Church leaders are carefully avoiding any public conflict with former Vice President Joe Biden on the issue of Communion for priests who have confessed to having sexual relations with members of the clergy.
Biden sparked controversy last week when he told an audience at Boston College’s 76th annual session that “there are good priests and nuns who feel as uncomfortable as we do with situations that involve sexually deviant behavior” and they should be allowed to receive Communion.
His comments were not backed up by any major public statement from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), whose members have for months been seeking new guidelines in the face of persistent abuse and cover-up accusations within the Catholic Church.
The Vatican has been consulting with leaders from around the world as it weighed clarifying its position on admitting men who have admitted to having sex with other clergy.
Speaking at a convention of the Lumen Christi Association last week, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, Texas, said that such incidents “are never meant to be excused.”
“My feeling is that we ought to be really careful and sensitive about defining this and usasuring what this means,” DiNardo said.
However, no further formal announcement has come from the USCCB on a proposed response to a report from Vatican, made earlier this year, that clarified how the Holy See viewed the admission of clergy to Communion.
While many observers thought the Vatican would provide some clarification about how it would handle admission of such offenders into the sacraments, DiNardo acknowledged that this has not happened.
“We didn’t get all of the information or I have not received all of the information and we have not had it before the conference (on the sexual abuse crisis),” DiNardo said at the conference.
Under canon law, a bishop may offer Communion to a priest who has admitted to having sex with other priests and any other “marital liaison or sexual activity” with a person living with them “in present or past marriages.”
The Church hierarchy can refuse to admit priests to Communion. However, bishops are hesitant to make such a decision and are usually advised by clergy on the right thing to do.
Biden also said that he had spoken out against sexual abuse by priests as a member of Congress, when he wrote the so-called “Fire Pelosi” letter, which called on then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi not to appoint a bishop who had sexually abused children.
Biden said it was a rare example of him breaking with his Catholic faith, according to CNN affiliate WBUR.
The USCCB website does not mention the priest in question, Alfred Xuereb, but calls on Catholics “to be vigilant” when they hear, see or experience any “behavior that contradicts the moral law.”
“It is contrary to the teaching of the Church to compromise, or ‘misdiagnose,’ one’s moral position or opinion when listening to painful accounts of abuse,” it says.