ASK FATHER: Since the Church does nothing about Joe Biden, what commandments do I have to follow?

From a reader…


Since the “Church” hasn’t excommunicated Joe Biden for his and the Democratic Party stance on abortion, which commandments/teaching do I/we have to follow?


A good and timely question. And a dangerous one to answer.

I think we have to recognize the precarious nature of the times we live in – but at the same time, recognize that the times have always been precarious and the Church has an obligation to preach the same Gospel in season and out of season.

The short answer, of course, is we have to follow ALL of the teachings of Christ and His Church, lest we end up in the situation that Mr. Biden and others of similar mind find themselves in.

Our pattern should not be the greatest sinners and the greatest dissenters from Church teaching, but the greatest saints. Would St. Francis advocate for abortion on demand up to the moment of birth? Would St. Thomas More officiate at the “wedding” of two men? Would St. Therese of Lisieux promote suing the Little Sisters of the Poor to try and force them to pay for contraceptives?

Of course not.

That those who advocate for these positions, which are totally contrary to the teachings of the Gospel, have not been warned by canonical penalties to step back from the brink and consider the fate of their eternal souls is a troubling.

That they have, largely, not even been publicly scolded for their heretical and evil public positions is a scandal.

That some members of the hierarchy have even gone so far as to praise them is gut-wrenching.

The Church has, with varying degrees of success and failure, exercised Her right to excommunicate malefactors with great liberality and with great caution. The prudential judgment that is part and parcel of the decision to utilize this and other canonical penalties is open to legitimate debate.

Would the condition of Catholics in England have been better had St. Pius V not excommunicated Queen Elizabeth in 1581? Would the status of the Church have been better had the Venerable Pius XII excommunicated Hitler in 1940?

These are open and reasonable questions. Certainly, the excommunication of Elizabeth did not cause her to turn from her heresy and repent, nor did the failure to excommunicate Hitler make him any better disposed to the Church.

Whether excommunicating Mr. Biden and his fellow partisans would have a positive effect is an reasonable question to ask.

It is clear by any fair reading of canon law that such persistent, public, and prominent support for abortion, redefining marriage, and pushing contraceptives falls within the realm of “obstinately persisting in manifest grave sin” (cf. canon 915), which make them ineligible to be admitted to Holy Communion, as Cardinal Burke and other wise canonists have noted.

In the end, for all the scandal, we need to be attentive to the state of our own souls.

God will not open the doors of paradise to us if we merely point to another and say, “He was worse than I was.”

We know the fate of the obstinate sinner. It should strike us with holy and reverential fear. We should do all we can to avoid that fate ourselves.

We should cling closely to Christ and strive our best to keep His commands – all of them.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. onemore says:

    You say, “whether excommunicating Mr Biden…” as of that was even on the table! From media reports the pope calls to congratulate him! I do not see how the church is providing anything close to consistent social teaching. The visible, institutional, structural, church, is supporting and promoting Biden.

  2. Ms. M-S says:

    What the “Church” hasn’t done in regard to some public figures shouldn’t be taken as any sort of pass for the rest of us. Attempting to change the Commandments by legislation is right up there with trying to change the course of the sun by mandating daylight saving time or the nature of male and female by deferring to personal confusion. It’s probably better to focus on a good examination of one’s own conscience than to trouble oneself over the fraying moral fiber of public figures or those who should reprimand them rather than celebrate them. Re-watch Becket and hope to live to see better times.

  3. tho says:

    The Church, especially under our current Holy Father, leaves us all scratching our heads. In many ways the Magisterium is compromised by ambiguous pronouncements by our prelates, which sows confusion. Confusion of the faithful is a betrayal of the faithful, that in itself must cry out to Heaven for retribution. The Democratic party is doing the same thing to our Constitution, and you can look around and see the results. Catholics and Americans are living in troubled times, brought about by malicious or stupid people in power, take your pick.

