Emmitsburg Council of Churches

On Holy Communion

Father John J. Lombardi

Should Catholic pro-abortion politicians, those who continuously cultivate legalized killing of innocent life, be allowed to receive Holy Communion--the Bread of Life? Should American bishops intervene if such politicians do not change their positions? Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (protector of Catholic teachings on faith and morals), was clear in June with Washington's Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the head of the "domestic policy" commission of the U.S. Catholic bishops' conference. He set it down in writing: No Eucharistic communion for the politicians who systematically campaign for abortion.

The bishops of the United States made a different decision. After months of discussion, at their conference's general assembly, held in Denver from June 14 - 19, they published a "note" entitled "Catholics in Political Life," which allows each bishop to discern on whether to give communion to pro-abortion Catholic politicians. The note was passed with 183 voting in favor and 6 against. In his document entitled "Worthiness to receive Holy Communion, General Principals," Cardinal Ratzinger states that "Christians have a grave obligation of conscience not to cooperate formally in practices which, even if permitted by civil legislation, are contrary to God's law. Indeed, from the moral standpoint, it is never licit to cooperate formally in evil. This cooperation can never be justified either by invoking respect for the freedom of others or by appealing to the fact that civil law permits it or requires it." Strong--and clear--words. Further, for all of us to discern: A Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion, if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate's permissive stand on abortion and /or euthanasia.

As Catholics we should know, by now, that not all moral issues have the same moral weight. Although we should strive for justice in all areas of morality, moral issues of minimum-wage and the environment do not equate with abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem-cell research (deliberately creating human embryos to harvest cells for unproven scientific purposes) and alleged homosexual unions. These latter four, clear-cut, contemporary issues and practices, are gravely against the natural law of God. "They show that the demands of the law are written in their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even defend them. (Romans 2:15)"--laws of human nature,-part of being human, like, "Thou shall not steal" and "Thou shall not lie." Everyone knows, too, that rape and child pornography are morally wrong. However, some people today want to change these teachings and thereby alter natural law, God's commands and culture. Beware. Thankfully, Missouri voters unanimously reject a form of "homosexual unions." This shows that most people are against these issues and practices, yet small elitist groups are engineering them for foisting upon the general public.

Just remember: abortion is the killing of children, and euthanasia is, generally, the killing of the elderly or "undesirables". Stem cell research (no matter the unproven promises) maims children and dignity of human life, even in its most innocent and "disguised" form. Homosexual unions denigrate marriage and family life and attempt to force upon the Creator and culture sinful and destructive designs. These are black and white issues. However, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion, though his disagreement should be reasoned, serious and re-considered. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not with regard to abortion and above issues. Would you tolerate and promote outright racists or those who uphold rape or slavery? Would you give them Communion continuously in your church in front of everyone?

Look: all Catholics should discern their own worthiness every time before receiving Holy Communion; Communion is not a right, nor should reception be taken lightly (as so often occurs today-where are the confession lines?!). Regarding the grave sins of abortion or euthanasia, when a person's formal cooperation becomes manifest (understood, as a Catholic politician's consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws), Cardinal Ratzinger emphasizes that his pastor should meet with him, instructing him about the Church's teaching, informing him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist.

With pastoral love, Archbishop Burke, the Bishops of Atlanta, Charlotte and Charleston stated: "To partake of the Eucharist is to partake of Christ Himself and to enter into sacramental communion with our Lord we must all be properly disposed. Because of the influence that Catholics in public life have on the conduct of our daily lives and on the formation of our nation's future, we declare that Catholics serving in public life espousing positions contrary to the teaching of the Church on the sanctity and inviolability of human life, especially those running for or elected to public office are not to be admitted to Holy Communion in any Catholic church within our jurisdictions."

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops published a report entitled "Catholics in Political Life." "The legislative and judicial systems are guilty of cooperating in evil and sinning against the common good when they fail to protect the lives of those who have no protection except the law." The Eucharist is the source and summit of Catholic life. Therefore, like every Catholic generation before us, we must be guided by the words of St. Paul, "Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the Body and Blood of the Lord" (1 Cor 11:27). This means that everyone must examine their conscience as to their worthiness to receive the Body and Blood of the Lord. This examination includes fidelity to the moral teaching of the Church in personal and public life.

The bishops were not as rigorous as Cardinal Ratzinger in their approach. They state that "the question has been raised as to whether the denial of Holy Communion to some Catholics in political life is necessary because of their public support for abortion on demand. Given the wide range of circumstances involved in arriving at a prudential judgment on a matter of this seriousness, we recognize that such decisions rest with the individual bishop in accord with the established canonical and pastoral principles. Bishops can legitimately make different judgments on the most prudent course of pastoral action. Our obligation as bishops at this time is to teach clearly."

We thank Cardinal Ratzinger, Bishops Burke, Sheridan and others who have taught clearly and intervening--will others follow? We desperately need strong leaders in our bishops! The US Bishops wrote: "It is with pastoral solicitude for everyone involved in the political process that we will also counsel Catholic public officials that their acting consistently to support abortion on demand risks making them cooperators in evil in a public manner. We will persist in this duty to counsel, in the hope that the scandal of their cooperating in evil can be resolved by the proper formation of their consciences."

It is feared that the polarizing tendencies of election year politics can lead to circumstances in which Catholic teaching and Sacramental practice can be misused for political ends. The Church faces some risks if it enforces stricter penalties against politicians. Cardinal Avery Dulles, respected American-Jesuit theologian, states that "in imposing penalties, the Church is trying to protect the sacraments against the profanation that occurs when they are received by people without the proper dispositions. Dissenting politicians often want to receive Communion as a way of showing that they are still 'good Catholics,' when in fact they are choosing their political party over their faith. But the imposition of penalties involves…risks."

The bishops may be accused, however unfairly, of trying to coerce the politician's conscience. You may respond: The bishops--and all of us--are aiming at conversion, not coercion. It is the duty of every priest and bishop to help others form their consciences and be convicted-in Christ. When someone disagrees-esp. in this instance of life and death, the bishop should try harder; and if the scandal persists, then stronger procedures must be taken. Didn't people get on the backs of some leaders for not resisting apartheid in S. Africa and dictator Slobodan Milosevic in Croatia? Why not here? If not now, when? If not our bishops, who? Have we lost zeal for souls and grown lukewarm?

Secondly, people may accuse the Church of meddling in the political process, which in this country depends upon the free consent of the governed. Regarding this error, remember: The bishops are being pastoral, not political. Their goals are: 1) salvation of souls; 2) promoting the Culture of Life; 3) Avoiding public scandal. Let's face it, though, they may not win the public relations war. But also remember, one of the biggest lessons for us Americans: "We're called to be faithful, not successful (Mother Teresa)… For all of these reasons, the Church is sometimes reluctant to discipline politicians in a public way, even when it is clear that their positions are morally indefensible.

What to Do/What You Can Do Pray to Jesus in the Eucharist for Bishops and priests…Offer Penances for them and Catholic pro-abortion politicians. The Virgin Mary at Lourdes and Fatima asked the children to sacrifice and do penance (heroic love in action). Give up some food, time, talent or treasure and offer to God for our bishops and politicians. Write a letter make a call to both politicians and bishops-emphasize kindly the tremendous importance of this issue, the salvation of souls and Catholic public life, and that people are already scandalized

Remember- Truth is one. The Devil is trying to split up the Truth as you perceive it.

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi