‘A Private Matter’: Joe Biden’s Very Public Clash With His Own Church

Shortly after 9 a.m. on a Sunday in October 2019, Biden went to St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in Florence, SC. Later that morning he had his last campaign event of the weekend, a visit to a Baptist church 30 miles up the street, and he was about to stop for mass.

The Rev. Robert Morey was waiting for him.

As reported first by doing Wall Street Journal, Morey made a point of switching communion lines to meet Biden face-to-face when the presidential candidate arrived in front of the church.

There are several ways to withhold communion from someone. A bishop or priest can do this beforehand by quietly pulling someone aside in a church. You can do it in a letter, like the one A New Mexico senator received a warning from his pastor in July that voting for a law protecting access to abortion would be “a grave moral evil and that he should not present himself for communion,” a statement from the Diocese of Las said Cruces. Sometimes it happens in church when someone is messy. Sometimes “it shows from their behavior that they are not Catholic and have never been Catholic,” Bishop Stowe told me. “We try to do this in a way that is not embarrassing for the person. Most of us have accepted a gesture where instead we would simply give someone a blessing. “

Morey tried a blessing, she said diary, the two men seemed to be exchanging words and Biden left.

Campaign staff who were in South Carolina at the time now work in administration and were afraid to speak of Biden’s response to a confrontation that was certainly avoidable. The story quickly leaked the local newspaper, the Morning news“Unfortunately,” began his statement, “I had to refuse Holy Communion to former Vice President Joe Biden,” said Morey, who is now retired Morning news by email. “Holy Communion means that we are one with God, with one another and with the Church. Our actions should reflect this. Every public figure who advocates abortion places himself outside of church teaching. “

The South Carolina priest “probably did not want to put the lay preacher in an awkward position,” Stowe said of the person who gave communion on a separate line “or wanted to attract attention.” Archbishop John C. Wester of Santa Fe, a bishop who opposed exhortation from electoral politicians to attend communion, said that in any situation, “to deny someone the Eucharist means making a judgment on a very personal level . ”

Another bishop, Robert McElroy of San Diego, said he couldn’t remember a time when he refused communion to anyone.

“The issue of abortion is an enormously serious moral wound in our political and social life – all bishops agree on this,” said McElroy, who, in his opinion, has driven the church fellowship further into partisanship. “The difference is in how the bishops prioritize it. A very significant number of bishops believe that abortion is the primary issue. “

It was more than annoying for many Democrats to see their obviously loyal candidate being publicly reprimanded in an election to defeat Donald Trump. The president was an electoral supporter for much of his life, known for being Mocking people for their beliefs, once described the practice of communion as “my little wine” and “my little biscuit” and later in the campaign posed with a Bible upside down in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church as he ordered tear gas poisoning to protest for racial justice. When Trump attacked Biden’s beliefs during the election, he was hardly conclusive: “No religion, nothing, hurts the Bible, hurts God, he’s against God, he’s against weapons.” Incredibly, he didn’t seem to know enough to hit the most obvious goal: abortion.

At Biden headquarters, former campaign workers said the South Carolina incident was like any campaign shake: “We got a lot of feedback from people about what to do,” said Dickson, the former director of national faith engagement. But “it hasn’t really changed anything,” he said. “It was just something that we moved on and the president went on with what he has done all his career and being who he is.” South Carolina is heavily Baptist, and in parts of the state, as a longtime Democratic activist noted there, you can still find people who still consider Catholicism a sect. Four months after visiting Florence, when he won the state by 29 points, no one spoke of Rev. Robert Morey or Joe Biden’s Catholicism.

Still, a line had been crossed – one that John Kerry never had to deal with.

Tom Vilsack, the former Iowa governor and a lifelong Catholic who is now Biden’s Secretary of Agriculture, said he was never denied communion. However, once while campaigning with Kerry in Dubuque in 2004, a church they were going to attend mass gave them “caution” that communion “would not be served.” Another time his wife was running for Congress in a Conservative District, Iowa 4th, the couple stopped at a Catholic church one weekend where parishioners “literally turned their backs on them,” he said.

“Boy, I’ve never felt this unwelcome before.”

It was difficult, Vilsack told me, to put the feeling of confrontation into words.

“There are two levels: there is the potential humiliation you may feel when people are watching. But I don’t think that was so important to Joe Biden that people would talk about it or stare at him or whatever. The second level that influenced Biden, Vilsack said, was that he did not receive communion that day. “He didn’t have the presence you get when you go to communion as a very loyal Catholic. It is a very personal opportunity to connect with God. It’s kind of a magical moment. I am sure that he was disappointed that he did not have the ability to do so this Sunday. “

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