should be off-limits to pastors. Moral or immoral advocacy and action are not partisan political maneuvers outside the purview of Divine grace and Catholic teaching. They are first and foremost personal decisions by souls in need of the grace and the sanctifying ministry of the Church.

But in any case, the Pope’s views on this matter have been clear for a long time. In two apostolic exhortations he has chosen to emphasize that the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak” (Evangelii Gaudium no. 47, in 2013; repeated in footnote 351 of Amoris Laetitia, in 2016). That is not surprising, as it is perfectly true; what is surprising is that Francis has steadfastly resisted all efforts at clarifying when, in fact, the Eucharist must be withheld either for the good of the potential recipient or to avoid situations of grave public scandal.

Such concerns are consistent with:

  1. The constant pastoral practice throughout the entire history of the Church;
  2. The clarifications by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith given to the American bishops by Cardinal Ratzinger during the pontificate of Pope St. John Paul II; and
  3. The requirements of the current Code of Canon Law

What we are faced with, then, are (a) this Pope’s continuing emphasis on one aspect of Eucharistic theology, along with (b) his deliberate refusal to comment on another theological aspect which demands Eucharistic discipline (as clearly expressed by St. Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians 11:27-30). These precedents already suggested that this outcome for Biden was inevitable and, therefore, unsurprising.

Such an expectation does not lessen the scandal, of course, but it is nothing more (and surely nothing less) than the relentless scandal of an entire pontificate.

A good Catholic

What is actually surprising (albeit, in these circumstances, in only a small way) is President Biden’s assertion that Pope Francis told him he was “a good Catholic”. There is reason to doubt this claim, since it is an extremely unlikely part of a discussion between a Pope and a President, and it does not even strike one as a normal papal remark. Moreover, even if the claim is false, it is a claim that the Vatican would be extremely unlikely to correct publicly. On the other hand, Biden has made the claim, and the sentiment is at least consistent with what we know of Francis’ personal interactions with everyone whose publicly-known sins are favored by the dominant culture.

I know I mention the “dominant culture” in my writing frequently enough to be annoying, but I do not know a better way to express the divide between honest Catholics and “Catholics” in quotation marks. Every adult man and woman knows from a kind of instinctive cultural osmosis what is approved and disapproved by the dominant culture, and Pope Francis’ known responses to persons have nearly always differed in accordance with this built-in calculus. I have remarked on this often enough, I think, as to make the enumeration of examples unnecessary.

The more important point is for every reader to understand that Joseph Biden cannot even remotely be considered a good Catholic when his social and political objectives include—indeed, with a special prominence—the expansion of abortion and the elimination of all personal, political and economic resistance to it; and the expansion of homosexual and transgender “rights”, by which I mean not the mere protection of all persons against violent attack, but a required personal and public approval of both the grave sins and the grave personal harm arising from these increasingly common sexual ideologies. Here we have an agenda which not only champions serious objective evils but undermines both personal wholeness and the nature of the family, which in turn is (and, in fact, must always be) the foundation of every healthy social order.

Whatever the Pope’s views on the wisdom of denying anyone Communion, Francis would not be able to call Joseph Biden “a good Catholic” without seriously altering the meaning of either the word “Catholic” or the word “good”. It is one thing to emphasize that many of a person’s obvious commitments are evil but to encourage that person to continue to receive Communion in order to find the strength to come into greater conformity with Jesus Christ. When the manifest sinfulness is obstinately denied by the recipient, this does serious spiritual damage to the recipient in addition to scandalizing others. But when the manifest sinfulness is interiorly acknowledged and to some extent privately detested, the practice still remains seriously problematic on prudential grounds: In all cases it creates the scandal of making it appear that serious sin does not fracture union with Christ, a fracture that is to be healed in the Confessional, a healing to be coupled with a public repudiation of previous public positions.

In any case, it is quite another thing to directly undermine the following words of Our Lord, as one would in calling Joseph Biden a “good Catholic”:

What comes out of a man is what defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man. [Mk 7:20-23]

And again:

Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits. Not every one who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. [Mt 7:19-21]

Conclusion

We will probably never know for sure exactly what is true and what is not true, or even what has been misinterpreted, in Joseph Biden’s report of his conversation with Pope Francis as it relates to the practice of Biden’s Catholicism. But the scandal arising from this report is supremely characteristic of a largely unfortunate pontificate.

This scandal does not raise questions about Pope Francis’ legitimacy as Pope. It does not raise questions about the veracity of the Catholic Faith. There have been many similar and equally bad periods of ecclesiastical history, situations which have always imposed and continue to impose significant suffering on the faithful. The correct response, I would say, is not ranting and raving; still less ought things like this to trigger a spiritual crisis. But there is a prayer of complaint in Scripture that is used frequently in such difficult situations, and therefore can still be used by all the faithful with the same combination of piety, sorrow and righteousness which it so well conveys.

This prayer, just four words, ends appropriately with “O Lord”. But it begins with “How long?”

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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Show 18 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: jalsardl5053 - Nov. 01, 2021 2:01 AM ET USA

    Noble leadership: open, most definitely anti-tyrannical (though in different ways) that be Pres. Regan and St. John Paul. Harmful, dangerous "leadership": secretive, tyrannical that be....

  • Posted by: grateful1 - Nov. 01, 2021 12:28 AM ET USA

    Thank you from the bottom of my heart, Jeff. You have given voice to the spiritual angst that besets honest Catholics who find themselves floundering amid what you rightly call "the relentless scandal of an entire pontificate." Francis's silence in the face of Biden's account of their discussion -- an account that reveals outright encouragement to continue sinning gravely and repeatedly -- speaks volumes.

