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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

October 30: Here We Go Again: Biden Denied Communion in South Carolina

I wrote about an old problem for pro-choice Catholic Democrats at New York this week:

[A] priest in South Carolina announced that he had denied Communion to Joe Biden on Sunday, according to WPDE:

“The pastor and priest of St. Anthony Catholic Church in Florence refused to give communion this past Sunday to Former Vice President and Presidential Hopeful Joe Biden …

“The church’s pastor, Rev. Robert E. Morey, released the following statement on the matter:

“’Sadly, this past Sunday, I had to refuse Holy Communion to Former Vice President Joe Biden. Holy Communion signifies we are one with God, each other and the Church. Our actions should reflect that. Any public figure who advocates for abortion places himself or herself outside of Church teaching. As a priest, it is my responsibility to minister to those souls entrusted to my care, and I must do so even in the most difficult situations. I will keep Mr. Biden in my prayers.'”

This isn’t a new experience for Biden: In 2008, when he was running for vice-president on a ticket with Barack Obama, the bishop of Scranton, Pennsylvania, where Biden was born, went out of his way to make it known that the then-senator would be banned from taking Communion in his diocese. The subject became a big and noisy deal in 2004 when two Catholic bishops made a similar declaration with respect to Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, just the third Catholic (after Al Smith and John F. Kennedy) to head a national party ticket. There was some talk of denying 2016 Democratic veep candidate Tim Kaine access to Communion over his positions on abortion and same-sex marriage. Most recently, the bishop of Springfield, Illinois, barred Communion for any of the state legislators who supported a pro-choice bill. Even where the hierarchy or individual priests have not made such abrasive statements, pro-choice Catholic pols are often encouraged quietly to stay away from the altar.

The basis of this sort of excommunication is a provision of church law, Canon 915, that those “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.” Many Catholic leaders are reluctant to single out pro-choice pols for this sanction, given the strong tendency of anti-abortion pols to run afoul of Church teachings on important issues ranging from capital punishment to immigration to climate change.

Biden, of course, has gotten some heat in Democratic circles for long-ago anti-abortion views, and for a more recent position supporting the Hyde Amendment barring use of public funds for abortion services (which he finally reversed in June). His willingness to put up with harassment from the odd bishop or priest will probably make him more credible in feminist circles, though he probably won’t get into a big public fight with his Church, either. His campaign responded to questions about the South Carolina incident by calling it a “private matter.” As Biden surely knows by now, there’s not a lot of privacy on the presidential campaign trail.

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