Showdown Brews over Holy Communion for ‘Pro-Abortion Catholics’

Pope Francis leads a mass for local Catholic leaders at Manila Cathedral on January 16, 2015. Pope Francis is on a five-day visit to the Philippines. AFP PHOTO / GIUSEPPE CACACE (Photo credit should read GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP via Getty Images)
GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP via Getty

A showdown is brewing among the U.S. bishops over the question of whether to deny Holy Communion to public figures such as Joe Biden who profess to be Catholics while actively working to expand abortion rights, which the Church considers to be gravely evil.

The Associated Press noted Sunday that the confrontation is coming to a head in anticipation of the national assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), slated to begin on June 16.

The doctrine committee of the USCCB is currently drafting a document to clarify the issue of reception of Holy Communion especially regarding public figures who promote abortion-on-demand.

According to Kansas City Archbishop Joseph Naumann, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, if approved, the document would make clear that Biden and other public figures who publicly work to advance egregious moral evils should not present themselves for Communion.

Last week, the progressive bishop of San Diego, Robert W. McElroy, argued that Joe Biden should be permitted to continue receiving Holy Communion despite his overt support for abortion rights.

“The Eucharist is being weaponized and deployed as a tool in political warfare,” Bishop McElroy declared in a May 5 essay for America magazine, echoing arguments formulated by former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick in 2004, when the U.S. bishops debated whether or not to give Communion to Catholic Secretary of State John Kerry, who also supported abortion-on-demand.

Like McElroy, McCarrick warned of “serious unintended consequences” in using Communion as a weapon, if priests or bishops were to refuse Communion to Kerry. The battles for human life and dignity and for the weak and vulnerable “should be fought not at the Communion rail, but in the public square,” McCarrick said.

McCarrick ignored instructions received from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger declaring that a Catholic politician supporting permissive abortion laws should not present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin.

“When these precautionary measures have not had their effect or in which they were not possible, and the person in question, with obstinate persistence, still presents himself to receive the Holy Eucharist, the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it,” Ratzinger wrote (emphasis added).

The Church’s Canon Law stipulates that those who obstinately persevere in manifest grave sin “are not to be admitted to holy communion,” a provision that many Canon lawyers say applies to Catholics who publicly promote the expansion of abortion rights as Joe Biden does.

On May 1, the archbishop of San Francisco, Salvatore Cordileone, published a teaching letter examining “the evil of abortion” and “the meaning of receiving Holy Communion.”

In that letter, Archbishop Cordileone wrote that Catholic politicians who advance pro-abortion legislation cooperate in the “grave moral evil” of killing an unborn child and should not receive Holy Communion.

“In the case of public figures who profess to be Catholic and promote abortion, we are not dealing with a sin committed in human weakness or a moral lapse: this is a matter of persistent, obdurate, and public rejection of Catholic teaching,” he wrote.

Moreover, Catholics in public life “who participate in abortion or seek to advance it through legislation or advocacy” cause scandal, he adds, “precisely because these are actions of which many people are aware.”

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