The Thinking 

Why Hasn’t Joe Biden Been Excommunicated?

October 12, 2012


THERE is a vacuum of authority at the  highest levels of the Church. Once again last night, Joe Biden, whose diabolical smirk dominated the vice-presidential debate, stated his support for Roe v. Wade. He said he doesn’t support abortion in his private life, but doesn’t believe it’s right to impose his belief on others, including Jews and Muslims, as if  opposition to abortion was a private religious practice, comparable to abstaining from meat on Friday or attending Mass. Biden, who met privately with Pope Benedict XVI just last year, knows full well that his position is rejected by the Church. When Benedict met with Nancy Pelosi in 2009, he explained to her why her position was wrong. He surely did the same with Biden. The Vatican News Service reported after Pelosi’s visit:

His Holiness took the opportunity to speak of the requirements of the natural moral law and the Church’s consistent teaching on the dignity of human life from conception to natural death which enjoin all Catholics, and especially legislators, jurists and those responsible for the common good of society, to work in co-operation with all men and women of good will in creating a just system of laws capable of protecting human life at all stages of its development.

 —– Comments ——

Kevin M. writes:

I would like to see excommunication used much more frequently. If you support abortion, you are out of this Church. Abortion is murder or it is not. The Church has made its view quite clear; however, it has failed to put its muscle behind its mouth. When the House of God refuses to police its own, it can claim no moral authority to police the souls of its congregation.

I communicated online with a few men who are members of Protestant churches in the Knoxville, TN, area. They told me that their deacons/pastors/whatever make it clear that no members of their churches may get married in those churches if they obtain state-issued marriage licenses. They will not abide by unilateral divorce laws nor the presumption of paternity (which they see as giving a license to women to be fruitfully unfaithful at the expense of their husbands). No matter if I agree with their principles, I have to admire their resolve to keep marriage an institution fully within the church and not subject to the whims of idiot lawmakers and lawyers. That is fortitude. I wish the Vatican had some of it.

John E. writes:

The sentence of excommunication is intended to have a medicinal effect of bringing the offender back into the fold both in word and deed. This presupposes that the offender has the necessary deference to the bishop for the former to consider the sentence as detrimental to his soul because of the separation it imposes between him and normal access to the Sacraments. Politicians such as Pelosi and Biden clearly do not have such deference, and will do what they please with Holy Communion no matter what anyone says. It could be that ecclesial authorities have judged that a sentence of excommunication would have a greater detrimental effect on their souls than leaving things simply as they are, because, in addition to their offenses against the Body and Blood of Christ because of their outright defiance of Church teaching, they would also almost certainly add the offense of direct disobedience to ecclesial authorities by continuing to receive Holy Communion while under the sentence of pronounced excommunication.

There are certain instances where, as a matter of “parental strategy,” I refrain from imposing a requirement of obedience on my children in matters that ideally I would like to see obedience, but the matter is relatively small. For whatever reason (usually it has to do with their young age), I know that there is virtually no likelihood that my child would actually obey what I would require, yet he would still have etched in his memory that I had required something, and he had not obeyed. In these instances I judge that the greater offense would be to disobey a father’s requirement than to commit the deed that, strictly speaking, I would that he not do. Thus I refrain from imposing the requirement of obedience.

It is with difficulty that we project my analogy upon the likes of Biden or Pelosi because of the innocence of my young children compared to the willful and knowledgeable defiance of disobedient politicians. However, I think there could be something that the Holy Father and bishops are trying to accomplish strategy-wise in a similar vein. That the bishops do not pronounce excommunication on defiant politicians could be for the reason that they look at excommunication for these as having not the desired effect of medicine, but of a greater poison than that which they have already imbibed. This could explain also why excommunication has been pronounced in the past on more conservative and traditional organizations, such as the Society of St. Pius X. While it may appear that the Vatican is taking a particularly heavy hand against traditional groups but winking through the liberal and defiant politicians, it could be that the Vatican considers the sentence of excommunication to be more likely to have the desired effect of a medicine on those who actually venerate tradition, and the deference that goes to ecclesial authority along with it, such as the SSPX. For those of whom it is well known that they do not recognize rightful authority, excommunication may be placing their souls in greater danger than withholding such a sentence.

