Vatican to US Bishops: Not So Fast on Denying Communion to Biden and Pro-Choice Politicians

Vatican to US Bishops: Not So Fast on Denying Communion to Biden and Pro-Choice Politicians May 11, 2021

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Gerard O’Connell, the Vatican correspondent for America, had a great scoop yesterday in reporting on a new letter that the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine for the Faith sent this month to Archbishop Jose Gomez regarding the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops looking into issuing a document on “Eucharistic coherence” in light of pro-choice Catholic politicians like President Joe Biden.

Basically, the letter – dated May 7 – advises Gomez – in his capacity as USCCB president – that the bishops conference should issue such a document only after a two-stage process of “extensive and serene dialogue,” first among the bishops themselves to reach a consensus so as “to maintain unity” in the conference, and then between individual bishops and pro-choice Catholic politicians in their jurisdictions as a means of understanding the politicians’ positions and their understanding of Catholic teaching on issues such as abortion, euthanasia and other moral evils.

As noted by Catholic News Service and other Catholic media outlets, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, the CDF prefect, said his letter was it was in response to a letter from Archbishop Gomez informing the CDF that the U.S. bishops were preparing to address the situation of Catholic politicians and “the worthiness to receive holy Communion.”

Reports Catholic News Service:

Cardinal Ladaria warned that without the unanimity of the bishops, a national policy, “given its possibly contentious nature,” could “become a source of discord rather than unity within the episcopate and the larger church in the United States.”

The cardinal also suggested the discussion “would best be framed within the broad context of worthiness for the reception of holy Communion on the part of all the faithful, rather than only one category of Catholics, reflecting their obligation to conform their lives to the entire Gospel of Jesus Christ as they prepare to receive the sacrament.”

Given the importance of the issue, which goes beyond the boundaries of the United States, Cardinal Ladaria also said, “Every effort should be made to dialogue with other episcopal conferences as this policy is formulated in order both to learn from one another and to preserve unity in the universal church.”

The Pillar, which like other outlets obtained a copy of the letter and posted it online, notes that other bishops’ conferences – including CELAM – have issued statements on Eucharistic coherence in the past:

Following the Fifth General Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Bishops’ Conferences in 2007 in Aparecida, Brazil, the bishops there issued a final document which has been referenced by Pope Francis on several occasions.

In it, the bishops wrote that “We hope that legislators, heads of government, and health professionals, conscious of the dignity of human life and of the rootedness of the family in our peoples, will defend and protect it from the abominable crimes of abortion and euthanasia; that is their responsibility.”

“Hence, in response to government laws and provisions that are unjust in the light of faith and reason, conscientious objection should be encouraged,” they said. 

“We must adhere to ‘Eucharistic coherence,’ that is, be conscious that they cannot receive Holy Communion and at the same time act with deeds or words against the commandments, particularly when abortion, euthanasia, and other grave crimes against life and family are encouraged.” 

The fallout from Cardinal Ladaria’s letter is being felt today. Over at the National Catholic Reporter, columnist Michael Sean Winters writes that the Vatican essentially is throwing “a wet blanket” on some bishops’ drive to deny Biden the Eucharist for his position in favor of keeping abortion legal:

Not only did Ladaria effectively derail those plans, he diplomatically asked, “What the hell are you thinking?” He is at pains to remind them how bishops should conduct themselves. The letter systematically pulls apart the rhetorical building blocks that had been assembled by the advocates of denying Communion to President Joe Biden.

As the Associated Press notes, there is division among the bishops, “with some pressing for Biden and other Catholic public figures to be excluded from Communion over their abortion stance, and other bishops warning that such a move would be politically polarizing.”

Among the leaders of the campaign to rebuke Biden is Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, who recently issued a pastoral letter arguing that Catholic politicians who support abortion rights should not receive Communion. A few days later, Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego published an essay saying such an initiative “will bring tremendously destructive consequences.”

 Regardless, it now appears very unlikely that a USCCB document that rebukes Biden for his pro-choice position and that says he and other politicians like him should be denied communion will be forthcoming anytime soon.


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