Denying President Biden Communion Lays Bare the Hypocrisy of the U.S. Catholic Church

How does the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops reconcile their effort to deny Biden communion for his beliefs on abortion with their own inaction against those who have sexually abused boys and girls?

Biden stands with a group at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., commemorating the life of four victims of a 1963 bombing. Biden, a staunch Catholic, is at the middle of a controversy with America’s Roman Catholic bishops who have decided to deny Biden communion for his stance on abortion.
Then-President-Elect Joe Biden at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., on September 15, 2019—56 years after a bombing that killed four young girls. (Adam Schultz / Biden for President)

As church membership continues to decline nationwide and scandal upon scandal is visited upon the doors of diocesan headquarters across the country, America’s Roman Catholic bishops have decided that now is the time to take a stand by denying President Biden communion. In doing so, they find themselves on the shakiest of ground.

At SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, we believe that the effort by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to deny President Joe Biden communion for his support of pro-choice legislation is a tone deaf move that will at best fail, at worst speed up the decline in church attendance among millennials and Gen Z.

Views on Abortion Have Evolved; Church Leadership Has Not

There are many things to unpack with this move from the USCCB. First and foremost, this effort starts from a faulty premise—that Catholics do not ever get abortions and that all Catholics vote against pro-choice ideals. However, 52 percent of all millennials who identify as Catholic believe abortion should be legal in most, if not all, cases. Furthermore, research shows in 2014 nearly a quarter of all abortions performed were requested by self-identified Catholics.

Similarly, Planned Parenthood reports that 79 percent of Americans do not want to see Roe v. Wade overturned. Clearly, the issue of abortion does not have as much opposition in Catholic communities as the USCCB seems to imply.

But the most egregious part of this stunt from the USCCB is that it comes at a time where their collective moral authority is most in question. Since August of 2018, the issue of clergy sexual abuse and cover-up has roared back into headlines after Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro uncovered the “playbook” that Catholic leaders across the world used to downplay, minimize and obfuscate cases of child molestation committed by clergy, brothers, nuns and lay Catholics. As states like New York, California, Louisiana and Arkansas adopt reforms that open courtroom doors to survivors, we expect even more stories about abuse and cover-up to come out.

For example, just this past week in Kansas City, the archdiocese headed by Joseph Naumann, the man who is leading the push to deny President Biden communion, admitted a priest previously cleared of sexual abuse was in fact guilty.

Here is a situation where a man who seriously and permanently damaged children was allowed to receive communion, and he was even permitted to administer communion despite his crimes. Why is President Biden held to a different standard than those who Catholic bishops have themselves trained, ordained and hired?

Why is President Biden held to a different standard than those who Catholic bishops have themselves trained, ordained and hired?

And this example can be extrapolated further: Think about all the abusive clergy—at least 7,100 based on current estimates—that have been able to receive communion. Unlike abortion, abusing children is actually mentioned in the Bible and the punishment for those who hurt children is severe indeed.

How do the USCCB leaders reconcile their effort to punish President Biden for his beliefs with their own inaction against those who have caused harm to boys and girls? If they truly followed their Bibles, the bishops and archbishops of the USCCB should be spending their time constructing and doling out millstones amongst themselves.

Church Leaders Should Clean Their Own House First

Right now, officials throughout the U.S. Catholic Church continue to drag their feet on bare minimum steps to protect children in their midst. Leaders of 20 dioceses—including Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, another outspoken voice in the effort to punish President Biden—steadfastly refuse to publish lists of abusers. The same is true of nearly 100 religious orders.

This action should have been required years ago, but the USCCB could now mandate this simple step be taken by every one of its members. Sadly, these church leaders clearly believe sending a rebuke to the president is more important. These men are simply out of touch.

The fact is, too many sitting members of the USCCB may themselves have been involved in the cover-up of abuse. It is both laughable and depressing that the men who allowed the scourge of sexual abuse to be visited upon so many children are today standing up and arguing that President Biden’s belief in pro-choice policy disqualifies him from receiving communion.

Ultimately, we believe that until the bishops and archbishops clean up their act and do all they can to protect the boys and girls attending their parishes and schools, they should stand down on telling others how to live and whether or not they are “holy” enough to receive the sacraments.

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Zach Hiner is the executive director of SNAP, the Survivors Network, which has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years.