This was an uncomfortable moment on the campaign trail in South Carolina to be sure. Former Vice President Joe Biden attended services at Saint Anthony Catholic Church in the city of Florence on Sunday and was reportedly denied communion by the priest. Father Robert Morey cited Biden’s support for legal abortion as the reason for the denial. The Biden campaign had no comment on the matter. (NY Post)

Democratic front-runner Joe Biden was reportedly denied communion by a priest at a South Carolina Catholic church over the weekend.

Biden, a lifelong Catholic, stopped by Saint Anthony Catholic Church in Florence on Sunday, but was denied Holy Communion by Father Robert E. Morey, local newspaper the South Carolina Morning News reported.

“Sadly, this past Sunday, I had to refuse Holy Communion to former Vice President Joe Biden,” Father Morey told the newspaper in a statement.

This is just a sad situation all the way around. Given what a hot button topic abortion is in religious circles, it’s not unheard of for priests to take a position such as this. There’s even justification for such a decision in the Code of Canon Law, but there are also better ways to handle the situation.

As the Catholic News Organization reported in their coverage of the story, Father Morey was no doubt invoking Canon 915. That rule states that “Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.”

Under that guidance, assuming the Priest considers support for abortion to fall under the category of “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin,” the decision could conceivably be justified. But a letter to Catholic Bishops written by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in 2004 provided additional guidance on how such situations should be handled, particularly when dealing with politicians and other high-profile figures.

In the memorandum, Ratzinger wrote, “his Pastor should meet with him, instructing him about the Church’s teaching, informing him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist.” And only after receiving a warning and continuing to persevere in the commission of a manifest grave sin should the Father deny communion.

This was an impromptu stop on the campaign trail, so it’s highly unlikely that Joe Biden received any sort of warning or instruction from the Priest prior to this very public denial. At a minimum, it seems that Father Morey could have pulled Biden aside for a chat after seeing that he had entered the church and given him a heads up about not getting in line for communion.

The failure to do so makes this look like more of a publicity stunt than any sort of thoughtful, considered attempt at saving Biden’s soul. And in any event, this was a decision that should have been made by Biden’s Bishop back in his home diocese, not a local Priest with no history with the man.