So, Joe Biden did not, after all, interrupt his preparations for the planned Super Summit with Vladimir Putin the other day in order to fly down to Rome and see the pope. It is just as well, perhaps, inasmuch as the Vatican having nixed the notion of allowing Biden to attend morning Mass with His Holiness, the sticky issue of whether to give him Communion or not never needed to come up. A nice diplomatic solution, you might say, to an issue that could have left a lot of egg on the faces of not a few people.
But why should it have mattered? Must the pope always behave as a diplomat? Why could he not have been just a pastor? Moved by motives of the purest ministerial urgency, why not simply reach out to admonish a wayward member of the Body of Christ? If the Eucharist is not to be seen as, “the reward of saints,” as Pope Francis repeatedly reminds us, “but the bread of sinners,” then why not receive Mr. Biden, not as a Head of State, which is a matter of no consequence in the eyes of God, but as an ordinary sinner in need of the same forgiving grace for which all Catholics ought to hunger and thirst?
“Blessed be sin,” Bernanos tells us, “if it teaches us shame.” But, of course, Biden feels no shame. It is not an equation he would accept, not even were the pope himself to draw his attention to it. Nor does the pope appear disposed to insist upon such a nexus. Not with the current President of the United States, he doesn’t. Why wreck a perfectly good relationship with someone when there are so many pressing issues we need to advance right away, matters about which the two men are already in agreement? Like climate change, for instance. Or unrestricted immigration.