The decision by the United States Bishops to authorise the drafting of a document on Eucharistic coherence is a sign of their courage and wisdom. The document will set forth the Church’s plain teaching on the incompatibility of receiving or being administered the Most Holy Eucharist when one publicly and obstinately rejects the Church’s teaching on abortion and other serious matters.
By a 73 per cent margin (168-55), the bishops have taken an important first step in countering the sacrilege and scandal of elected Catholic officials promoting and protecting the crime of killing unborn children during their work week, and then, without any apparent shame or hesitancy, coming to Mass and receiving Our Lord’s Most Holy Body and Blood on Sunday.
They have also given a clear sign that a sizeable majority of the bishops was not swayed by the claim that discussing the application of canonical norms (canons 915 and 916) in the case of pro-abortion elected officials is somehow a “politicisation” or “weaponisation” of the Holy Eucharist. The Holy Eucharist is the Incarnate God present here on earth in sacramental form. The shepherds of the Church are not political actors wielding a weapon to destroy an enemy. Their concern is the salvation of souls. They are entrusted with administering and safeguarding God’s Presence in the Holy Eucharist, and they must instruct the flock on the conditions for the proper and spiritually fruitful reception of Holy Communion.
Slam-word alarmist slogans, wielded as verbal hammer blows, do not have any real meaning, which is precisely what slogans are for: to act as substitutes for thought, designed to end any further discussion. The reasons for denying Holy Communion to Catholic elected officials, including President Joe Biden, who promote abortion are: firstly, to rebuke them and to call them to recognise their error, repent and retract. Secondly, to remind other Catholics that supporting abortion is seriously wrong and must be rejected if one is to be faithful to Christ. Thirdly, to proclaim to everyone that abortion is not a healthcare choice, but rather a barbaric practice that is offensive to God and is incompatible with any standard of human rights and justice in a civilised society.
Nobody likes to be rebuked, or even to be told that a rebuke might be coming their way. When asked about the bishops’ vote, President Biden tried to minimise it by calling it a private matter, which the reception of Holy Communion most definitely is not, and by saying nothing will come of this, which is wishful thinking from someone trying to dodge justifying his opposition to Church teaching on abortion.
In response to the US bishops’ discussion and vote, a group of 60 Catholic Democratic House members came out swinging at the bishops in a letter in defence of President Biden’s defiance, which they most proudly embrace. Robert Royal at The Catholic Thing called their letter “eye-popping” – with good reason. They claim that “[a]s legislators in the US House of Representatives, we work every day to advance respect for life and the dignity of every human being”. Unless, of course, those human beings are waiting to be born. They go on: “We are committed to making real the basic principles that are at the heart of Catholic social teaching: helping the poor, disadvantaged, and the oppressed, protecting the least among us…” How they can say this and preserve any modicum of intellectual integrity or religious seriousness is beyond my comprehension. Unborn children facing death by abortion are the most oppressed, the poorest of the poor and the least among us in our society, unable to speak in their own defence and unprotected by our laws from the deadly choice of their mothers and fathers to have them killed by so-called health care providers, who are in fact death dealers. Catholic social teaching condemns the actions of those who legalise and promote abortion. Yet they further claim that “[w]e… agree with the Catholic Church about the value of human life”. Really? How can elected officials who work to protect, promote and fund legalised abortion truthfully say this? Do they really mean it? Do they really agree with the Catholic Church?
They themselves supply the answer: “In all these issues, we seek the Church’s guidance and assistance but believe also in the primacy of conscience. In recognizing the Church’s role in providing moral leadership, we acknowledge and accept the tension that comes with being in disagreement with the Church in some areas.” [Emphasis added.] They say they disagree with the Church in some areas and claim that their conscience has primacy over what is now no longer called Church teaching, but rather guidance. What “areas”, what “guidance” are they referring to? They bemoan the possibility of being denied the Holy Eucharist because of their “support of a woman’s safe and legal access to abortion”.
Our bishops should note that there is no need for further investigation and dialogue as the witnesses have come forward and volunteered their testimony. They are as adamant about their desire to continue receiving Holy Communion as they are in their promotion of the crime of abortion. It is the responsibility of pastors of souls to disabuse these profoundly confused Catholics of the mistaken idea that God is pleased by their pro-abortion words and acts. Refusing to admit them to Holy Communion, as foreseen in canon law, is precisely, in the expression of Dietrich von Hildebrand, the “charitable anathema” that they need hurled their way.
For in their own estimation, they are “Catholic Democrats who embrace the vocation and mission of the laity”. To let that falsehood stand unrefuted would be a dereliction of the episcopal duty to preach the truth and to bring wayward sheep back into the fold. The decision of the US bishops to prepare a new document to correct these errors and to proclaim our duty to respect the holiness of the Eucharist is a cause for rejoicing.
For sure, they will be criticised by people who see the Catholic bishops as just another group of political players trying to sway voters. Undoubtedly, they would be gratified and thankful if voters joined them in opposing legalised abortion. But even if voters do not agree with them, their duty is in the first place to proclaim God’s truth and call sinners to repentance. Canonical discipline is about promoting the salvation of souls. It is not a publicity stunt or campaign tactic. The good of President Biden’s soul is at stake, as is the common good. To leave him unrebuked when he continues his bold defiance of the teachings of the Church which he professes to love would only confirm him in his error and lead many others astray. It is time for the bishops to take the action that is so obviously required. May the Holy Spirit guide and strengthen our shepherds.
The Rev Gerald E Murray is Pastor of the Church of the Holy Family, New York
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