Over Thanksgiving weekend, Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington, D.C. went to Rome to receive a cardinal’s hat. His Eminence will henceforth be known as Cardinal Gregory, as he exercises an office that carries with it great responsibility.
His elevation to cardinal coincides with the possible elevation of Joseph Biden to the presidency of the United States. Thus, the stage should be set for a clash between the avowedly pro-abortion Biden and the American Catholic hierarchy that has gone on record as saying procured abortion is a preeminent issue in the 2020 elections.
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However, the clash will not happen in Washington. Cardinal Gregory told a reporter that he would not deny Holy Communion to Mr. Biden in his diocese despite the candidate’s campaign pledge to enshrine access to abortion in federal law and permit federal funding of abortions.
Cardinal Burke Says No Communion for Biden
Raymond Cardinal Burke’s position is the very opposite.
In an interview, the former prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura declared: “[Biden] is not a Catholic in good standing and he should not approach to receive Holy Communion. . . . [h]e should not approach to receive Holy Communion because he gives scandal to everyone. Because if someone says ‘well, I’m a devout Catholic’ and at the same time is promoting abortion, it gives the impression to others that it’s acceptable for a Catholic to be in favor of abortion and, of course, it’s absolutely not acceptable. It never has been, it never will be.”
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Cardinal Burke’s decades-long position is firmly grounded on Saint Paul’s teaching: “[W]hosoever shall eat this bread, or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Cor. 11:27).
Ordinary Catholics are beyond perplexed at how two cardinals uphold opposed moral positions. Does the Church not “speak with one voice”? Does the principle of non-contradiction no longer apply? How can two contradictory moral positions both be true in the same sense and at the same time?
Mr. Biden is also an enthusiastic proponent of same-sex “marriage. This only adds to the gravity of his pro-abortion position. After the Supreme Court’s 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision, the then-vice president celebrated the ruling by officiating at a civil ceremony that recognized the “union” of two men. He is committed to promoting the LGBT agenda.
Dialogue Not Confrontation
Cardinal Gregory’s statement indicates his relationship with Mr. Biden will be one of dialogue, not confrontation. He further stated that he hopes to find common ground with Mr. Biden.
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“The kind of relationship that I hope we will have is a conversational relationship where we can discover areas where we can cooperate that reflect the social teachings of the church,” the cardinal told the Catholic News Service, “knowing full well that there are some areas where we won’t agree.”
Church Teaching on Social Issues
The position of the Church on politicians espousing contrary views on social issues is extremely clear. A 2004 memo addressed to the U.S. bishops signed by then-Cardinal Ratzinger outlined the conditions when which Holy Communion should be denied. Such sanctions can be applied to a forewarned Catholic politician “consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws,” who is thus engaged in “manifest” and “formal cooperation” in grave sin.
Canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law further states that Catholics “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.”
There is no doubt that Mr. Biden’s consistent actions and positions qualify for the applications of these Vatican rules and guidelines.
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There is also no doubt that the Church must take an active position denouncing these social evils and those who facilitate them.
More than Just a Political Problem
However, the cardinal’s statement about dialoguing with Mr. Biden has caused a stir on all sides. Many are complaining that his comments show how he lacks commitment to the cause of the unborn.
Others are praising the cardinal’s position as a witness to his civility and tolerance. They say he is refusing to “politicize” the Eucharist at a time when everything is politicized. He is pursuing a pastoral and prudent approach at a time of extreme polarization.
One big problem about the debate over Mr. Biden’s defiance of Church teaching on procured abortion and same-sex “marriage” is that many wrongly regard it as only a political issue. No one denies that these issues can have great consequences in society and contribute to its breakdown. However, Mr. Biden’s denials involve moral issues. Therefore, they must be considered in the supernatural sphere. They influence humanity’s relationship with God.
For this reason, there are three simple questions to Cardinal Gregory. All of them address vital moral issues of the day. At this time of crisis in the civil and religious spheres, these three questions need urgent replies.
Does Church Law Matter Anymore?
The first question is: Does Church law matter anymore?
A law is only worth something to the extent that it is enforced. The Church has a Code of Canon Law to help guarantee the Church’s proper operation and orthodoxy. In the case of Mr. Biden (and so many other pro-abortion Catholic politicians), it appears this law is not being applied. Few are punished for publicly denying Church moral teaching. Few are disciplined. It seems that offenders have free license to break Church law and scandalize the faithful.
Indeed, one wonders, for the law to be applied, what kind of offense would it take? There seems to be no action too evil to warrant the Church’s excommunications and sanctions. In 2019, Catholics were shocked, for example, when New York’s Timothy Cardinal Dolan said that he would not deny Holy Communion to Governor Andrew Cuomo when the latter had just signed one of the country’s most permissive abortion laws ever.
Can Cardinal Gregory answer this question of vital importance to proper Church functioning? Millions of Catholics would like an answer.
Does Sin Still Matter?
The second question for the cardinal is more serious: Does sin matter anymore?
The superficiality with which churchmen deal with the grave sins of procured abortion and homosexual acts makes the faithful wonder if they still believe that there are intrinsic evils, sins that gravely offend God, and which must be avoided, therefore, at all costs. Indeed, willful murder and sodomy are sins that call to heaven for vengeance.
Many still speak out against procured abortion because it kills innocent babies. However, little emphasis is placed on the sin. Procured abortion’s gravity as a mortal sin that offends God, the Creator of life, outweighs infinitely its horror as the killing of innocent human life. The same reasoning should be applied to the sin of sodomy. While its harm to humanity is immense, its offense to God, Who created human nature and determined its ordered actions, is infinitely worse.
Grave sins against God were the cause of the Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the highest reason for opposing procured abortion and unnatural vice. The faithful should hear fiery sermons on this subject.
The Real Presence
Finally, the third question to ask the cardinal: Does the Real Presence still matter today?
Those who give Holy Communion to pro-abortion politicians act as if they consider it just a symbol or a community meal. It is as if they did not believe in the Real Presence. Thus, for them, it would seem that the reception of the Holy Eucharist has little to do with God and everything to do with “community” and “fellowship.” Indeed, such churchmen politicize the sacrament because by giving Holy Communion to unworthy politicians, they turn a supernatural act into a political gesture. They grievously insult Our Lord.
If such ministers truly believe that the Eucharist is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, they should never allow for its profanation. Church law requires that the faithful be in the state of grace with no mortal sins outstanding to receive worthily. It requires that people not hold or facilitate attitudes that favor sins like procured abortion and sodomy.
The Church is in a crisis of faith that involves fundamental beliefs that need to be reaffirmed and defended. That is why these three simple questions need answers. They involve the Church’s identity and mission.