Amid the contrived hysteria over the U.S. Bishops’ commissioning a draft document on the Eucharist, some calm, rational clarification is in order.
To begin with, whatever document ultimately emerges from this process will NOT—because it CANNOT—bar President Biden, or any abortion-supporting Catholic politician, from reception of Communion. That authority is delegated to diocesan bishops, acting individually; not to national bishops’ conferences acting as a body.
Probably, the draft—which will be subject to discussion, debate, and proposed amendments before a final vote next fall—will reiterate long-standing Church teaching that anyone in a state of unrepentant grave sin may not worthily receive the body and blood of Jesus; and that publicly, obstinately promoting the legalized, deliberate mass destruction of innocent human lives constitutes such grave sin.
Nor, despite all the wailing and gnashing of teeth by pro-abortion politicians, activists, and media—not to mention ill-informed or disingenuous Catholics—is this an attempt by the bishops to politicize the Eucharist, using it to influence elections or legislation.
Theoretically, it could have that peripheral effect—although I doubt it, given that pro-abortion Catholic politicians tend to proudly wear rebukes from their bishops as political badges of courage.
In any event, that is not the purpose of withholding the sacraments from a public figure.
When a bishop does so, he is acting not in the temporal realm of laws and public policies. He is acting as a spiritual shepherd, responsible for the salvation of souls.
As such, he has made a determination that this most drastic action is necessary: first, to warn the offending Catholic public figure that he or she is imperiling their immortal soul by persisting in using their power and influence to promote a grave moral evil; and secondly, to warn other Catholics in public life against jeopardizing their souls by being led into promoting the same moral evil.
Having determined that this action is necessary to save souls, a bishop cannot be deterred by its perceived effect on laws and public policies, nor on public opinion or media reaction.
In 1962, New Orleans Archbishop Joseph Rummel excommunicated three prominent Catholics for their very public, and obstinate, promotion of racial segregation. Through the severity of this act, he hoped to make them realize that their publicly avowed racism was placing their souls in grave danger—and thereby persuade them to turn away from that moral evil. Two of them ultimately did so, recanting their support for racial segregation and returning to the Church’s good graces before they died.
While we cannot know how many other Catholics might have been dissuaded from supporting segregation by the archbishop’s action, that purpose—avoiding “giving scandal” by leading others into serious sin—was surely part of his motivation as well.
Some on the Catholic left are engaging in all kinds of contortions to differentiate between Archbishop Rummel’s excommunication of Catholic segregationists, and today’s possible denial of Communion to pro-abortion Catholic politicians.
But the only differences that really matter seem to involve the issues being addressed and the Catholic politicians being affected.
Archbishop Rummel’s action was widely popular in progressive circles and mainstream media at the time—and is lauded by them today—because they staunchly, and rightly, oppose racial segregation.
Similar action by today’s bishops toward Catholic politicians who promote abortion is wildly unpopular in progressive circles and mainstream media, because they almost universally support unrestricted abortion. And it is unpopular among some on the Catholic left because they like the generally “progressive” positions that most pro-abortion Catholic politicians take on “other issues.” They reduce the injustice of abortion to a “single issue,” and berate the bishops for prioritizing it—even as they have no problem with Archbishop Rummel’s having prioritized the “single issue” of racial injustice.
As I have written previously, I do not advocate withholding the Eucharist from pro-abortion Catholic politicians, and I certainly do not believe in lobbying bishops to do so. Some pro-life Catholics do urge the bishops to such action, either because they believe—mistakenly, in my view—that it will be helpful in restoring legal protection for the unborn; or because they want Catholic politicians punished for their role in facilitating the killing of unborn children.
But neither of those reasons is the purpose of such action by the bishops; nor is it for us to judge whether and when a bishop should be moved to such a drastic measure. Which is why I also oppose lobbying bishops against taking such action, as progressive Catholics are wont to do.
This awesome responsibility is placed solely on the shoulders of the bishops, acting as spiritual shepherds. As such, it is to be invoked only when a bishop deems it necessary to safeguard souls—the soul of the person who persists in grave moral evil, and the souls of others who might be led by his behavior into the same moral evil. The purpose is not to punish, but to save souls.
Thus, when a bishop, acting in good conscience and guided by Church teaching and the facts of a specific case, deems it necessary, as an urgent spiritual corrective, to withhold the Eucharist from an individual who persists in publicly promoting a grave moral evil—such as abortion—he should have the prayerful support of all Catholics.
It is not surprising that pro-abortion politicians, activists, and media would misread, misunderstand, or willfully mischaracterize the bishop’s intent.
No faithful Catholic should join in doing so.