  4. Discipula says:

    To me the worst part of this scandal isn’t the bishop’s refusal to excommunicate Mr. Biden, et al., it’s their equivocating on the issue of abortion so as to provide cover for those Catholics who wanted to vote Democrat. Perhaps there is a prudential reason not to condemn him, ok, I’ll grant that. Is there ever a prudential reason to deny that abortion is an intrinsic evil and that Catholics cannot vote for politicians who’s abortion record is such as Mr. Biden’s (no restrictions, no limits, no protection for the unborn)?

  5. retiredtobedlam says:

    I hope that everyone realizes that “abortion throughout the nine months of pregnancy is just a way station on the road to ultimate Democratic Party (and the oh so “Catholic” Joe Biden’s- although no one my have told him yet that this is, in fact, his plan) plan. As some pro-life ads now point out there are great similarities between life 5 minutes before birth and 5 minutes after birth. At the present, the pro-aborts are ignoring/suppressing that similarity, but once their intermediate goal ( 9 months) is achieved they will rush to adopt & co-opt that position. That is if abortion 5 minutes before is legal so should abortion 5 minutes after be legal. The individual is oh-so similar at both points except for that pesky umbilical cord- now replaced with the essential “neo-cord” of parental care. And then the “golden period” will be 21 days, then three months, and then the age of self-awareness is achieved (oh, I don’t know age 25-28 years when the brain is fully developed, perhaps)
    Beware, beware the game is afoot

  6. mysticalrose says:

    I think one of the difficulties is that Biden is emblematic of the majority of Catholics, and at least by perception, the majority of the hierarchy and of religious. At some point you begin to wonder: is the Church what you think it is, when, while trying to be faithful, you find yourself at odds with most of her members and even the Pope?

  7. The Cobbler says:

    I’m not clear that Hitler was Catholic anyway; was excommunicating him possible?

    Still, the point is valid as a hypothetical: if a notorious dictator could be sanctioned, is not, and goes and persecutes the Church anyway…

  8. exNOAAman says:

    Would our condition be better if JB was excommunicated? (Fr. F implies) I dunno, but at least the USCCB would probably be more discreet in their groveling.

  9. WVC says:

    I understand the spirit of the question. I don’t believe the questioner is being facetious.

    This ain’t no “aggiornomento” breeze. The combination of the outrageous tyranny of COVID lockdowns, the brazen selling out of people by their elected leaders to special interests and foreign powers, the brazenly conducted fraud in the recent U.S. election, the looting and burning of cities by criminals who go unpunished while police officers are slandered and attacked and defamed, the McCarrick report showing decades of cover up and ignorance of some of the most heinous sins by those charged with the care of our souls and Christ’s Church, the understanding that bishops will take millions of tax payer dollars from a government they claim is persecuting the Church only to turn around and use that money to help bring in more and more refugee to displace the citizens in their own parishes, the intolerance for those that care for Tradition and the preservation of the Deposit of the Faith and the fawning patience with sexual deviants and those who contort God’s Word to excuse sins that cry to Heaven . . . . there is a gale force wind building up, and folks aren’t just tired of the nonsense, they’re very, very, very angry.

    I’m not advocating anything. I’m not endorsing anything. I’m not excusing anything. I’m just observing. If the bishops don’t find their intestinal fortitude soon and exercise some actual leadership (and not as some useless bureaucratic conference but as individual men), then things are going to get extremely ugly both within and outside of the Church. The fuse is lit. The powder keg is definitely going to explode. Bishops and priests can either help direct the blast or they’d better start running for cover.

    Folks who think they can keep sitting on the fence will soon be surprised to find that sitting up high just makes one an easy target. The smarter play is to pick a side and go find some cover. Maybe T.S. Eliot was wrong? Maybe it ends with a bang after all?

  10. Chrisc says:

    I am sure there are better examples, but situations like this point out to me how the decisions taken by bishops make the lives of parish priests much harder. Thank you all who are trying to help the faithful be faithful and holy.

