Obama's Pick for Vice President Is Catholic. but the Bishops Deny Him Communion

By Sandro Magister

August 27, 2008

The reason is that Biden is a staunch abortion supporter. The archbishop of Denver says that he should refrain from presenting himself for communion. From Rome, Archbishop Burke is backing his stance. And in 2004, Ratzinger wrote to the American bishops...

ROMA, August 27, 2008 On the eve of the Democratic party convention in Denver, the party's candidate for president of the United States, Barack Obama, chose a Catholic as his vice presidential running mate, Senator Joseph Biden (in the photo).

The choice immediately reignited the controversy over whether or not Eucharistic communion should be given to pro-abortion Catholic politicians.

Biden is one of these. The son of working class Irish parents, as a boy he thought about entering the seminary and has his rosary always in his pocket. He goes to Mass every Sunday and receives communion at his parish, St. Joseph's in Greenville, Delaware.

But as a politician, he has always vigorously upheld the Roe v. Wade decision of the supreme court, which opened the way to legal abortion in the United States. He says that he accepts the teaching of the Catholic Church on life, beginning from conception, and he voted for a law prohibiting abortion in the last weeks of pregnancy, but he maintains that the Roe v. Wade decision is correct for a society that has different views on abortion.

In an interview with the "Christian Science Monitor," Biden said that he believes his positions are "totally consistent with Catholic social doctrine."

But this is not the view of Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver, the city in which the Democratic party is officially presenting Obama and Biden as its candidates for the presidential election.

In interview with the Associated Press, Chaput said that Biden's support for the so-called "right" to abortion is a serious public error. And he added: "I presume that his integrity will lead him to refrain from presenting himself for Communion."

During these same days, from Rome, another American archbishop, Raymond L. Burke, has spoken out on the same question and along the same lines: he, too, says communion should not be given to pro-abortion Catholic politicians.

Neither Burke nor Chaput is new to taking stances like these. In 2004, on the eve of the previous presidential election, Burke advocated withholding communion from the Democratic candidate for the White House at the time, John Kerry, also a "pro-choice" Catholic.

In June of that year, from Rome, then-cardinal Joseph Ratzinger had sent to the United States bishops' conference a memorandum stating the "general principles" on this question.

Ratzinger's memorandum was private, but www.chiesa published it in its entirety. It sided with the unyielding bishops like Burke and Chaput. But most of the bishops in the United States were against withholding communion from Catholic politicians who support abortion. There were even two authoritative cardinals from the conservative wing, Francis E. George of Chicago and the Jesuit theologian Avery Dulles, who said they were reluctant to "make the Eucharist a political battleground." In the end, the bishops' conference decided to "apply" the principles presented by Ratzinger on a case-by-case basis, leaving it "to each bishop to express prudent pastoral judgments in his own specific circumstances."

From Rome, Cardinal Ratzinger accepted this solution and said that it was "in harmony" with the general principles of his memorandum.

In this, Ratzinger adopted a practice typical of Catholic countries in Europe, where rigorous principles coexist with more flexible pastoral customs.

In Europe, in effect, the Catholic Church has never addressed or created cases similar to those of Kerry or Biden in the United States. In recent decades in Europe, bishops, cardinals, and popes have knowingly given communion to Catholic politicians who advance abortion laws. In 1989, the devoutly Catholic king Baudouin of Belgium temporarily abdicated his throne to avoid signing a law on abortion, but this was an entirely personal gesture: no one in the Church's hierarchy had asked him to do so.

Returning to the United States, Senator Biden's case nonetheless presents new aspects compared to the case of Kerry four years ago.

First of all, Ratzinger was a cardinal back then, and has now become pope. And an important part of his magisterium is focused on the theme of the memorandum that he sent to the United States bishops in 2004: how one becomes "worthy of receiving holy communion," or unworthy.

Secondly, the bishop of Denver, Chaput, is becoming increasingly prominent among the United States bishops. Just recently, he published a book on how act in politics in keeping with the Catholic faith, with a clear statement that communion should be withheld from those who promote abortion. And the book entitled "Render Unto Caesar. Serving the Nation by Living Our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life" recently received a positive review in "L'Osservatore Romano," which recommended that it be read "in the United States and elsewhere."

In the third place, there is the interview with Burke. Until last June 27, he was the archbishop of St. Louis. After this, he was called to Rome as the new prefect of the supreme tribunal of the apostolic signatura. In this capacity, he therefore spoke as a representative of the Church's central government, in close connection with the pope.

Finally, it must be noted that the prevailing tendency among the American bishops on giving communion to pro-abortion Catholic politicians is more rigorous than in the past. Proof of this is in the controversy that followed Benedict XVI's trip to the United States last April, over the reception of communion during the papal Masses by John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi, Ted Kennedy, and Rudy Giuliani. On that occasion, the cardinal of New York, Edward Egan, condemned their actions in unusually harsh terms.

Here follow some of the passages from the interview Burke gave to Thomas J. McKenna, founder and president of Catholic Action for Faith and Family, an interview republished in Rome, in Italian, by the monthly "Radici Cristiane."

After this as a helpful reminder is the memorandum that Ratzinger sent to the United States bishops in 2004:


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