In the past few months, several U.S. Catholic bishops have issued statements on the question of whether to publicly deny pro-abortion politicians the Holy Eucharist. As one American Archbishop (Chaput) puts it, “Public figures who identify as ‘Catholic’ give scandal to the faithful when receiving Communion by creating the impression that the moral laws of the Church are optional. And bishops give similar scandal by not speaking up publicly about the issue and danger of sacrilege.”
Perhaps it’s now time for a few more of our bishops to courageously speak out on the challenge brought about by this thorny subject. The challenge comes about when a few bishops question the traditional teachings of the Church on the seriousness of the sin of any procured abortion, and whether those involved in the promotion of it still can presume a so-called “right” to receive Holy Communion anyway. But it’s a privilege, not a right, and on the subject of “rights,” the believing community has a priority right to the integrity of its beliefs and practice.
In their defense of their continued arguments in the opposite direction, some bishops are stating that “the Holy Eucharist is being weaponized for political ends.” This would suggest that political motives are driving the bishops’ current discussion of worthy reception by pro-abortion politicians. But while we can’t and don’t presume to know what’s in the mind and heart of any bishop concerned about the preservation of the integrity of the Holy Eucharist, for sure they shouldn’t be motivated by political ends, but rather they express a deep pastoral concern for the salvation of souls. Certainly, while the issue may have political ramifications, that’s not a reasonable excuse to shy away from it at this crucial moment.
Another argument made is that by excluding pro-abortion politicians from Holy Communion we will weaken the unity of the Church. Even though Jesus prayed that Christians might all be one (John 17:21), and this is an obligation we must all take seriously, He also said, “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division” (Luke 12:51). While speaking the truth at times appears to create division, often it simply exposes the division that already exists. If Catholics cannot agree on protecting the most helpless, and especially among them the unborn, then such “unity” is superficial at best and illusory at worst.
Canon Law of the Church explicitly states, “A person who is conscious of grave sin is not to celebrate Mass or receive the Body of the Lord without previous sacramental confession” (CIC 916). As abortion is one of the few sins that carries an automatic excommunication (see CIC 1398), there is no doubt that a politician who actively protects abortion and strives to make it more accessible also risks his or her salvation. This is because the very act of abortion or its promotion is a grave sin, as has been repeatedly pointed out by the last three popes.
Then the question arises: Why aren’t we seeking eucharistic sanctions for other evils that are rampant in society? The answer is that while there are many serious sins that diminish our worthiness to receive the Eucharist, only the gravest sins entirely extinguish that worthiness. The Catholic Conference of American Bishops recognized that abortion is the great evil of our culture, and called it out as such for decades. Back in 1998, they named abortion a “preeminent threat,” and in 2019, they reaffirmed that the “threat of abortion remains our preeminent priority because it directly attacks life itself.” But, pro-abortion political leaders have not heeded these calls, and now, perhaps, it’s time to apply the last remaining medicinal option they have: eucharistic sanctions.
One U.S. bishop, examining the arguments for denying Communion to pro-abortion politicians, asked, “How many Catholic political leaders of either party could pass that test?” Perhaps this is the wrong question. Jesus wasn’t interested in numbers, but in the salvation of souls. When several of his own followers walked out on Him when He announced the Eucharist, He asked Peter and some others about leaving Him, too. Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life.” Maybe a better question the bishop should ask himself is, “Have I done absolutely everything I can as a bishop to try to bring all pro-abortion Catholic politicians in my flock back into a state of grace?”
The bishops are the ones who are the guardians of the faith, not the politicians. The politicians aren’t going to tell them to change the Church’s 2,000-year-old teachings that have been handed on to them from Jesus Christ; and so, the successors of the Apostles have the right and duty to shepherd the flock and to protect the deposit of the Faith.