  11. Kent Wendler says:

    In all the Catholic radio I listen to, Catholic TV I watch, and (faithful) Catholic publications I read, I scarcely remember any mention of the Fifth Commandment (or any of the others, for that matter). I mean, four one-syllable words. Which of them do the pro-aborts not understand? It’s as if they are worshiping some strange god who has given not ten commandments but “ten suggestions”: e.g., “5. Don’t kill your unborn child if you don’t want to – but don’t let me tell you want to do.” (Capitalization’s or lack intentional.)

    Of course, this gets into the “strange gods” of the real First Commandment, and if they persist unrepentant until they die it’s going to be a very bad time for them at their judgement.

    So why isn’t Catholic media more simply blunt about the Ten Commandments and the probable consequence of ignoring them? In the end, they’re going to apply to everyone: Christian, Jew, atheist, pagan, whatever.

  12. jdt2 says:

    Thank you Father Tim, for addressing a question many laypeople are asking. It has been difficult over the years to watch some leaders within the Church ignore the antics of Catholic politicians on grave matters that run contrary to Church teaching; but now it seems to come more, and with greater force, from the man who occupies Peter’s Chair. It is very hard to understand how joe biden could be embraced by the Vatican in a way President Trump has never been, the latter who despite his flaws, has been the most pro-life, pro-Catholic President we have seen in recent times…as opposed to an eager enabler of abortion, and many other anti-Catholic principles. Imagine Herod being greeted in the same manner by John the Baptist? How is this possible? Is it because biden is imagined to speak in a kinder, more inclusive manner, or that the horror of abortion is really about on par with environmental stewardship, (illegal) immigration, or being nicer to China? It is very hard to imagine how much worse Sodom and Gomorrah could have been, compared to what we see in the U.S. today; yet the evil one will certainly not stop here, and it is upsetting to consider what lies ahead with every ‘mess making’ and each ‘surprise’ coming from the Vatican, and how much more confusion & scandal will be sown among Catholics with decades of poor instruction.

    Regardless, we do need to ensure the logs in our own eyes are taken out. I’m trying really hard to ignore the noise from Washington the way I unfortunately have done with what comes from the Vatican. There are plenty of wonderful blogs like this, easily accessible Catechisms and works from the Fathers that can keep us together, and inch us closer to the Kingdom. And of course Her Immaculate Heart will prevail.

  13. iamlucky13 says:

    Perhaps I could add some commentary to preface Fr. Ferguson’s response:

    Excommunication does not define the limits of right or wrong.

    Excommunication is a legal action the Church can take to address certain wrongs. In some cases it is automatic, such as actually procuring an abortion, and in some cases it is up to a bishop to determine if it is the proper penalty. Notoriously supporting abortion is one example that could considered for the latter, as it “gravely injures good morals” (Canon 1369).

    If a bishop chooses not to excommunicate someone in a circumstance where Canon law ordinarily calls for it, or at least allows it as a penalty, the wrong being considered as a reason for excommunication is still wrong.

    Therefore, do not mistake the lack of a canonical censure like excommunication as in any way dismissing the eternal consequences of our actions.

    So regardless of how anyone else acts, or how the Church responds to their actions while they are alive, we are still obliged to follow all the commandments, and to seek reconciliation anytime we fail in a serious manner.

  14. Chiara says:

    I appreciate your well-reasoned and thoughtful answer, Father. It isn’t all about us – it is about God and His Church. Peace to you and all here.

  15. Johann says:

    I think this article by Canonist Edward Peters is relevant. It talks about Gov. Andrew Cuomo. but the same principles would apply to Biden I guess.

  16. jcariveau says:

    What strikes me about this response is it somewhat misses the point the questioner is *really* getting at. Focusing in on the personal fate of a soul before God isn’t helpful. What the questioner and others are concerned with is the Church as a society. We aren’t a collection of individuals all relating to God as such, we are a social body. The Church has effectively given up shaping that society. You can get away with flaunting “the rules” and continue to participate as a member. We can’t just retreat to the level of the individual soul and act like the social implications of folks like Biden and Pelosi being members of this community in apparent good standing aren’t beyond the pale.

