Photo by Maria Oswalt on Unsplash
Bishop Robert McElroy writes:
It is almost 50 years since the Supreme Court decision in the case Roe v. Wade. While progress in reducing abortions has occurred in some jurisdictions and the number of abortions nationwide has fallen, the United States still rejects the legal structures and policies that can bring meaningful protection to the unborn. The election of President Biden and a Democratic Congress is a sign that, outside of the courts, federal progress on the pivotal moral issue of abortion will not occur in the immediate future. This is an immense sadness for every bishop in our country and for the church as a whole, and leaders of the church are ardently seeking a step that will advance the protection of the unborn.
But the proposal to exclude pro-choice Catholic political leaders from the Eucharist is the wrong step. It will bring tremendously destructive consequences—not because of what it says about abortion, but because of what it says about the Eucharist….
Because of this sacred nature and identity, the Eucharist must never be instrumentalized for a political end, no matter how important. But that is precisely what is being done in the effort to exclude Catholic political leaders who oppose the church’s teaching on abortion and civil law. The Eucharist is being weaponized and deployed as a tool in political warfare. This must not happen….
A second problematic dimension of this theology of unworthiness is that while it is expansive in its notion of unworthiness, it applies sanctions very selectively and inconsistently. Proposals to exclude pro-choice Catholic political leaders from the Eucharist have focused on abortion, and at times euthanasia, as the imperative issues for which the bishops should adopt a national policy of eucharistic exclusion. Their logic is that abortion and euthanasia are particularly grave evils, they are intrinsically evil and they involve threats to human life.
But why hasn’t racism been included in the call for eucharistic sanctions against political leaders? Racism was enumerated as a compelling intrinsic evil by St. John Paul II in “Veritatis Splendor” and by the Second Vatican Council….
Racism is tearing at the heart of our nation with intense fury at this very moment, yet the intrinsic evil of racism is not a grounds for eucharistic exclusion in the proposals that have been brought this year to our conference of bishops for action. It will be impossible to convince large numbers of Catholics in our nation that this omission does not spring from a desire to limit the impact of exclusion to Democratic public leaders and a desire to avoid detracting from the focus on abortion….
At a time when we are emerging from a pandemic and seeking to rebuild the eucharistic community, it would be particularly wounding to embrace and emphasize a theology of unworthiness and exclusion rather than a theology that emphasizes Christ’s unrelenting invitation to all.
What is going on? Naumann, Cordileone, Aquila and Olmsted are not stupid men. They know that a bishops’ conference has no role in this matter, that Biden is a baptized Catholic, subject to canon law, and that canon law leaves this issue entirely to Biden and his pastor. They know, too, that persisting in this effort will further divide their own organization, pitting bishop against bishop on a highly public issue that is emotionally fraught and involving issues that are easily misunderstood and even more easily enflamed to affect emotional manipulation. They also know that a teaching document requires a two-thirds majority vote, and it is highly doubtful they would achieve that, and such a document requires the approbation of the Holy See, which is even less likely.
It seems obvious to me that this rush to draft a document is the ecclesial equivalent of the effort by Republican officials to cast doubt on results of the 2020 election, an effort to delegitimize Biden in the public’s mind. This conflation of politics and religion is evident in the fact that a political organization, CatholicVote.org, is one of the principal advocacy groups fomenting this campaign about sacramental discipline….
As I have written before, it is foolish to think that Biden going to Communion will confuse anyone about what the church teaches regarding the evil of abortion. Is there anyone who does not know the church’s position? No. Why then, this crusade?
There are some Catholics for whom opposition to abortion has become the key to their religious and political identity. There are worse markers of identity a person could adopt. There are people whose political and religious identity is wrapped in racism, for example. But there’s the rub. In the current political climate, and certainly in the last election, making abortion the determinative issue required winking at racism — and at misogyny, and nativism, and indifference to climate change, and, finally, a fascistic willingness to overturn election results.
Biden is not performing abortions and he has never, to my knowledge, questioned the church’s teaching on abortion. Groups like Catholics for Choice do try and undermine the church’s teaching, or at least they try and muddy the waters, and that is evil.
Biden does not do that. If he is wrong — and I think he is — he is wrong about how to properly relate a Catholic’s necessary commitment to the protection of all human life with the political realities he faces. My Catholic friends who are Republican face the exact same kind of difficulty on other issues.
I wish both sides would try and convince their fellow politicians and the public at large that the church is correct — about abortion, about immigration, about poverty, about the environment, about racism, etc. — but instead they try and claim that the Gospel prioritizes their partisan issues and permits us to make excuses when that claim is demonstrably false….
What does scandalize us is that the bishops would engage in this kind of hyper-partisan willingness to highlight some issues and ignore or denigrate others. It is they who “isolate some particular element to the detriment of the whole” yielding the very adjective they now seek to employ: incoherence.