Mr Biden has suggested that he will instigate or support legislation in the US Congress establishing a right to abortion throughout pregnancy across the entire country. This pro-abortion extremism places him a long way outside the bounds of what is acceptable for a faithful Catholic in public life. And yet there has been no sign of what is surely the obvious response: a specific, public rebuke for Mr Biden from his bishop, or from the US bishops as a whole, and exclusion from Holy Communion until he repents.
Catholic teaching on abortion is not some esoteric mystery that ordinary lay people cannot be expected to understand. It is quite clear. Section 2270 of the Catechism states that “human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person – among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life”. In his great encyclical Evangelium Vitae (“The Gospel of Life”), John Paul II made clear “that abortion and euthanasia are thus crimes which no human law can claim to legitimize”. He also said that civil authorities “can never presume to legitimize as a right of individuals…an offence against other persons caused by the disregard of so fundamental a right as the right to life”. Catholic politicians like Joe Biden who support and directly enable liberal abortion regimes are objectively in stark contravention of the Church’s teaching. They are committing a serious sin. Which is where canon law comes in, specifically the parts of it which concern access to the Eucharist. Canon 915 states that individuals “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion”.
So should Mr Biden, and others like him, be formally excluded from the sacrament (only an individual Catholic’s bishop can make such a decision)? The US Catholic bishops considered this issue last year and – after much huffing and puffing – released a wordy and evasive document which resolved absolutely nothing.
I’ll be honest; I find this scandalous and shocking. The American bishops – and the same pattern is repeated across the Western world – are not taking seriously the teaching of which they are meant to be the guardians.
One of the most important aspects of the Eucharist is that it is a sign of our unity and communion with Christ and His Church. If people who publicly contradict the Church on core moral teachings can continue to participate, what does that mean for the integrity of our witness? If our actions don’t match our stated beliefs, then people are entitled to wonder whether we do actually hold those beliefs.
It’s true also that excluding people from the Eucharist should not really be understood as a punishment, but a kind of medicine for the soul, and a protection against their committing sacrilege by unworthy participation. St Paul puts it this way in his first letter to the Corinthians: “anyone who eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily is answerable for the body and blood of the Lord”.
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