  17. tho says:

    If I remember correctly, and I think I do, during my time in Japan (1950s) I happened to ask a Japanese person how old they were. In answering my question I distinctly remember them saying, that in Japan, a person is 1 year old when they are born. So, isn’t that prima facie evidence that they believe, a baby in utero is not a clump of cells, but a real person. In biology that belief is rock solid, how can any judge rule otherwise?

  18. William Tighe says:

    Queen Elizabeth I was excommunicated in 1570, not 1581. 1570 was itself too late, as the excommunication came right after the failure of an ill-organized and half-hearted Catholic revolt against her rule in the northern parts of England. Had she been excommunicated in 1569 it might have put more wind into the revolt’s sails, but the best thing of all would have been to excommunicate her 3 or 4 months into her reign, in February or March 1559 when her intention to break with Rome and restore Protestantism in England – she had pretended to be a Catholic during the reign of her half-sister, Queen Mary – had become publicly evident. However, any inclination on the part of Pope Paul IV (or his successor Pius IV) to do so was overcome by the disuasions of Philip II of Spain, who would at the time preferred to see England under the rule of a Protestant monarch than under the rule of Mary Queen of Scots (the likely alternative) who was then married to the heir to the French throne, the future Francis II (1559-60). Philip was to live to rue that preference.

  19. Fr. Dan says:

    God will judge those in authority for thier complicity in the face of this evil. St James reminds us, ‘let there not be many priests among you, knowing they will receive the greater judgement.’
    No one is obligated to follow an unjust law or directive.. ie praying for the success of Biden, we can only pray for his rapid defeat. No Prelate, Priest Religious lay person will be judged in a group, we will be judged individually for how we have been faithful.
    Remember the Words of Joshua.. choose this day whom ye will serve… as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.

  20. Rod Halvorsen says:

    For me the bigger issue is not what I personally should do, but how the current dereliction of duty impacts my Protestant family and friends. For those outside the Church, the church appears to be nothing but a giant criminal syndicate. This view is of course not just reinforced by an ant-Catholic media or even by observations of flaws in leadership, but in wide scale disbelief of and even ridicule of Catholic teaching and practice by “Catholics”. Truly, leadership matters, and we have been abandoned. With weakness prevailing, heresies and perversions f morality pervasive and discipline an absolute thing of the past, it is no wonder.

    So, just as Father Weinandy lamented some years ago, the 4 Marks of the Church are obfuscated and reasonable men of good will who observe the Church from the outside cannot be faulted for being confused by what they see. And sadly, those who do stand outside and look in are often looking in because the exact same sorts of chaos exist in their groups both secular and religious.

    And thus it is all the more important for us to cling to our Lord Jesus, the teaching of the Church and Tradition, appealing at this time especially for intercession by St Vincent of Lerins, that what was believed by everyone, everywhere and always will be yet again.

  21. Semper Gumby says:

    “I think we have to recognize the precarious nature of the times we live in – but at the same time, recognize that the times have always been precarious and the Church has an obligation to preach the same Gospel in season and out of season.”

    Good point Fr. Ferguson. Francis, his mandarins, and most bishops in the USCCB could use yet another reminder. Aligning themselves with Biden-Harris is merely wafting more Smoke of Satan into the atmosphere, apparently Global Warming isn’t a big deal after all.

    “…nor did the failure to excommunicate Hitler make him any better disposed to the Church.”

    Hitler, if he was Catholic, had already excommunicated himself. Given his mercurial temper and obsession with vengeance, a public excommunication probably would have resulted in the SS sacking most churches and monasteries in Europe including the Vatican, and executing or imprisoning the priests and nuns that were still doing the Lord’s work- thus ending the efforts of Pius XII to save almost one million Jews. Also, Pius XII was in contact with the German Resistance, including Admiral Canaris, and it’s my understanding that Pius XII gave tacit approval to at least one assassination attempt on Hitler. See, among other books, “Church of Spies: The Pope’s Secret War Against Hitler” by Mark Riebling.

    So, when a bearded and robed Charlton Heston descends a mountain holding two tablets, go with Charlton Heston, not the Party of Death.

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