Biden and Pelosi’s “In Your Face” to Pope Francis

Nancy PelosiThere had been a little off-track betting going on among pro-life Catholics ( a tautology  for sure) as to whether or not Vice Joe Biden and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi would receive Holy Communion at the Mass of Installation for Pope Francis in Rome on Tuesday.  The yeas far out-polled the nays and the yeas proved to be right.

It was really a no-brainer. Biden and Pelosi and other pro–choice politicians have been thumbing their noses at church teaching for many years now.  Even though it has been repeated ad infinitum that their behavior is contrary to the Catholic teaching regarding the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death they have continually presented themselves at the altar rail.   They have never been denied the sacrament.

Some bishops have personally advised them not to receive Communion since their public stand aids and abets a heinous crime. These warnings are, however, deemed pastoral and have no teeth.  There is no unanimity among the bishops as to their imposition and whether or not an offending politician can be denied the sacrament if he or she presents themselves for Communion.

The timidity of the bishops stems from the lack of agreement as to how a bishop should apply Canon 915.  The canon states, Those who are excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion. This becomes problematic for two reasons:  first, because many bishops are loathe to accuse politicians of grave sin; and second, because excommunication is  a formal juridical act which effectively cuts off the offender from  the sacramental  life of the church.  It also means the denial of a Catholic funeral.  Since there is no direct mandate from the Vatican most bishops don’t want to take the risk of not being supported in their decision.

No doubt there would also be a strong public outcry protesting freedom of conscience and the obligation of politicians to represent their constituents.   Of course, there will also be references to  the Mario Cuomo mantra, “I am personally opposed to abortion but …” given at Notre Dame, in 1984, in which he cleverly tried to separate religious belief and public morality.  This speech was condemned by Cardinal John O’Connor,  since  it violated traditional Catholic teaching on the importance of public officials to form their consciences in light of the church’s moral teachings and the obligation to enact legislation in accord with it. Cuomo, however, was never counseled not to receive Communion.  Ever since more and more Catholics have decided that they can make their own decisions as to what is right and wrong.

biden grin 2Politicians like Biden and Pelosi have been stubborn and contumacious  in their pro-choice policies and in presenting themselves for reception of the Eucharist.  They know that the American bishops, for the most part, prefer a “pastoral approach” which means basically let’s talk to them and help them to see the error of their ways.  It has not worked and there is no indication that it will.  The topic of this essay is proof enough!  They also know that Catholic priests are instructed not to cause a scene on the Communion line and that the person be permitted to receive.  Both of them take advantage of these charitable loopholes.

There is a solution and perhaps some hope for stronger enforcement of church policy on offending pols.  The Vatican should clearly state that politicians who promote a culture of death, abortion and euthanasia, are subject to excommunication by their bishop.  Pope Emeritus  Benedict XVI  made an unofficial statement on a trip to Mexico, in 2007, stating  that excommunication for pro-choice legislators was not arbitrary and is part of Canon Law.   This would strengthen Canon 915 and some bishops’ back-bones.  It is well known that Pope Francis forbade pro-choice politicians from receiving Holy Communion in his diocese in Argentina.  Perhaps the new Pope can move this project along?

By the bishops refusing to take strong  action, such as excommunication, politicians will continue their “in your face” attitude toward the church and her leaders.  Such a failure will also continue to allow Catholics and people of good will to be scandalized.  Even worse, it gives the impression that others may follow the behavior of wayward  politicians with impunity.

Biden and Pelosi only did at the Vatican what they have been allowed to do at home.  As the great Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer  stated so well, dear bishops:  Not to act is to act!

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Chaplain and Research Fellow at Ave Maria Law. Father Michael P. Orsi was ordained for the Diocese of Camden in 1976 and has a broad background in teaching and educational administration. Fr. Orsi has authored or co-authored four books and over 300 articles in more than 45 journals, magazines and newspapers. He has served as Assistant Chancellor, Assistant Vicar for Pastoral Services, Director of Family Life Bureau, and Coordinator of Pope John Paul II’s visit to New Jersey for the Diocese of Camden. He has also served as a member of The Institute for Genomic Research at the University of Pennsylvania and as a member of New Jersey’s Advisory Council on AIDS. Fr. Orsi holds a Doctorate in Education from Fordham University, two Master degrees in Theology from Saint Charles Seminary, and a Bachelor of Arts from Cathedral College. He is presently serving as Chaplain and Research Fellow in Law and Religion at Ave Maria School of Law, Naples, Florida. He is a member of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars. In 2005 Fr. Orsi was appointed as a Senior Research Associate to the Linacre Center for Bioethics, London, England. Fr. Orsi co-hosts a weekly radio program The Advocate which discusses law and culture on WDEO-AM 990, WMAX-AM 1440 in metro Detroit and WDEO-FM 98.5 in southwest Florida [also linked at].

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