A Religious Culture War? Why the Bishops’ Battle with Biden Matters – Liberal Article
Joe Biden is only the second Catholic president in US history. His religiosity is just as rare.
Practising a distinctly ‘liberal Christianity’, Biden’s roots in the faith animate his policies, from tackling poverty to climate change. Contrary to Trump’s general religious apathy, Biden’s faith is undoubtedly sincere. He is a weekly mass-goer, regular rosary-prayer, and lifelong believer in the Church. Most controversially, he is also a frequent receiver of communion. For many years, conservative Catholics have been working to deny giving communion to pro-abortion politicians. In the USA, they are now only a stone’s throw away.
Currently, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is drafting a report on ‘Eucharistic Coherence’. The Bishops insist that it seeks to lay down general conditions for receiving communion (also known as the Eucharist). In reality, the report will be overwhelmingly about one person: Joe Biden.
But why communion? Why Biden? And why bother?
For Catholics, Communion is central. The sacrament of the Eucharist, as it’s known, is ‘the “source and summit” of the Christian life’. It is also considered to be the Body and Blood of Christ. Acting as one of the most important aspects of Catholicism, it only seems natural that a devout, lifelong Church-goer should receive it.
But there are restrictions. To receive the Eucharist, a person’s soul must be pure, otherwise known as existing in a ‘state of grace’. This means they need to have confessed any big (‘mortal’) sins to a priest beforehand. Usually, this practice of examining one’s conscience for mortal sin is very subjective. It is also intensely personal (speaking from experience).
Yet, the USCCB wishes to put Biden’s soul on public trial. Given his active support for pro-abortion government measures, which won’t stop soon, conservative Catholics do not see Biden as worthy of communion. They want him banned until he ‘repents’.
It would be a landmark decision. Never before has the USCCB barred someone from the Eucharist. It is telling that the Bishops have targeted Biden though. Why don’t the Bishops ban the Republican Billy Barr from communion? Not only has he been complicit in inhumane anti-family immigration policies, particularly the separation of children from their parents, but also in the death penalty. With a successive line of Popes outright condemning this form of murder, it would seem intuitive for Billy Barr to be on the list too.
But no. There is an inordinate obsession with sexual politics in the American Church. Abortion may be the main focus, but it is flanked by strict (and contradictory) bans on contraception, remarriage, and homosexuality. Where’s the Bishops’ enthusiasm for promoting some of the key values of the Gospel, such as poverty of spirit?
This change of emphasis in the Church is extremely novel. Regardless of ones’ own views on abortion, it is clear that the Church’s stance is neither stated in scripture nor the writings of the Church Fathers. In particular, the murky claim that life starts at conception, in the literal sense, has no precedent in theology until the late 20th century. Unwittingly, the Church is playing into the politics of a sexual revolution which it seems to stand against.
Pope Francis is aiming to shift this. His 8-year long papacy has shifted the conversation away from the pre-born towards the already living. Towards the poor who are consistently ignored and manslaughtered. Towards a planet that is barely breathing.
Predictably, the Pope has issued a warning to the American Bishops not to proceed with Biden’s communion ban. Spending the Church’s time on one man’s personal soul when it can be used to better millions of others is not worthwhile. The Church is politicized enough already. But even the Pope’s condemnation might fall on deaf ears.
If the report is written and approved, it could change the American Church and even religion for years to come.
Firstly, it would create an indelible link between the Church and the Republican party, as Massimo Faggioli notes. Since the start of his presidency, the Church has treated Biden as an especially immoral case. Compare this to their relative silence over a remarkably more sinful Trump administration, and it becomes clear that the Bishops have been duped. At best they have unwittingly fallen into the politics of the Republicans. More likely though is that the Church has cooperated with an agenda that suits them.
The Bishops will fall out from this. When more pressing issues, such as a global pandemic and recession, faced them, they turned their backs to focus on petty political squabbles. Their already weak authority will be loosened further. Can they truly be considered beacons of guidance anymore?
More importantly, even if the report fails, its very inception will force Catholics across the world to reckon with their faith and what they hold dear. Does holding to the Church’s ‘Five Non-Negotiables’ matter more than practising the values in the Sermon of the Mount? Do they listen to their Bishops or their Bibles? The artificial battle created by the USCCB between public vs personal fate will appear at the forefront. Time will tell if people chose neither and jump ship altogether.
