A new poll from the Pew Research Center found that an overwhelming majority of American Catholics believe that despite his support for abortion, President Joe Biden should be allowed to receive communion.
Biden’s outspoken support for abortion puts him at odds with the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, of which he is a member. The Catholic Church teaches that abortion is “gravely contrary to the moral law.” In a 2004 memo to then-Washington, D.C., Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and Wilton Gregory, who served as Bishop of Belleville, Illinois, at the time, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who would later become Pope Benedict XVI, outlined the factors that determined an individual’s “worthiness to receive communion.”
“Regarding the grave sin of abortion or euthanasia, when a person’s formal cooperation becomes manifest (understood, in the case of a Catholic politician, as his consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws), his Pastor should meet with him, instructing him about the Church’s teaching, informing him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist,” he wrote.
“When ‘these precautionary measures have not had their effect or in which they were not possible,’ and the person in question, with obstinate persistence, still presents himself to receive the Holy Eucharist, ‘the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it,’” the memo continued.
Biden’s position led a priest in South Carolina to deny him communion as he campaigned in the state ahead of the 2020 Democratic Party's presidential primaries. There is division among American Catholics about whether Biden and other Catholic politicians who support abortion should receive communion.
According to the Pew poll, which was released Tuesday, 67% of Catholics disagree with the idea that Biden should be denied communion, while 29% believe that his support for abortion should prevent him from receiving the sacrament. A majority of Catholic Republicans and those who lean Republican (55%) believe that Biden’s support for abortion should disqualify him from receiving communion, but their view is canceled out by the 87% of Catholic Democrats and Democrat leaners who feel otherwise.
As a whole, respondents gave an identical response when asked if politicians who disagree with the Church’s teachings on abortion should be able to receive communion. Sixty-seven percent said no while 29% said yes. However, the partisan breakdown differed slightly.
Republican and Republican-leaning Catholics were split almost evenly on whether priests should deny communion to a generic Catholic politician who is at odds with Church teachings on abortion, while 82% of Democrats and Democrat-leaning Catholics said a Catholic politician’s support for abortion should not disqualify them from communion.
Additionally, members of Catholic Church leadership have offered differing reactions to the action taken by this particular priest. High-ranking American Cardinal Raymond Burke described the priest’s decision to deny Biden communion as “right and just” while Gregory, who now serves as Archbishop of Washington, D.C., said that he would serve the then-President-elect communion in spite of his position on abortion.
The poll’s release comes as a statement made by Archbishop Joseph Naumann, the chair of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Pro-life Committee, has drawn intense reaction from both sides of the abortion debate.
Two liberal groups, Faithful America and Faith in Public Life Action, have started a petition seeking the removal of Naumann from his position after he declared that Biden should refrain from calling himself a “devout” Catholic in light of his position on abortion. As of Friday morning, the petition had amassed nearly 20,000 signatures.
“President Biden regularly demonstrates how important faith is to his personal life and to his commitment to justice and the common good. Yet instead of following the pastoral model of Pope Francis and other bishops who are building bridges with only the second Catholic president in U.S. history, the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ pro-life committee has questioned Biden’s faith and even praised a priest who once denied Biden communion,” the petition stated.
In addition to asking for Naumann’s removal, the petition asked the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to “select a new leader who will refrain from attacking the president’s personal faith, speak consistently about all life issues, work through sincere differences with respect, and join Pope Francis in seeking common ground with the administration.” It also claimed that bishops like Naumann “weaponize the sacraments (and) malign the faith of sincere Catholics” while accusing Naumann of “choosing the culture wars over pastoral leadership.”
Meanwhile, the group CatholicVote has written a letter in support of Naumann that is still collecting signatures. As of Friday morning, the letter had received more than 44,700 signatures. “We understand that your admonition of President Joe Biden, whose campaign was both funded and endorsed by Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, did not make you popular in some quarters,” the letter states in part.
“In publicly noting that the President’s unequivocal advocacy for abortion on demand makes him ineligible to receive Holy Communion, you have followed St. Paul’s directive to Timothy: ‘Proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching. For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine.’ (2 Tim 4:2-3) We thank you for your courage in transmitting ‘sound doctrine’ and for your commitment to defending the most vulnerable among us.”
The Pew poll, which was conducted between March 1–7, also asked Catholics whether Catholic politicians who disagree with some of the Church’s other teachings should be able to receive communion. Seventy-nine percent of Catholics believe that a Catholic politician who disagrees with the Church’s teachings on homosexuality should be eligible for communion. This view is held by 85% of Catholic Democrats and those who lean Democratic and 68% of Catholic Republicans and Republican leaners.
Higher numbers of Catholics believe that Catholic politicians who divert from the Church’s positions on the death penalty (79%) and immigration (86%) should still be allowed to receive communion. Among Catholics who identify with or lean toward one party or the other, the difference in views about the eligibility of Catholic politicians who disagree with the Church’s teachings on both issues is negligible.