The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ historic meeting this week is the culmination of decades of ideological clashes over one question: Should pro-abortion politicians receive communion?
Some bishops called for a delay on a scheduled vote on drafting a formal statement regarding the Eucharist, according to America magazine.
But many conservative bishops pushed back, demanding a vote this week.
America reported that “the statement will be addressed to all Catholics,” but it would “include the theological foundation for the Church’s discipline concerning the reception of Holy Communion and a special call for those Catholics who are cultural, political, or parochial leaders to witness the faith.”
Proponents of such a statement point out that all Christians, including politicians, are called to witness the faith. And when public officials openly promote a practice directly opposed to the Roman Catholic faith, they enter into what is rightly called heresy and must be denied communion.
Those who defend and celebrate grave sin can lead countless souls astray.
That is especially true when the person in question is the most visible — and powerful — lay Catholic in the world.
A Shift in Priorities
The USCCB has gone through a political shift in recent years as conservative bishops assert their place within the conference and hold fast to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.
Notably, Fr. James Altman of Wisconsin last year posted a video online in which he proclaimed, “You cannot be Catholic and be a Democrat. Period. Their party platform absolutely is against everything the Catholic Church teaches, so just quit pretending that you’re Catholic and vote Democrat. Repent of your support of that party and its platform or face the fires of hell.”
Bishop Joseph Strickland of Texas wholeheartedly supported him.
As the Bishop of Tyler I endorse Fr Altman’s statement in this video. My shame is that it has taken me so long. Thank you Fr Altman for your COURAGE. If you love Jesus & His Church & this nation…pleases HEED THIS MESSAGE https://t.co/D413G0lfQV
— Bishop J. Strickland (@Bishopoftyler) September 5, 2020
This shift to reasserting the ancient teachings of the Church has resulted in some difficulties for President Joe Biden.
The president, who regularly attends Sunday mass, is on occasion forced to dispatch staffers to ensure he avoids priests and bishops who may deny him communion, The Washington Post reported.
He certainly wants to avoid a repeat of a 2019 trip to South Carolina, when he was denied the sacrament by Fr. Robert E. Morey.
“Sadly, this past Sunday, I had to refuse Holy Communion to former Vice President Joe Biden,” Morey wrote at the time.
“Holy Communion signifies we are one with God, each other and the Church. Our actions should reflect that,” he continued. “Any public figure who advocates for abortion places himself or herself outside of Church teaching.”
Everyday Catholics Agree
This month, CatholicVote asked 600 Roman Catholics whether Catholic public officials who disagree with the Church on serious or grave matters should present themselves for communion.
A whopping 74 percent of responding Catholics agreed — Catholic politicians as described above should not receive communion.
And a surprising 82 percent believed that public officials who call themselves Roman Catholic but advocate for policies hostile to Church doctrine are hypocritical.
The poll was conducted from June 1 to June 8 and had a margin of error of +/- 4 percentage points.
Limits to the USCCB
Although the USCCB is the national conference of American bishops, any document it presents is not binding. Individual bishops are autonomous, answerable only to Pope Francis.
However, those bishops who choose to ignore a potential document will place themselves outside the norm and call attention to themselves and their defiance.
Private Decisions Made Public
Receiving the Eucharist is indeed a private affair. All Catholics are called to examine their conscience so that, as St. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians, they can receive communion worthily: “Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves.” (1 Corinthians 11:28-29)
However, when public officials openly oppose Church teaching and encourage others to do the same, they put themselves and their souls in grave danger. The Church, in her mercy, works to protect her children and bring them back into union with Christ.
Withholding the Eucharist is one of the ways this is done.
Not a Punishment, But an Act of Mercy
In the Code of Canon Law, the Church explains that it “has the innate and proper right to coerce offending members of the Christian faithful with penal sanctions,” and that these sanctions are medicinal in nature.
The point of any sanction — including excommunication — is to call upon the offending Christian to repent and turn back to Christ.
Many Catholics are praying for the conversion of Biden’s heart.
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