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The USCCB Vote & Charges of Partisanship

Beware of Outside Influences 

As the American bishops gathered through intermittent ZOOM meetings that were hard to watch with all the drop outs and failures to unmute, we were told that 21,000 people had signed a petition protesting the U.S. Catholic bishops vote on Biden, abortion and the reception of Holy Communion.  Of course, while there were many votes, the one they feared failed to materialize.  What they discussed would not apply to any one politician but to all Catholics, both those in public office and those who support them.  The petition was more than a little disingenuous because behind the effort led by FAITHFUL AMERICA was an Episcopalian priest and the many signatures on the petition were not publicly named or confirmed.  Indeed, given that many or most were likely not even Catholic, it was audacious for them to dictate to the Church what was an internal matter regarding the sacrament of the Eucharist. They might drop the name of Pope Francis and Cardinal Gregory, but I doubt either of them would want to be affiliated with the many leftist positions this organization has taken and its own blatant partisanship. 

The Closed Communion Table of Catholicism

One should not misconstrue any such vote as an effort to “weaponize” the sacrament. Unlike many Protestant churches and the “open table” of Anglicanism, Catholicism has always safeguarded what some call the “closed table.”  The Eucharist is less a means toward instituting ecclesial communion or unity as it is a realization and furtherance of a bond that already exists.  That is why the missalettes ask that non-Catholics and those Catholics not in a state-of-grace (spiritually prepared) refrain from taking the Eucharist. 

Similarly, churches of the west and east traditionally dismissed catechumens prior to the great secret of the Eucharist reserved to full believers.  Today, confrontations at the altar are rare because few priests can read souls and even those who are aware of sins through the sacrament of penance can do nothing to compromise the seal.  We leave it to the communicant to make an examination of conscience as to whether he or she is worthy to come forward or not.  The problem with politicians and other public celebrities is that their views and sins are often paraded before the world and this intensifies the possibility of scandal.  Further, politicians can enact legislation and/or enforce laws that either promote or inhibit moral evils in our society. Indeed, certain theologians contend that the pressing issue for pro-abortion politicians may not be how they live their own day-to-day personal lives; but rather, their defense and support for an agenda judged as offensive by the Church. The latter constitutes a form of heresy that immediately disconnects them from full Church unity.

A Father Should Speak to His Sons & Daughters  

Pope Francis’ admonition for pastors to be sensitive in extending welcome and forgiveness is not new.  It has long been urged that bishops (and priests) sit privately with sons and daughters of the Church who are at odds with elements of moral teaching. The sacrament of penance is particularly valuable in this regard. If potential penitents will not change from their course then the shepherds are to ask them to continue their Mass attendance but to refrain from coming forward for Holy Communion.  Of course, all one can do is ask.  Further, no conference of bishops can dictate to any one bishop as to how he should proceed in his jurisdiction.  Thus, even if most bishops opt to withhold communion when such persons come forward, bishops like our own Cardinal Gregory is still free to do as he pleases.  He has made it clear that he will continue the policy received from Cardinal Wuerl.  It is here that the Holy Father did acknowledge a concern— the sign value of a unified front is always preferable to that of having bishops going in contradictory directions. 

The Intrusion of Politics

Rather than seeing exclusion from Holy Communion as an effort by the U.S. bishops to undermine the president, it should function as a trumpet sounding an alarm for all Catholics to return to fidelity and for all Americans to take more seriously the sanctity of human life and the dignity of persons.  The sanctity of life is a constitutive element of the Gospel.  While one might juridically belong to the Church; spiritually there is really no such thing as a pro-abortion Christian.  It makes one’s faith counterfeit.  As for those who can only see as far as the political atmosphere, how can all this be an effort to prop up Trump now that he has left office?  It seems to me that we have to get over this hysteria that surrounds the ghostly presence of the previous chief executive.  Call an exorcist if this still troubles people, but let us move forward.

Catholics in the last election found themselves in a quandary.  While Trump had fulfilled many of his promises in safeguarding human life against abortion, many were deeply troubled by his attitude toward illegal immigrants, capital punishment, the protection of the environment and the “apparent” hesitance to disavow associations with white supremacists.  In truth, I think the pressing issue was often his personality and tendency to inflate his own importance and to demonize those who opposed him.  (Note that those who supported him felt they had been abandoned, not merely by the Democrats but by “business as usual” Republicans. He became the champion of the deplorables and they loved him.) By contrast, Biden seemed to move further to the left to appease the more radical elements of his base. Many on the political right did not like his opposition to fossil fuels or his support for same-sex unions, what most troubled them in conscience was that he was hailed as a practicing Catholic in good standing, a man with Jesuit priests as friends, and yet he had utterly embraced what Planned Parenthood labeled as “abortion rights.”

If a Catholic has a properly informed conscience, and the two largest parties offer the only viable candidates, then for whom does one vote?  Differing opinions upon matters of policy is one thing; addressing an objective norm of truth and an intrinsic evil is something else. The current atmosphere makes all this difficult to discuss as we have lost a sense of one another as fellow Americans. We make each other the enemy here at home at a time when we have too many enemies in the world. The Church seems to reflect this mentality. Catholic writers are fired from one newspaper or magazine and hired by another. The other side is made up of right-wing fanatics. The left is composed of liberal heretics. The common denominator between them is HATE.

Now that he is elected, the question moves to whether a pro-abortion politician (regardless of other issues and even virtuous stands for justice) can be reconciled or endorsed by the Catholic community and by the bishops.  The reception of Holy Communion is readily understood as a normalization of one’s standing in the Church.  Is it enough that a politician might say that he or she “personally” opposes abortion while at the same time seeking to expand availability for such terminations in the United States and around the world?  I am not sure how one could make this argument without being more than a little duplicitous.

I am well aware that it is far easier to bend on the question of capital punishment than upon abortion.  The many abortion lobbyists are motived not only by the clout of the lucrative abortion industry but also by the hysteria that imbues the movement of radical feminism. By comparison there are few who would fall on their swords for the juridical death sentence. One might imagine that the millions aborted would make the dozen or so executed seem inconsequential; but for all practical purposes, abortion supporters allow the lesser to morally cancel out the greater. 

Until recently, the death sentence while discouraged was permitted in Church teaching as a power of civic leaders to preserve justice and security in society. Pope Francis might categorize it as an intrinsic evil; but, many previous popes, doctors of the Church and traditional thinkers would argue otherwise. While I would equate the destruction of “innocent” human life as of a higher magnitude of iniquity; it may be that a legitimate evolution of thought upon this matter has brought us to this new or enhanced assessment of all human life having “incommensurate” value.  In any case, reflected in the writings of St. Pope John Paul II is that a society corrupted by a culture of death (taking the lives of the innocent in abortion) has arguably relinquished the moral standing to take the human life of the guilty in capital punishment.  Whatever the argumentation, the summation is basically the same.

While there must be immediacy to complicity in abortion so as to be censured with automatic excommunication, like driving a person to the clinic or paying for the abortion, we would still do well to ponder as to whether we are accomplices in the sin of others.  Have voters and then the politicians who are elected fall within that dire sphere of accountability?  There was a priest who recently made a sensation of himself by preaching that Catholics could not vote for the Democratic candidate without committing grievous sin.  A few bishops applauded him.  Most rebuked him or distanced themselves from him.  If even the bishops are divided then how can we expect our good people to know how to proceed?  Most clergy are told that they can speak upon issues but that they must not engage in partisan politics.  How does one do this when the parties are increasingly polarized behind differing issues?  When my parish and local Knights of Columbus Council established a cemetery of the innocents on church grounds (the crosses representing the number of deaths from abortion on an average work day), a lady called and complained, “How dare you put up that Republican display on church grounds in our neighborhood!”  I was not sure what she meant a first.  When I realized it was the symbolic cemetery I returned, “I am sorry you are distressed but the Church is pro-life and as far as I know, every person who worked on the cemetery was a registered Democrat.”  She hanged up.  I live in an area with a number of mega-churches.  One of them is very clearly pro-life and has annually hosted the Students for Life prior to the January march in Washington.  It is a minority county and the black church has great clout here.  There are so many Democrats that the elections are essentially over with the primaries.  And yet, when it comes to abortion, there is a great disconnect with the state and national party.         

One Response

  1. What is the most effective approach to end abortion? Political or religious approach? I believe it is the Gospel, however, we must walk the talk. We need more volunteers to give emotional, financial and healthcare support to pregnant women on a one to one basis We need to show empathy for the living who lack food housing and healthcare. We must walk the talk of the sanctity of life. We must live the Gospel. If lives of those we see are important enough to makes sacrifices of time and financial resources, it will show that the lives of the unborn, not yet seen, are important are important to cherish.

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