By JD Flynn and Matt Hadro
A policy in the Diocese of Charleston, South Carolina requires priests to withhold the Eucharist from politicians and political candidates who support legal protection for abortion.
“Catholic public officials who consistently support abortion on demand are cooperating with evil in a public manner. By supporting pro-abortion legislation they participate in manifest grave sin, a condition which excludes them from admission to Holy Communion as long as they persist in the pro-abortion stance,” says a 2004 decree signed jointly by the bishops of Atlanta, Charleston, and Charlotte.
“We declare that Catholics serving in public life espousing positions contrary to the teaching of the Church on the sanctity and inviolability of human life, especially those running for or elected to public office, are not to be admitted to Holy Communion in any Catholic church within our jurisdictions: the Archdiocese of Atlanta, the Dioceses of Charleston and Charlotte.”
“We undertake this action to safeguard the sacred dignity of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, to reassure the faithful, and to save sinners,” the decree adds.
The decree, “Worthy to Receive the Lamb: Catholics in Political Life and the Reception of Holy Communion,” established policy for the Diocese of Charleston, where presidential candidate Joe Biden was denied the Eucharist on Sunday.
At St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in Florence, South Carolina, pastor Fr. Robert Morey denied Biden Holy Communion Oct. 27, while the Catholic presidential candidate was campaigning nearby that weekend and had attended Sunday Mass.
“Sadly, this past Sunday, I had to refuse Holy Communion to former Vice President Joe Biden,” Morey explained in a statement sent to CNA.
“Holy Communion signifies we are one with God, each other and the Church. Our actions should reflect that,” he stated.
“Any public figure who advocates for abortion places himself or herself outside of Church teaching,” the priest added.
The 2004 Charleston policy says that “Catholics in political life have the responsibility to exemplify in their public service this teaching of the Church, and to work for the protection of all innocent life. There can be no contradiction between the values bestowed by Baptism and the Catholic Faith, and the public expression of those values.”
“A manifest lack of proper disposition for Holy Communion is found to be present in those who consistently support pro-abortion legislation. Because support for pro-abortion legislation is gravely sinful, such persons should not be admitted to Holy Communion,” the decree continues.
Biden’s home diocese of Wilmington, Delaware issued a statement on Tuesday saying that Bishop W. Francis Malooly “has consistently refrained from politicizing the Eucharist, and will continue to do so.”
“The Church’s teachings on the protection of human life from the moment of conception is clear and well-known,” the statement said, adding that the bishop’s “preference” is “to interact with politicians individually who disagree with significant church teachings.”
In 2008, Malooly made largely the same point in response to Biden’s public support for abortion as he was campaigning on the ticket with then-presidential candidate Barack Obama.
Malooly said in the Sept. 4, 2008 edition of the diocesan newspaper The Dialog, that he did not “intend to politicize the Eucharist as a way of communication Catholic Church teachings, but would rather “get a lot more mileage out of a conversation trying to change the mind and heart than I would out of a public confrontation.”
Biden, one of the leading 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, is a Catholic who represented Delaware in the U.S. Senate from 1973 until 2009, and served as vice president from 2009 to 2017. In April of 2019, he announced his candidacy for president.
While Biden served in the Senate, he largely supported the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision that found a legal right to abortion, Roe v. Wade. He called his position “middle-of-the-road,” saying that he supported Roe but opposed late-term abortions and federal funding of abortions.
Since then, he has supported taxpayer funding of abortions via the repeal of the Hyde Amendment and Mexico City Policy, in his 2020 platform.
Biden’s 2020 campaign platform calls for the codification of Roe v. Wade as federal law. It also would ensure, as part of a health care “public option,” coverage of “a woman’s constitutional right to choose. Biden also favors reinstating taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider.
Debate over the application of the Code of Canon Law’s canon 915 to pro-choice politicians is not a new one. The canonical norm states that those “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.”
During the 2004 election, the U.S. bishops issued a statement “Catholics in Political Life” that left the decision to withhold Holy Communion to pro-abortion politicians to individual bishops.
Meanwhile, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, had sent a letter to Theodore McCarrick, then-Archbishop of Washington, with the expectation that it be read to fellow bishops.
The letter said that pro-abortion politicians—after first being admonished by their pastor on Church teaching and warning them against presenting themselves for Communion—“are not to be admitted to holy communion.”
The law’s definition of “manifest” participation in “grave sin” applies “in the case of a Catholic politician, as his consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws,” Ratzinger said.
McCarrick read some but not all of the letter to his fellow bishops at their summer meeting, omitting key parts and saying that Ratzinger had agreed with the bishops’ decision to leave the judgement about withholding Holy Communion up to each individual bishop. Ratzinger’s entire letter was reported to the public afterward.
It was in August 2004, shortly after that letter was read, that the Archbishop of Atlanta, then Archbishop John Donoghue, along with Bishop Peter Jugis of Charlotte and Bishop Robert Baker of Charleston jointly set policy for their dioceses.
A law “which legitimizes the direct killing of innocent human beings through abortion is intrinsically unjust, since it is directly opposed to the natural law, to God’s revealed commandments, and to the consequent right of every individual to possess life, from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death,” the bishops wrote.