For quite some time, I have been puzzled about the relative silence regarding the nuptials of Joe and Jill Biden, especially since President Biden has told us repeatedly that he is a devout, practicing Catholic.
In Where the Light Enters: Building a Family, Discovering Myself (2019), Jill’s autobiography, we learn that she and Joe were married at the UN Chapel on June 17, 1977—and, she says, “by a Catholic priest.”
That factoid caused further puzzlement: Why get married at the UN? Neither of the Bidens had any apparent connection to that institution. Given that Joe has been a “priest-collector” his whole life, why go to New York to be married by an anonymous priest? Was he even a priest in good standing? After all, some ex-priests make a handsome living out of performing weddings.
Online searches for information on the UN Chapel turns up an article about it in the New York Times from May 9, 1976 (“UN Chapel Weddings: Ecumenical Spirit”). The chaplain was a Rev. Dr. Melvin Hawthorne, a minister of the United Methodist Church. He says that the chapel does not have an actual relationship with the United Nations, but that many people associated with the UN do opt for his chapel. In 1976, the chapel was the site of over 400 weddings, 60% of which were for couples of different faiths, many of whom had “run into snags elsewhere.”
So, what might the “snags” have been for the devout Catholic Joe Biden and his fiancee? A number of permissions would have been needed (e.g., mixed marriage since Jill is not Catholic; permission to marry outside a church or oratory). Did they participate in the required pre-nuptial investigation, which should have uncovered that Jill was previously married in February 1970 and divorced in March 1975?
An article in the July 24, 1977 edition of Wilmington, Delaware newspaper The Morning News, titled “‘Catholic’ Joe Biden avoids telling the press his wife is a divorcee,” reports Biden saying, “I thought the fact that Jill was married before had no relevance.”
If they did participate in the pre-nuptial investigation, was Jill willing to submit that union to a diocesan tribunal for a possible decree of nullity? If she engaged that process, was such a decree issued? What about the couple’s participation in marriage preparation, known as pre-Cana instructions? Admittedly, some of these matters are more serious than others.
The next step in consideration was to ascertain if the Biden wedding was indeed approved by the Catholic Church. If that ceremony was recognized by the Church, it should have been entered into the marriage register of the parish church in whose boundaries the UN Chapel sits, which is Holy Family Church. The pastor, Father Gerald Murray (coincidentally, a canon lawyer) and well-known member of Raymond Arroyo’s “Papal Posse” on EWTN, stated clearly that no such ceremony or any file for that event is to be found at Holy Family Church. Father Murray went on to mention that several weddings of Catholics at the UN Chapel are, in fact, registered at his church.
So, why not that of the Bidens?
In a call to the chancellor of the Diocese of Wilmington (where Biden’s domicile is), I asked this question of the chancellor’s secretary (since the chancellor was not in the office): In the knowledge of the Diocese, did the wedding take place according to canonical form?
Within an hour, the diocesan director of communications called me back to say that the Diocese cannot comment on the sacramental life of parishioners. When reminded that we are not asking about sins confessed in the Sacrament of Penance but about the reality or non-reality of a public act and sacrament, very politely but firmly, he repeated that the Diocese would not comment on the situation.
The facts of the case, then, appear to be: No Catholic wedding is recorded in the usual places for the Bidens in the Archdiocese of New York, where the ceremony took place. The Diocese of his canonical domicile would not answer a very simple question. If Joe and Jill are truly married in the eyes of Christ’s Church, the answer would likely have been forthcoming as simply: “Yes, of course, they are validly married.”
Absent that declaration, one may suppose that something is seriously amiss.
Again, this is not a private matter between Joe, Jill, family members, and priest. Marriage is public by its nature; it affects the entire community of the Church, and the People of God have a right to know the truth.
From his years in Catholic schools (about which he always reminds us), President Biden should have recalled Our Lord’s warning: “For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open” (Lk 8:17).
(Editor’s note: As of this posting, the White House has not responded to a CWR request for information about the Biden’s 1977 wedding.)
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