Is the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Wrong to Connect Abortion and Communion?

Is the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Wrong to Connect Abortion and Communion? June 28, 2021

I think so. Here’s what has happened. On June 17th, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops voted favorably for a statement it drafted which will deny the eucharist to any Catholic known to favor abortion. The Roman Catholic Church’s official position has been that abortion is a grave sin. The eucharist, also called “communion,” is the Church’s practice of offering bread and wine for gathered congregants to digest in a solemn ceremony administered by priests. Catholics are taught that the bread and wine literally are the body and blood, respectively, of Jesus. As the foremost of the Church’s seven sacraments, it calls this teaching “transubstantiation.”

This decision by American bishops garnered much media attention because it would affect some prominent Catholic politicians. Both U.S. President Joe Biden and Speaker of House, Nancy Pelosi, are devout Catholics and Democrats who believe abortion should be legal, and they have a long, political history of their position on it. Thus, the Conference of Catholic Bishops was prepared to demand that priests deny both Biden and Pelosi, among others, the eucharist at church services. As soon as the Bishops’ declaration was announced, President Biden replied publicly that he did not think it would survive, and his main argument was that Pope Francis did not agree with it.

This communion service is based on the New Testament. According to its gospels, Jesus instituted this practice at the Last Supper, saying of the wine, “this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26.26 NRSV). So, Jesus instituted the eucharist only hours before he was arrested, tried, and crucified, which further suggests that it refers to his crucifixion. And he commanded his disciples, thus also succeeding Christians, to observe this practice until he returns.

Protestants also observe this communion service. But they take a different view of its meaning. They claim Jesus intended for these two elements of the eucharist–the bread and wine–to have only a symbolical meaning, thus referring to his imminent death by crucifixion. I believe Protestants are right about this meaning, so that the Roman Catholic Church is not. But at least both observe this practice, which reminds us of Jesus’ sacrificial death for our sins. Interestingly, polls show that most American Catholics believe like Protestants about the eucharist’s meaning, that it is symbolical.

In my opinion, for church authorities to deny communion to a professing Christian (believer in Jesus) at a church service is automatic excommunication from church, thus regarding that person thereafter as a non-Christian. That is a practice that Jesus also instituted, in Matthew 18.15-20, but not for abortion. In fact, the entire Bible never says anything about abortion.

The Roman Catholic Church’s Canon 1398 says, “a person who procures a successful abortion incurs an automatic (latae sententiae) excommunication.” That status can only be removed when that woman seeks penance for having had an abortion and obtains priestly absolution for it. But this canon does not say anything about Catholics who accept abortion. Thus, the this Conference of Bishops seems to have overstepped the Church’s canon law about abortion.

What do you think?


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