Even a good hen can lay a bad egg.
Crisis Magazine, an outlet often featuring solid content, ran a piece the other day that baffled many: Declan Leary’s Yes, Biden Is Catholic. That’s the Problem (here).
One of Leary’s central points is that Joe Biden represents the “typical product of the Catholic Church in our nation and our time,” and that this is a shame and a tremendous problem in need of correction. To this, we are inclined to agree. As the author rightly points out, reading any recent US survey stats should be enough to make the case.
Equally resonant was this excerpt:
The crisis of the Catholic Church in America is not that it has produced Joe Biden, but that it has produced ten million Joe Bidens. They sit on our parish councils. They teach in Catholic schools. They populate the pews on the weeks that it’s convenient.
Again, agreeable stuff. Priests and bishops, take note.
But when Leary picks up a theological shovel to attempt the burial of the common cris de cœur: “Joe Biden is not Catholic!”, he comes up with this:
To disbelieve the Catholicity of someone who has been baptized and confirmed is to profess doubt over the sacraments’ ineluctable character. Joe Biden cannot choose not to be Catholic, and we cannot choose to stop calling him Catholic, whatever monstrous public sins he may undertake. The determination is above his ability, and ours, to alter. This is no mere semantic distinction: we do a great disservice to the power of the Church when we accept that politics can prevail over her sacraments.
Are heretics, apostates, schismatics, or the excommunicated unable to choose not to be Catholic? Do such in fact always remain Catholic, because of the Sacraments’ “ineluctable character”?
Pope Pius XII on the subject:
Actually only those are to be numbered among the members of the Church who have received the laver of regeneration [baptism] and profess the true faith, and have not, to their misfortune, separated themselves from the structure of the Body, or for very serious sins have not been excluded by lawful authority… Therefore, those who are divided from one another in faith or in government cannot live in the unity of such a body, and in its one divine spirit.Mystici Corporis, n. 22 (emphasis ours)
Perhaps Leary’s claim is just one of semantic precision: “Catholic” simply means “someone who was validly baptized,” full stop: one subject to Catholic law, whether they recognize and accept it or not (something equally applicable to many Protestants and Orthodox).
In this case, one can be “Catholic” while at the same time not being a “member” of the Catholic Church… a rather strange notion, and quite confusing for those simple folks who still think words have meaning. In such a usage, one should at least add a standard clarifying modifier like “unfaithful,” or Cardinal Burke’s “not a Catholic in good standing,” or even Fr. Longenecker’s “Coastal Catholic.”
But then again, perhaps Leary would maintain that Joe Biden also remains a member of the Church; that he has not publicly denied articles of Faith (e.g., the sacramental character of Matrimony, or man’s ability to observe the Commandments), or separated from the common body of the Church through his own act (e.g., obstinate public persistence in grave evils, refusing to submit to lawful superiors)… one wonders if Leary would even consider a public sentence of excommunication sufficient cause to “stop calling him Catholic”?
…a major aspect of the needed Catholic restoration is definitely one of language.
For the good manualist Fr. Ludwig Ott’s concise and classical distillation of what precisely makes for a “member of the Church,” see here.
And bravo the restoration!