Of course these are only my thoughts, and I could be entirely wrong; and even if I’m on to something with the strategy of the Vatican, this does not mean that such a strategy is necessarily a wise one. One thing is certain – we live in a very perilous time for souls, and perhaps a particularly difficult time in history to be a Catholic. I was searching for an apt Flannery O’Connor quote that is only vaguely in my memory. I couldn’t find the exact one that I was looking for, so I have to settle for this one: “You don’t serve God by saying: the Church is ineffective, I’ll have none of it. Your pain at its lack of effectiveness is a sign of your nearness to God. We help overcome this lack of effectiveness simply by suffering on account of it.”

Laura writes:

Thank you for writing.

I am confused. I am not learned on this subject and there may be very good reasons, as you say, for the failure to reprimand Biden in a serious way, but I thought excommunication was not just for the good of the excommunicated but for the Church as a whole and for all individuals within the Church, showing by example that its teachings are objective truths and that those who publicly and repeatedly (after patient and thorough instruction) defy and attack Church teachings have alienated themselves from God and cannot justly partake of the sacraments.

If someone with the power of the vice president of the United States is not excommunicated for his open defiance of Church teaching, his willful distortion of this teaching (not just on abortion but on same-sex marriage and possibly on other issues involving government deprivation of individual rights and freedoms) and his harmful influence on many millions of Catholics, it seems to me that very few, if any, lay persons would qualify and therefore it seems that the Church is a very congenial and nurturing shelter for its own worst enemies.

John responds:

I agree that there is a very real possibility of scandal involved, and as such, excommunication should work not only as medicine for the offender, but also as a warning to the observer. For this reason, such a strategy as I conjecture may not be a good one. At the same time, the malaise in our society that could make excommunication ineffective goes much deeper than merely our politicians. Almost everyone is defiant of authority, such that the typical Catholic even considers excommunication as a quaint, medieval sort of thing that the Church did once to try to micromanage and control laypeople. As such, frequent excommunications in our day could also have a detrimental effect among the faithful because of their general antipathy towards authority. Ironic, because it doesn’t sound very “faithful” to me. Such is the sickness in our day.

Paul writes:

Although I think excommunication might be warranted in the case of people (such as Biden) who promote abortion, excommunication is an extreme action that condemns a Catholic to hell.  This is a caution to those who might misinterpret your opinion.  Although I know nothing about violations (except violations against Catholic doctrine) that justify excommunication, I know a case where excommunication of a public official seems unjustified.

Archbishop Joseph Rummel of the New Orleans Archdiocese excommunicated Leander Perez around 1962 for defying Rummel’s order to desegregate Perez’s Catholic schools and perhaps because Perez pressured business leaders to fire employees who allowed their children to attend integrated schools.  (Judge Perez and the Church eventually reconciled.)  I suppose the Church violation was the implied failure to believe in the Holy Catholic Church by means of defying an archbishop’s order.  The basis of the decision, according to one source, was not Perez’s so-called racism (a word that means evil animus towards those of another race).

Contrary to the torturous murder of unborn children, Perez’s actions were part of a nonviolent fight for his culture much as traditionalists are doing today.  Almost all Southerners with large black populations nearby knew the violent havoc that uncontrolled non-discrimination was going to wreak and is still wreaking.  He was heavy-handed no doubt; but his actions were nonviolent.  Judge Perez was brilliant, as one can discover by reading T. Harry Williams’ entertaining and definitive book, Huey Long.  (Williams won the Pulitzer.)

People should not be misled about Judge Perez though.  Privately, Perez’s police kept blacks from moving into Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes.  Like Long, Perez was a dictator who controlled Plaquemines Parish (recently in the national headlines as the parish most flooded by Hurricane Isaac), adjacent St. Bernard Parish, and some other River Parishes (those that abut the Mississippi) except New Orleans, which was a dedicated opponent of Long and Perez.

Like Long, Perez was a thief, although Professor Williams does not explicitly say this about Long.  Perez, loved as a “man of the people,” extracted or stole probably being the better word, by corruption, massive amounts of money from his peoples’ oil and gas.  This particular corruption was accepted rumor among New Orleanians but did not come out until long after he died and his children started suing one another.

Perez was so corrupt that in one Long election (back in the 1920s or 1930s), Long had to call Perez and tell him to stop stuffing the ballot boxes to such an extent that Long feared an investigation.  Of course Long was ordering stuffing everywhere.

Hopefully, this bit of history will peak interest in the main issue: whether those who advocate abortion should be excommunicated.  Should those who oppose the Church’s seeming advocacy of open borders be excommunicated?

Laura writes:

Fascinating. Yes, I could see how excommunication could be abused.

