President Joe Biden received Communion at St. Patrick’s Church during Saturday Vigil Mass, a day after saying Pope Francis told him he should continue to partake in the sacrament, prompting negative reactions from Catholic priests upset that the president’s position on abortion is not in line with Church doctrine.
Several U.S. bishops expressed dismay about the pope’s reported words to Biden. Bishop Joseph Strickland, of Tyler, Texas, retweeted a blistering blog post by conservative Cardinal Raymond Burke that strongly reaffirmed that Catholic politicians who support abortion rights cannot receive the sacrament.
“I fear that the Church has lost its prophetic voice,” Bishop of Providence Thomas Tobin tweeted Friday. “Where are the John the Baptists who will confront the Herods of our day?”
Earlier in the week, Tobin had publicly challenged Pope Francis to deny communion to the president.
“Dear Pope Francis, You have boldly stated that abortion is ‘murder,’” Tobin said. “Please challenge President Biden on this critical issue. His persistent support of abortion is an embarrassment for the Church and a scandal to the world. Thank you. Very respectfully, Your brother +Thomas.”
Biden told reporters on Friday that abortion did not come up in his 75-minute meeting with Francis at the Vatican. “We just talked about the fact he was happy that I was a good Catholic and I should keep receiving Communion,” Biden said.
The president has faced vocal criticism from Catholic priests and parishioners across the country for continuing to receive communion and tout his Catholic faith despite his strident support of unrestricted abortion.
While Biden regularly receives Communion in his home dioceses in Washington and Delaware, it was significant that he also received Communion in Rome. The pope technically is the bishop of Rome, and while he delegates day-to-day administration to his vicar, St. Patrick’s parish is technically in the pope’s archdiocese. As such, Biden received Communion in the pope’s archdiocese.
About 30 people attended the Mass, and security guards ringed the aisles. The Bidens sat in the last row that had been roped off as “Reserved” and entered quietly, just after Mass had begun.
The Rev. Joe Ciccone, the vice rector of St. Patrick’s and a member of the Paulist order, was the main celebrant and was joined by the parish rector, the Rev. Steven Petroff, and a third priest. The Associated Press attended the service.
Ciccone’s homily was a meditation on love that he said he had composed days ago, before he knew the Bidens would be attending. He said it was an honor to have them in the parish, and that Biden’s position on abortion and whether to administer Communion was not an issue for him or the parish.
“Communion is what brings us together in the Lord. None of us are pure and perfect. We struggle through life. We’re all saints and sinners,” Ciccone told The Associated Press after the service.
Associated Press contributed to this report