Just after 9 a.m. on a Sunday in October 2019, Biden entered St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in Florence, South Carolina. He had his last weekend campaign event later that morning, a visit to a Baptist church 30 miles down the road, and he wanted to stop for mass.
Reverend Robert Morey was waiting for him.
As stated for the first time in the le journal Wall Street, Morey made a point of switching lines of communion to come face to face with Biden when the presidential candidate arrived in front of the church.
There are many ways to withhold Communion from someone. A bishop or priest can do this in advance, quietly taking someone aside from a church. They can do so in a letter, such as one that a New Mexico state senator received from his pastor in July, warning him that a vote for a bill to protect the access to abortion “would constitute a serious moral evil and that he should not present himself to the communion”, according to a declaration of the diocese of Las Cruces. Sometimes it happens in church, when somebody’s messy. Sometimes “it becomes clear from their behavior that they are not Catholic and have never done this before,” Bishop Stowe told me. “We try to do it in a way that is not embarrassing to the person. Most of us adopted a gesture where we would just give someone a blessing instead. “
Morey attempted a blessing, according to the Journal, the two men appeared to exchange words and Biden left.
Campaign staff who were in South Carolina at the time now work for the administration and were afraid to speak out about Biden’s reaction to what had surely been an avoidable confrontation. The story quickly sank into the local newspaper, the Morning news, with confirmation from the priest himself. “Unfortunately,” began his statement, “I had to deny 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. Any public figure who advocates abortion places himself outside the teaching of the Church. “
The South Carolina priest “probably either didn’t want to put the lay minister in an awkward position,” Stowe said of the person administering communion in a separate line, “or wanted to attract attention.” Archbishop John C. Wester of Santa Fe, a bishop who has opposed the push to admonish pro-choice politicians for taking part in communion, said that in any situation, “refuse to someone this Eucharist would mean that you are passing judgment on a very personal level.
Another bishop, Robert McElroy of San Diego, said he can’t remember a time when he refused someone Communion.
“The issue of abortion is an extremely serious moral wound in our political and social life – all bishops agree on this,” said McElroy, who said he believed the debate over communion had pushed the church further into partisanship. “The difference comes from the way the bishops prioritize it. A very large number of bishops believe that abortion is the predominant issue.
It was more than a little maddening for many Democrats to see their obviously loyal candidate receive a public rebuke in an election to defeat Donald Trump. The president has been pro-life for much of his life, was known to mock people for their faith, once described the practice of communion as “my little wine” and “my little cracker,” and he later posed in the countryside outside St. John’s Episcopal Church holding an upside down Bible as he ordered tear gas from people protesting for racial justice. When Trump attacked Biden’s faith during the election, he was barely consistent: “No religion, nothing, hurts the Bible, hurts God, he’s against God, he’s against guns. Incredibly, he didn’t seem to know enough to hit the most obvious target: abortion.
At Biden’s headquarters, former campaign staff said, the incident in South Carolina was like any upheaval in a campaign: “We got a lot of feedback from people. on what we should be doing, ”said Dickson, the former national director of religious engagement. But “it really didn’t change anything,” he said. “It was just something where we kind of evolved and the president continued to do what he’s been doing his entire career and be who he is. South Carolina is strongly Baptist, and in parts of the state, noted a longtime Democratic agent, you will always find people who still think of Catholicism as a cult. Four months after the visit to Florence, where he won the state by 29 points, no one was talking about the Catholicism of Reverend Robert Morey or Joe Biden.
Yet a line had been crossed, one that John Kerry had never had to face.
Tom Vilsack, a former Iowa governor and longtime Catholic who is currently Biden’s secretary of agriculture, said he has never been outright denied communion. Once, however, while campaigning with Kerry in 2004 in Dubuque, a church where they had planned to attend Mass told them “to warn” that communion “was not going to be served. ». Another time, when his wife appeared in Congress in a Conservative district, Iowa’s 4th, the couple stopped for a weekend at a Catholic church where parishioners “literally turned their backs on them.” , he said.
“My boy, I have never felt so unwelcome. “
It was difficult, Vilsack told me, to put the feeling of confrontation into words.
“There are two levels: there is the level of potential humiliation you can feel when people look at you. But I don’t think it was probably that much of a concern for Joe Biden, whether people are talking about it, or watching him, or whatever. The second level, the one that would have affected Biden, Vilsack said, was that he had not received Communion that day. “He didn’t have the presence that you get when you take Communion as a very faithful Catholic. It is a very personal opportunity to connect with God. It’s kind of a magical moment. I’m sure he felt disappointed that he didn’t have the capacity to have that that Sunday.