Mary writes:

I think the problem is that if Biden is excommunicated it would be seen as unjust by millions upon millions of Catholics who have grown up not understanding that you need to be in a state of grace to receive Holy Communion. Decades ago congregations slowly started receiving en masse regardless of whether or not each member had gone to confession, broken the fast, etc etc. Now it is a common practice. Most Catholics don’t understand that while we are required to attend Sunday Mass we are not required to receive and can abstain whenever we feel it necessary for our souls. It should not be embarassing to abstain from communion but many feel it is. Obviously it is better to be properly disposed and to receive as often as possible, but it is much worse to receive unworthily – a mortal sin, in fact. This is the great disconnect. People don’t realize this. Poor Catechesis has done so much damage.

I can remember at my old parish abstaining due to breaking the fast and having an usher come over smiling and telling me “join us!”, trying to get me to go up and receive. Awful. [Laura writes: WOW.] Limited availability of confession, sometimes only 1 hour a week on Saturday, is a huge problem, for people don’t even think of it. In my current church no one thinks twice if you abstain. Confession is available before every Mass and sometimes during Mass. Confession is ubiquitous and under those circumstances it is hard to avoid going for any length of time. Bringing back the three-hour fast would help too.

Holy Eucharist is one of the principle ways in which we receive grace. Grace is not the absence of sin but is a spiritual quality infused into the soul by God (thank you Balt. Cat.). When we receive communion without being in a state of grace it is very grave for we are not only cutting off the grace necessary for our salvation but we are committing a sacrilege. When we do this for years and years we have only to answer to God. Biden would be looked upon with nothing but pity by his fellow parishioners, by all of America’s Catholics, if only they knew this truth. And that pity would drive him into resolving the situation one way or another. America’s Catholics would know this truth if the Bishops asked every parish priest to forget about people being angry and just tell it like it is from the pulpit and in the confessional, for the sake of souls. For if nothing else that is their job. Indeed, they should crave the salvation of souls.

Laura writes:

Mary writes:

Biden would be looked upon with nothing but pity by his fellow parishioners, by all of America’s Catholics, if only they knew this truth. And that pity would drive him into resolving the situation one way or another.

Perhaps he would be looked upon not just with pity but with disapproval. He would feel uncomfortable receiving Communion.

Okay, this has helped me see this issue more clearly. I think Mary is right. The problem is this generally lax climate when it comes to receiving Communion.

Paul writes:

Thank you for leading me to discover (that is, articles 2270-2275 of the Catechism) the Catholic Church has classified abortion as a mortal sin.  I had been assuming the Church’s position was one of mere discouragement, as its position so far remains for race preferences.

Biden’s actions though might not violate the Articles or canon law.  On the one hand, Biden does procure abortions according to the Merriam-Webster definition of procure, which is used in article 2272: “Obtain by particular care and effort.”  However, his actions arguably do not constitute formal cooperation in a particular abortion, which article 2272 certainly addresses.  Based on cursory research into canon law, I was unable to find a definition of procure or to conclude Biden’s position is considered a mortal sin.

Let your readers realize I believe abortion is an abomination and without excuse but forgivable by a Catholic priest or if a priest is unavailable before death, by an act of contrition.

The fear of schism could be a major factor that is preventing the Church from excommunicating pro-abortion leaders.  Many, many Catholics believe abortion is not a mortal sin even in the cases of rape and incest.  Could excommunicating vast numbers of Catholics cause many Protestants, many of whom oppose abortion, return to the Church?

Henry McCulloch writes:

What is perhaps most galling about the Catholic Church’s critics-from-within is their dishonesty and their selfish insistence on continuing to impose themselves on the Church. People who dissent so strenuously from core doctrines of Catholic Christianity are no longer truly Catholic; can they even be considered Christian any longer? Yet they insist on retaining the label and on being considered Catholic, just as they insist on their right to criticize from within.

Such critics are in truth apostates. If they were intellectually honest, they would acknowledge their apostasy, cease claiming to be Catholic, and – if they are determined to preach their point of view – explain how and why they ceased to be Catholic. In America – for the moment, anyway – we are free to speak our minds about such matters. So the apostates, if they were honest, would not present their apostasy as a new and better Catholicism, but as a liberal alternative to it.

Of course, that should hold true not only for dissenting religious, but for defiantly dissenting “Catholic” politicians as well. In that respect, the contrast between Ryan and Biden was striking last evening. Both men may wear the label, but only of them is a Catholic any longer.

And the departing dissenters needn’t worry: unlike in Islam, Christians today do not punish apostasy with death!

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