Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

The Ultimate Clericalism

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Nov 02, 2021

If you believe President Biden (a large “if”), Pope Francis said that the President should continue to receive Communion, despite his persistent support for unrestricted legal abortion.

This, from a Pope who has characterized abortion as murder, and likened the practice to the hiring of a Mafia hit-man?

The Vatican, true to its unhelpful PR practice, will not comment on Biden’s account—just as the Vatican has declined to comment on outrageous quotes attributed to the Pope in previous conversations, most notably with his friend the journalist Eugenio Scalfari. Yet as Jeff Mirus has explained, it is unfortunately all too easy to believe that Biden’s report is quite likely accurate.

Well, partially accurate. In his transparently self-serving remarks to the press, Biden said: “We just talked about the fact that he was happy I’m a good Catholic and I should keep receiving Communion.” I feel absolutely confident in saying that the Pope did not describe Biden as a good Catholic. That’s not the sort of thing this Pope says—and certainly not the sort of thing he would say to a visiting head of state. The terse official summary of the conversation, issued by the Vatican press office, said that the conversation had centered on “the protection and care of the planet, the healthcare situation and the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as the theme of refugees and assistance to migrants”—not on Biden’s spiritual life.

Still it is perfectly plausible that, if Biden questioned him on the subject, Pope Francis might have encouraged him to continue receiving Communion. That would be consistent with his remarks to reporters just a few weeks earlier, when he said, “I have never refused the Eucharist to anyone,” and advised other priests: “Be a pastor and don’t go around condemning.” It is consistent with his statement in Evangelii Gaudium that the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.”

Yet again, the Pope unequivocally condemns abortion as murder. And Biden, just as unequivocally, not only supports the practice but favors taxpayer funding for the killing. In 2006 the Latin American bishops issued a strong statement—reportedly guided to completion by Cardinal Bergoglio, the future Pontiff—that said Catholic legislators should not receive Communion if they promoted “the abominable crimes of abortion and euthanasia.” That same year the US bishops said that Catholic politicians “should refrain” from Communion if they rejected Church teaching on fundamental moral issues. And of course Canon 915 stipulates that those who “obstinately persist in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.” Thus the Church’s own law indicates that it is not simply a matter for the individual’s conscience, to decide whether or not he should receive the Eucharist; the Church’s ministers are under an obligation to prevent the scandal.

How could it be, then, despite the light of these clear papal and episcopal statements, and the clear language of canon law, that Pope Francis might have instructed Biden to continue receiving Communion? St. Paul warns us that anyone who received the Eucharist unworthily “eat and drinks judgment upon himself.” [1 Cor 11:29] How could it be “pastoral” to encourage Biden in a practice that risks his damnation?

But wait; there is a complication. In order to be guilty of a mortal sin, one must be aware that the matter is grave. How could Biden (or anyone else) be expected to know that it is a grave matter to receive the Eucharist while supporting abortion, if the Vicar of Christ tells him not to worry about it?

When the Pope (or any bishop, or any priest) makes the “pastoral” decision to tell a sinner that he can safely ignore God’s law, does that cleric really think that he has resolved the problem? Does he believe in his own power to hand out “Get out of hell free” cards? The matter is still grave; the offense against God remains. Perhaps the cleric takes the guilt of the sin upon himself, but the objective violation of natural law endures, and will undoubtedly cause harm, especially to the violator.

Our Lord gave his apostles the authority to absolve sins, but not to excuse them. A priest, in sacramental confession, can invoke Christ’s power to wipe away the burden of guilt. But he cannot redefine the statutes that God has laid down; he cannot edit the Decalogue. And while he can give absolution for a past sin, he certainly cannot give permission for the sin to continue.

Pope Francis frequently rails against the habits of clericalism. But is there any more egregious display of clericalism than the suggestion that anyone—even a Roman Pontiff—can rewrite the laws of God?

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: mhains8491 - Nov. 03, 2021 8:10 PM ET USA

    Pope Chaos and Confusion at his best. Compare and contrast Christ who spoke with authority and clarity.

  • Posted by: td4207 - Nov. 03, 2021 7:06 PM ET USA

    People who take their faith seriously, the mass going kind, shake their heads in disappointment over the pontiff's continuing lack of clarity in this, and many other previous, contradictions.

  • Posted by: wacondaseeds4507 - Nov. 03, 2021 2:46 PM ET USA

    A condition to receive even the sacramental forgiveness of sin is repentance and a firm resolution to not commit the sin again. This is a major consideration that I did not hear mentioned. Here, we have a firm resolution to perpetuate and normalize the sin.

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Nov. 03, 2021 8:29 AM ET USA

    A pair of cafeteria Catholics. Biden picks and chooses the Catholic doctrines and quotations that serve to advance his political career, while he not only ignores but actively opposes the most fundamental moral requirements placed on Catholics by God and His Church. As a profound act of charity, I point out that Pope Francis issues decrees and public statements contrary to the faith for "pastoral" reasons (whatever that means), but rarely corrects these abuses of authority when asked to do so.

  • Posted by: feedback - Nov. 03, 2021 6:45 AM ET USA

    Francis' silence on such preeminent moral issue scandalizes the faithful and will be interpreted by most as a papal nod for Biden and pro-abortion policies. It doesn't take a genius to foresee that it will have a direct ripple effect in increased numbers of aborted babies, just as the Texas Heartbeat Act one month later lead to a reported 50% decrease of abortions. The pope's and bishops' convenient silence makes them complicit in the culture of death and the ongoing massacre of innocents.

  • Posted by: gregorywayland204298 - Nov. 02, 2021 6:35 PM ET USA

    Touche'! And all so disheartening.