Joe Biden’s Unfaithful Catholic Witness on Marriage

By officiating at a same-sex ‘wedding’ ceremony at his vice-presidential residence in Washington, Biden publicly broke with a fundamental Church moral teaching.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (photo: Drop of Light via via CNA)

WASHINGTON — Vice President Joe Biden’s decision to officiate at a same-sex “wedding” for two homosexual White House staffers may have earned accolades from secular progressives and media pundits, but the vice president’s actions contradict his claims that he is a practicing Catholic.

Biden, a longtime Democrat who supports legalized abortion and announced in 2012 that he also championed same-sex “marriage,” tweeted that he was proud to “marry” the staffers at the Naval Observatory, the vice president’s official residence, and he “couldn’t be happier” for them.

The vice president’s decision to preside over the ceremony prompted criticism from some Catholic corners that he created a scandal, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops subsequently released a statement about the need for prominent Catholic politicians to offer a faithful public witness to the truths of marriage and family.

The statement does not mention Biden by name, though it says that when a prominent Catholic politician “publicly and voluntarily officiates at a ceremony to solemnize the relationship of two people of the same sex, confusion arises regarding Catholic teaching on marriage and the corresponding moral obligations of Catholics.”

Such an action, the bishops wrote, “is a counter-witness, instead of a faithful one founded in the truth.”

The three bishops who signed the “Faithful Witness” statement were Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., the president of the bishops’ conference; Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo, N.Y., chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth; and Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

A spokeswoman for Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, where Biden presided over the same-sex ceremony, told the Register that the archdiocese does not comment on individuals and their pastoral relationship to the Church, and she referred the Register to the “Faithful Witness” statement.

Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, told the Register that Biden officiating at the ceremony “calls into serious question his judgment, as well as his fidelity to Catholic teachings.”

Said Donohue, “Clearly, he gave cover to the fallacious notion that there is nothing inherently contradictory between claiming allegiance to Catholic teachings and openly defying them. His defiance beckoned the bishops to respond, and they did so admirably.”

Father Roger Keeler, executive coordinator of the Canon Law Society of America, told the Register that he believed the bishops’ statement was balanced and fairly consistent with their approach to Catholics in public life.

“The bishops’ statement was very carefully and thoughtfully worded, and I really appreciate what they’re saying,” said Father Keeler, who declined to comment on Biden’s canonical relationship with the Church because he is not an expert in penal law.


Vatican Documents

A 2002 document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, signed by then-prefect Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who later became Pope Benedict XVI, offers some guidance as to the question of the obligations that Catholic politicians in democratic societies have to the common good and their own integrity as Christians. (See related story here.)

The document, “Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life,” stressed that family and marriage as the union of one man and one woman has to be safeguarded and promoted, and “in no way” can other forms of cohabitation be placed on the same level of marriage, nor can they receive legal recognition as such.

The CDF document also stressed that the Church’s social doctrine is not an intrusion into the civil governments of individual countries, but that lay Catholics in public life have a duty to be “morally coherent,” adding: “There cannot be two parallel lives in their existence: on the one hand, the so-called ‘spiritual life,’ with its values and demands, and on the other, the so-called ‘secular life,’ that is, life in a family, at work, in social responsibilities, in the responsibilities of public life and in culture.”

Along with marriage and family, the CDF document places the basic right to life, including the life of the embryo, as requiring protection of the civil law. On both counts, Biden, along with many other Catholic politicians — including the current Democratic vice-presidential nominee, Tim Kaine — run afoul of Church teaching by supporting laws that legalize abortion and same-sex “marriage” while claiming they are observant Catholics in their personal lives.

The CDF also issued another document in 2003, titled, “Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons,” that gave more detailed guidance about the issue. “There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family,” it categorically states. “Marriage is holy, while homosexual acts go against the natural moral law.”


Reception of Communion

Bishops in the United States at times have instructed Catholic politicians who espouse public-policy positions at odds with the Church’s moral teachings not to present themselves to Communion. Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kan., asked former Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius to refrain from receiving Communion because of her support for legalized abortion. Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, R.I., gave a similar instruction to former Congressman Patrick Kennedy for his public stance on abortion.

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, the home of Democratic U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, who is an ardent supporter of legal abortion and same-sex “marriage,” said in a 2014 video statement that Catholics who dissent from defined Church teaching in “a serious way” must not receive holy Communion.

“If a Catholic takes part in any way to support or condone, let alone officiates at, a same-sex marriage, he or she is contradicting the very teachings of the Church he or she says he or she is a part of,” said Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage.

Biden’s fitness to receive Communion also was questioned during the 2008 election campaign, when he reportedly received Communion while attending Mass in Tallahassee, Fla. In response, Bishop John Ricard of Pensacola-Tallahassee posted a letter to Biden on his diocese’s website.

Quoting from the U.S. bishops’ 2004 document “Catholics in Political Life,” Bishop Ricard implied that Biden rendered himself unfit to receive Communion by his “support for laws that fail to protect the unborn, a profound disconnection from your human and personal obligation to protect the weakest and most innocent among us: the child in the womb.”

Bishop Ricard’s letter to Biden concluded, “I pray that the Catholic faith you have been raised in, the faith by which you pray, and the life of virtue which flows from both may strengthen you so that you may have the strength needed to witness Jesus, even as the martyrs did, and live by the virtue of fortitude as you proclaim your support to the Person of Christ in the most vulnerable of his members: the preborn child. You are, Senator, always welcome to nourish such a faith within the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee.”

Brown, who is Catholic, told the Register that he believes Biden’s actions created a scandal, and he added that the bishops’ response was “very good.” Brown called on priests, bishops and Church leaders to continue to speak the truth about marriage and family in a loving and gentle manner.

Said Brown, “What we need right now, above all else, is moral clarity. Two men or two women can’t be married. It causes scandal. The unambiguous, constant teaching of the Church is that there is something unique and special about men and women and that marriage can only be the union of one man and one woman. No government can change that.”

Register correspondent Brian Fraga

writes from Fall River, Massachusetts.