It seems the report may fail in the end. Without Vatican approval, it will flounder. Even more significantly, both of Biden’s Bishops have declared that they will still allow Biden to receive the Eucharist regardless. Ultimately then, the document itself is limp. But the process cannot be undone. The consequences will stick for a while to come.
Written by Chief Liberal Writer, Frank Allen
Point of Information
Biden is No More Moral than Trump – A Conservative Response
I largely agree with the premise of my colleague’s article. When the Church and State become too closely tied, it is generally always problematic. The Church has certainly been over-politicized as Frank notes, and if there were to be an increase of that, we would certainly be heading backwards in many of our liberties.
The attack on Biden’s right to a communion by the Bishops is an example of those rights being at risk. When the religious and the political become too closely tied, a lot is at stake.
I do, however, have a problem with Frank’s comparison between Biden and Trump. For far too long, people have placed the two Presidents alongside each other, creating an angelic character of Biden, subsequently making out Trump to be the devil. Frank writes that the Trump administration is “remarkably more sinful”. This to me does not tackle the over-politicization of the Church, or the dangers of the report on Biden at all. What it does do, is continue such a link, just with another figure.
But, if we are to draw a comparison between the two Presidents, I would like to discuss the “sinful” acts of Biden and Obama.
In 2018, Trump’s administration was under fire for putting migrant children in cages. This is obviously something that I could never defend. But what must be noted, and is not given the same amount of attention, is that it was Obama’s government that built those cages. These cages were in use for four years prior to Trump’s government. By May 2014, “more than 4,000 adults and children” were arriving at these Border Patrol detention cells. “Mothers with babies and young children were left for hours in 90-plus-degree heat, sprawled out on concrete floors with little more than bologna sandwiches and Kool-Aid.”
When I read about what happened under the works of Obama and Biden in 2014, I find it extremely challenging to align Biden with this perceived notion of moral greatness, and lack of sin. Directly comparing Trump and Biden in the pursuit of defending his moral integrity is quite frankly pointless.
Ultimately, Frank highlights a legitimate problem that runs the risk of the Church and the State becoming too intertwined. But to ignore Biden’s problematic acts and simply transfer the image of sin onto another political figure seems lazy to me.
Written by Senior Conservative Writer, Rebecca Selt
Risky play by the Bishops – A Labour Response
I largely agree with this article. An additional point is that the American Bishops do not seem to realise how attacking Biden over abortion rights can hurt the Church significantly.
Given the context of falling Church attendance following the clerical sexual abuse scandals, attacking Biden would likely prove disastrous. In the US, only 15 per cent of Cradle Catholics now attend weekly mass. Here in the UK this figure is even lower, at 13 per cent. Furthermore, opinion polls suggest that the majority of US Catholics ‘would side with Biden over the Bishops’. A study by the Pew Research Centre, for example, found that 56 per cent of American Catholics believe that abortion should be legal in all, if not most, cases. And more generally, for the Church to go after probably the US’s most prominent Catholic, who ‘attends Mass weekly and speaks of his faith regularly’, is a very risky move.
Although, abortion is a hill worth dying on for many Catholics. Despite over half of Catholics supporting legal abortions, the same study also found that in Catholics who actually attend Mass weekly, two-thirds of them believe abortion should be illegal in all cases. Pope Francis’s more liberal version of Catholicism would aim to cater to the less devout Catholics, who on the whole are more “pro-choice”. This explains the Pope’s warning to not ban Biden from taking Communion.
Written by Deputy Chief Labour Writer, Brian Byrne
Politics was a completely taboo subject for me as a young boy. Having lived almost all my life in Brunei and Qatar – two very strict, theocratic autocracies – I was cautious to keep my opinions well-guarded. The smallest negative remark about either country’s governance, for example, would’ve meant deportation for my family and I. Any non-approved political activity, no matter how naïve, had to be kept a secret. It was best not to question at all.
I am a third year student studying English and Film Studies at the University of Exeter. After completing my degree, I will be converting to law to begin my journey of becoming a commercial lawyer. As an avid reader of the Financial Times, I have begun to understand how important the commercial market is in forming global politics.