Was S.C. priest right to refuse communion to Biden?

View of the front entrance of the Co-Cathedral. Photo courtesy of Co-Cathedral Website

Former Vice President Joe Biden, a member of the Roman Catholic Church, stopped in Florence, S.C. last month to attend Sunday mass. However, he was denied communion by the priest celebrating the mass, the Rev. Robert Morey.

Morey, a former criminal defense attorney, gave a public statement supporting his withholding of communion.

“Sadly, this past Sunday, I had to refuse Holy Communion to former Vice President Joe Biden,” Morey said. “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.”

Morey also said that he would keep Biden in his prayers.

This very deliberate action by Morey put gas on the fire of an already massive debate in the Catholic sphere.

The question: Should Catholic politicians who publicly support pro-abortion legislation be denied communion?

Biden’s position as a Catholic public figure endows him with great responsibility and influence, especially as many who follow him may not be familiar with the teachings of the Catholic church, particularly when it comes to abortion.

According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website, the Catholic church’s view on abortion is:

“…that the killing of an unborn child is always intrinsically evil and can never be justified. If those who perform an abortion and those who cooperate willingly in the action are fully aware of the objective evil of what they do, they are guilty of grave sin and thereby separate themselves from God’s grace.”

A USCCB article, Catholics in Political Life, dives deeper into this position of the Catholic church.

Fr. Will Ganci, a parochial vicar at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Tallahassee and a priest of 10 years, sent a statement about the situation via email.

“I do not believe that the moment of Holy Communion is the time for ecclesial discipline,” Ganci said. “If any Catholic Christian presents themselves for Holy Communion, I believe that a presumption ought to be made that the person is properly disposed to receive the Almighty and Merciful One.”

Ganci also said that the primary responsibility lies with the clergy of the church to educate what “constitutes a proper disposition” to receive Holy Communion and the secondary responsibility lies with the individual to make a proper self-examination before receiving. Ganci supported this statement quoting Bible scripture 1 Corinthians 11:29

“For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself, if he does not judge the body rightly.”

In terms of reconciling with the church, Ganci says, “…it would be laudable of (Biden) as a Catholic Christian to make a statement disavowing his public stance on abortion and to promote the rights of the unborn child together with the genuine welfare of the child’s parents.”

Fr. Tim Holeda, parochial vicar at the Co-Cathedral of St. Thomas More on West Tennessee Street and priest of eight years, also sent a statement via email.

“First,” said Holeda. “There have been a number of papal masses where known abortion rights advocates have attended and received communion. Secondly, I think it is dangerous to put the burden of judging who is to present themselves for communion on the shoulders of the priest. There are clear guidelines for who should be receiving communion, and I believe that burden falls on the individual to search their own conscience with the aid of their pastor/bishop.”

Holeda also mentioned that he does not agree with some Catholics’ stance in supporting abortion rights but that this debate “sheds light on the complexity of the issue that some would like to reduce to simple party ideology.”