As a Rabbi in Southern California who taught for years at a Jesuit university (Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles), I have been blessed to know many Catholic clergy whom I respect and deeply care about. I have participated over the years in countless interfaith services; written and lectured on Nostra Aetate and subsequent notes; and consider myself blessed to have experienced and learned about the beauties of the Catholic faith.
But I have never felt as great a sense of respect for any Catholic colleague as I now do for Father Robert Morey of St. Anthony Catholic Church in Florence, South Carolina—a man whom I have never met.
A religious leader needs to have the courage to take a stand based on the teachings of his or her faith tradition. Whether you agree or disagree with the Church’s position on abortion, Father Morey deserves huge kudos for standing up for his religion as a spiritual leader and denying the sacred act of communion to Joe Biden, who has publicly rejected his faith tradition’s view on the subject of abortion.
For decades, Biden supported the Hyde Act, which bans tax dollars from being used for abortion except in cases of maternal health or if the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest, God forbid. Although I disagree with Biden on many issues, I could always respect that at least his politics reflected an honesty of his faith.
But like many politicians, Mr. Biden has now sold his soul out in hopes of appealing to the far-left that currently controls the Democratic Party. In an effort to appeal to those voters on the left of the party, he has turned his back on his claims of being personally pro-life, and let go of his faith tradition in order to get votes.
How incredibly sad it is for any man to turn his back on his religion in order to achieve a goal in this physical world. It demonstrates a real lack of courage of the heart; and Father Morey deserves the respect of every clergyperson in every faith for holding a boundary and encouraging Mr. Biden to choose to come back fully to his religion prior to allowing him to receive the sacred rite of his religion.
But just as sad, and maybe even sadder, is that Mr. Biden is not alone in betraying his faith for political gain; and that there are not more clergy like Father Morey in all faiths.
As Jews we are taught that we should have three “loves”: a love of God (Ahavat HaShem); a love of Torah (Ahavat Torah); and a love of Jews and Israel (Ahavat Yisrael). While it is difficult to judge what is in any human’s heart, especially about their love for God or the commandments; it is much easier to see if the love of Jews and Israel is practiced… or if it is ignored in favor of political gain.
I have always had the greatest of respect for Senator Schumer, even when disagreeing with his political actions. For many years, he promised that he would always take his last name to heart, and be the “shomer” (guardian) of Israel. And yet, he has allowed the anti-Semitic words and actions of Representatives Omar, Tlaib, and others to go unchecked. In apparent fear for his political survival, he has allowed these blatant anti-Semites to repeatedly press for the destruction of Israel. Senator Schumer, like Mr. Biden, has tucked away his personal values and spirituality like a dog tucking his tail and hiding. It is profoundly sad; and in his actions of not attempting to stop these anti-Semites, Mr. Schumer has lost the credibility of being a guardian of Israel, and demonstrates a clear lack of “love of Jews and Israel.”
And how should we describe Bernie Sanders, whom Ben Shapiro has so aptly described as a “Jew in name only?” For years he has rejected the Jewish religion repeatedly, has self-identified as an atheist, has cozied up to anti-Semites, and has surrounded himself with advisors who compare Israel to Nazi Germany or apartheid South Africa. And rather than rejecting the endorsements of the anti-Semitic bullies of Omar, Tlaib, and Ocasio-Cortez, Mr. Sanders is grateful for their endorsement. How far this man has fallen from the young Bernard Sanders who was called to read Torah at a Bar Mitzvah at King’s Highway Jewish Center in 1954. Would that young teenager ever have dreamed that someday he would be so desperate for what he thinks he can get from anti-Semites that he would allow them to try to destroy Israel and the Jewish people… as long as they supported him in his personal goals? Somehow, I suspect that the rabbi of King’s Highway in the 1950s, a home of great Jewish scholarship and ethics, taught young Mr. Sanders a very different set of ethics than he practices in Congress and on the campaign trail today.
Politicians selling out their values for political gain is not new, but that does not make it any less disgusting. But I believe the real story in this rejection of religion is found in the courageous actions of Father Morey. Taking his religious responsibility with the seriousness that all clergy should, this Catholic Priest pointed out in no uncertain terms to Mr. Biden that if he chose the path of rejecting his religion for political gain, he would be unable to continue acting as a practicing Catholic, at least in that South Carolina church.
We may not be able to change the ways of politicians, but it is incumbent on every religious leader to confront those politicians when they reject the teachings of their faith tradition. The rabbis of Messrs. Schumer, Sanders, and other Jewish politicians need to reach out and remind these men about Jewish values, the need for them to reject all the anti-Semitic polemic that is so easily spoken, and to publicly condemn and fight against those anti-Semites like Omar and Tlaib. Other Catholic priests need to stand up like Father Morey and let Catholic politicians know that if they choose to let go of their religious guidelines, then it will affect their religious experiences in the church.
Politicians sometimes lose themselves in their quest for power. But as clergy, we need to remind them to come home to the spiritual values of their religion. When they let go of their values, we clergy need to help them regain their authenticity and make “tshuvah,” a return to acting right and righteously. It is our privilege as clergy; and more accurately, it is our responsibility.
Centuries ago, Rabbi Hillel said, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” It doesn’t matter what type of clergy we are: rabbis, ministers, priests, or anything else… we must remember these words and have the personal courage to help those lost politicians return to their faith tradition and spirituality. For the sake of all of us, for the sake of this nation, and for the sake of each individual.
If not now, when?
Or in the words of our tradition….
Mazal Tov Father Morey!!!
Rabbi Michael Barclay is the spiritual leader of Temple Ner Simcha in Westlake Village, CA (www.NerSimcha.org); and the author of “Sacred Relationships: Biblical Wisdom for Deepening Our Lives Together” (Liturgical Press).