Catholic priest had ev­ery right to deny Bi­den com­mu­nion over abor­tion views

Lodi News-Sentinel - - OPINION - Chris­tine M. Flow­ers is a lawyer and colum­nist for the Philadel­phia Daily News. Read­ers may send her email at cflow­[email protected]

When­ever a Catholic runs or is nom­i­nated for pub­lic of­fice, he or she has to en­dure a now-fa­mil­iar vet­ting process re­volv­ing around one thing: abor­tion rights. To make pro­gres­sives happy, can­di­dates must fol­low the Mario Cuomo script of “I am per­son­ally op­posed but I will not im­pose my will on other peo­ple.”

But they also have to be care­ful not to alien­ate con­ser­va­tives by down­play­ing their faith and moral­ity. It’s a very hard nee­dle to thread, and a lot of peo­ple fail mis­er­ably at it. Ren­der­ing unto Cae­sar some­times means deny­ing God, and vice versa _ some­one’s right not to have re­li­gious be­liefs im­posed on them must be bal­anced against another per­son’s right to prac­tice his or her faith.

Amer­i­cans saw this con­flict play out for the umpteenth time last month, when a Catholic priest in South Carolina de­nied Joe Bi­den com­mu­nion. The for­mer vice pres­i­dent was at­tend­ing mass at Saint An­thony Catholic Church in Florence, and Rev. Robert Morey de­nied him the Eucharist, stat­ing later that a “pub­lic fig­ure who ad­vo­cates for abor­tion places him­self or her­self out­side of Church teach­ing.” He added that he would pray for Bi­den.

For his part, Bi­den re­fused to dwell on the in­ci­dent other than to say “I’m a prac­tic­ing Catholic, I prac­tice my faith” and that this was his per­sonal life.

So­cial me­dia lit up with peo­ple who were an­gry that Bi­den had been pub­licly shamed. Some felt that the Rev­erend

Morey was out of touch with changes in the church, and that sup­port for abor­tion rights was not nec­es­sar­ily a moral evil.

But Canon Law _ specif­i­cally Canon 915 of the 1983 Code _ is clear: “Those...who ob­sti­nately per­sist in man­i­fest grave sin, are not to be ad­mit­ted to holy com­mu­nion.”

Abor­tion is still con­sid­ered one of the gravest sins in the church. Joe Bi­den is a strong pro­po­nent of Roe v. Wade, in June drop­ping his sup­port of the Hyde Amend­ment and its ban on fed­eral fund­ing of abor­tion.

That be­ing the case, the church is right to deny him com­mu­nion. As I said be­fore, some think this is in­tol­er­ant. Je­suit Fa­ther James Martin tweeted in Bi­den’s de­fense: “Deny­ing Com­mu­nion to politi­cians, Demo­crat or Repub­li­can, is a bad idea. If you deny the sacra­ment to those who sup­port abor­tion, then you must also deny it to those who sup­port the death penalty. How about those who don’t help the poor? How about ‘Laudato Si’? Where does it end?”

But Pope Emer­i­tus Bene­dict, still ac­tive, had the an­swer: “Not all moral is­sues have the same moral weight as abor­tion and eu­thana­sia .... there may be a le­git­i­mate diver­sity of opin­ion even among Catholics about wag­ing war and ap­ply­ing the death penalty, but not how­ever with re­gard to abor­tion and eu­thana­sia.”

That pretty much set­tles it from a re­li­gious per­spec­tive, com­ing as it does from a Pope. Bi­den was right­fully de­nied the sacra­ment. Rev. Morey was not in­ap­pro­pri­ately im­pos­ing his be­liefs _ he was fol­low­ing the letter of the church.

Arch­bishop Charles Cha­put, one of the most elo­quent ob­servers of re­li­gion in the pub­lic sphere, pro­vides a much richer view of how to rec­on­cile pub­lic and pri­vate selves than Cuomo’s “I will not im­pose” stan­dard:

“The church claims no right to dom­i­nate the sec­u­lar realm. But she has ev­ery right _ in fact an obli­ga­tion _ to en­gage sec­u­lar author­ity and to chal­lenge those wield­ing it to live the de­mands of jus­tice. In this sense, the Catholic Church can­not stay, has never stayed, and never will stay ‘out of pol­i­tics.’ Pol­i­tics in­volves the ex­er­cise of power.

The use of power has moral con­tent and hu­man con­se­quences. And the well-be­ing and destiny of the hu­man per­son is very much the con­cern, and the spe­cial com­pe­tence, of the Chris­tian com­mu­nity.”

Cha­put’s gra­cious stance far ex­ceeds the rank hypocrisy of those who want to keep re­li­gion out of pol­i­tics, and yet lord pol­i­tics over re­li­gion. If you don’t want us telling you how to write your laws, don’t tell us how to man­age our sacra­ments. Deal?

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