  • Posted by: gregorywayland204298 - Oct. 31, 2021 9:34 AM ET USA

    I am one soul who finds himself enraged, but, far worse than that, demoralized as a Catholic by this episode. But, no, nothing about it is surprising. But I find this analysis, placing the whole ugly matter in context, to be both enlightening and consoling. I might say it has given me hope as I pray on it. Thank you.

  • Posted by: ines.b6785 - Oct. 30, 2021 7:26 PM ET USA

    You have masterfully expressed in words what so many of us feel daily, a heaviness of heart like grey sky followed by night and then grey again. And yes we do turn, in our littleness and powerlessness, to the Psalmist’s “How long?”

  • Posted by: wendel2591 - Oct. 30, 2021 2:17 PM ET USA

    Do we really believe the White House on this? It probably went “I urge all good Catholics to receive communion frequently.” Biden thinks ‘I am a good Catholic thus Francis said I should receive communion’. Biden: “The Pope urged me to receive communion.”

  • Posted by: td4207 - Oct. 30, 2021 11:11 AM ET USA

    I guess if you are guiltless if you only enable the murderer, but don't wield the scalpel. How convenient for our politicians!

  • Posted by: Retired01 - Oct. 30, 2021 10:56 AM ET USA

    If Biden's claims about what Pope Francis said are not accurate, it would be very easy for the Vatican to clarify what the pope said. This clarification would clearly be in the interest of the truth. If the Vatican does not issue a clarification, what can a reasonable person conclude about the veracity of Biden's claims? Moreover, if we assume that our bishops are reasonable, what message is the Vatican sending to them when they meet next month?

  • Posted by: Leopardi - Oct. 30, 2021 10:39 AM ET USA

    I, too, am surprised at the scandal of Pope's public remarks as reported. i've always taken the view that abortion is a moral issue so obviously wrong that the Church would have an easier time stressing it's immorality and injustice to an innocent child than tying it to worthiness to receive a sacrement (that seems a secondary issue that many non-Catholics neither understand or care a bout, so why weaken the message). In addition the "weaponizing" of the Eucharist is particularly abhorrant to me

  • Posted by: rfr46 - Oct. 30, 2021 9:21 AM ET USA

    Well, I guess we are going to find out soon whether the US bishops have any courage or faith. I know what I would do.

  • Posted by: Cory - Oct. 30, 2021 8:37 AM ET USA

    It seems the Pope is not aware of the prayer that priests pray before communion: May it not bring me condemnation but health in mind and body. So like any medicine there is a negative to some. It could bring them condemnation instead of healing. But I guess the Pope does not know that. And if he does, then does it mean he wants Biden to be condemned?

  • Posted by: loumiamo4057 - Oct. 30, 2021 8:01 AM ET USA

    "... the relentless [aka constant, unwavering, determined, purposeful, indefatigable, SUSTAINED] scandal of [PF's] entire pontificate" seems to me to only make sense if interpreted through the lens of universalism universalism. But how anyone can read scripture and miss the countless references to God's moral rightness is beyond me. And universalism does not square with God's moral rightness, it just doesn't.

  • Posted by: Gordon - Oct. 30, 2021 12:50 AM ET USA

    I have not commented before. I have a reluctance to do so, given than I am a sinner. Several years ago, in the confessional, Msg. Pearson, Our Lady of Lourdes Cathedral, when asked about the crap going on in the Church, replied, "See Christ in others, and be Christ to them" in your daily life. Peace and God bless,

  • Posted by: Pius _X - Oct. 29, 2021 10:36 PM ET USA

    I would respectfully disagree with the author. When a Pope says that a man who supports abortion, the sexual revolution and the state crushing individual conscious is a "Good Catholic", the veracity of the Catholic faith is not only in question, it is in Crisis. When, all we have left to cling to is "well, the Pope probably said those things, but we don't really no for sure", we are in Dire Straits. Past Popes may have lived scandalize lives, but none taught error. Francis does teach error

  • Posted by: frjt - Oct. 29, 2021 8:04 PM ET USA

    If you can believe corn pop, his gafe's galore... This poor thing has never been able to tell the truth... We need to pray for both of them (& add his wife)

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Oct. 29, 2021 7:48 PM ET USA

    What is a "good Catholic"? I look at myself after more than 6 decades of struggling to arrive at the title "good Catholic"; yet what do I see? I see my failings: weaknesses in my prayer life, weaknesses in my support for widows and orphans, weaknesses in my use of language, weaknesses in making my yes mean yes and my no mean no, weaknesses in the example I set, weaknesses in my witness to family members, all manner of weakness unbecoming of a "good Catholic". I wouldn't dare call myself one.

  • Posted by: john.aerts6220 - Oct. 29, 2021 7:30 PM ET USA

    yes, but biden's words are from one who is not really very cognizant nor is he given over to the witness of truth....hopefully the Vatican says this or something similar, instead of remaining silent or giving some words that are a mess, unconvincing or doubt instilling and affirming....blessings

  • Posted by: marynadononeill1042 - Oct. 29, 2021 6:54 PM ET USA

    Between the pandemic, mandates, recession and great reset it is getting difficult to hang on when the Church has now become so confusing. I am best reminded of St Therese and to let go of needing to know it all and begin to trust Jesus to lead me. Less of me and more of thee, Sweet Jesus Christ.

  • Posted by: TheJournalist64 - Oct. 29, 2021 6:54 PM ET USA

    What we need to do as an American church is press home an advertising campaign that teaches the truth about the Eucharist, about Eucharistic miracles, about the whole sacrament, and do so as an evangelistic tool. We need to raise up two new generations who understand the reality and begin to respect that reality. This generation of politicians is either with us or against us, and we can't do much about them.