On June 18, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) voted 168 to 55 to draft a document outlining conditions for the proper reception of Holy Communion for Catholics. The Doctrine Committee of the Bishops Conference will write and submit it for approval at the bishops’ November gathering.
Although his name was not mentioned anywhere, the vote was clearly a response to President Biden. Indeed, some form of confrontation was inevitable. The country has never had a president who makes his Catholicism such a big part of his identity. The president not only mentions his faith often but attends Mass and receives Holy Communion. At the same time, he publicly and obstinately rejects Catholic moral teaching on procured abortion, homosexual “marriage” and transgenderism.
The bishops’ vote was widely reported around the world. Most of the coverage tried to portray it as a political confrontation. The bishops, some said, were trying to “weaponize” the Eucharist to score cheap political points against President Biden and the Democrats.
Such a perspective misses the point. It is not merely a confrontation between the president and some American Catholic bishops. Nor is the battle exclusively about abortion or Holy Communion. The struggle goes much deeper than politics. Rather, it is the first major skirmish in a Catholic Civil War that has been brewing for many years.
From John Kerry to Joe Biden
The first shots of this battle were fired in 2004. That year, pro-abortion Catholic Senator John Kerry ran for president against pro-life George W. Bush. The scandal of a pro-abortion Catholic candidate became a significant issue during the campaign. Faithful Catholics, who make up the vast majority of the pro-life movement, were outraged. They put pressure on the bishops to clarify Catholic doctrine and not allow Kerry, a public sinner, to receive Holy Communion.
During the 2004 campaign, at least 15 bishops – led by then-Archbishop of Saint Louis Raymond Burke – issued statements that Catholic politicians who support abortion were not welcome to receive Holy Communion in their dioceses. Even Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was compelled to address the issue. He issued a statement, “Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion: General Principles,” in which he repeated the traditional teaching of the Church in Canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law.
Several U.S. bishops disagreed. Then-Archbishop of Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and Kerry’s own bishop Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston continued to give Holy Communion to Kerry and other pro-abortion Catholics. This caused an unprecedented division among the American episcopate. The USCCB took a neutral position, leaving the decision to deny Communion to each bishop.
On June 10, 2004, the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property (TFP) published Catholics Must Affirm Their Faith in Their Public Lives, which reproduced the bishops’ statements reaffirming the true Catholic doctrine. The insistence of pro-abortion Catholics like John Kerry to receive Holy Communion, it said, is a secularist attack on the Catholic Church and an attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable.
That November, President George W. Bush defeated John Kerry 50.7% to 48.3%. In addition, Kerry became the first Catholic presidential candidate to lose the Catholic vote. Many observers say that losing the decisive Catholic vote cost Kerry the election. He lost it largely due to his pro-abortion positions highlighted by the Holy Communion controversy.
Joe Biden, Procured Abortion, and the Bishops
Joe Biden ran a very different campaign than John Kerry and especially John F. Kennedy. In 1960, JFK was the Catholic candidate who tried to win votes by distancing himself from the Church. In 2004, John Kerry said he was Catholic and attended Mass, but otherwise gave no particular importance to his Catholicism.
In 2020, Biden put his Catholic faith front and center. Both Joe Biden and Donald Trump went to great pains to persuade Catholic voters. Biden did extensive outreach to Catholics and made sure he was seen attending Mass and receiving Communion on Sunday. Donald Trump touted his pro-life actions as president, his attendance at the March for Life and made abortion a central issue to his campaign. Catholics were very visible in both the Democrat and Republican Conventions. In the end, the Catholic vote was split nearly down the middle. However, practicing Catholics (as opposed to just nominal Catholics) voted overwhelmingly for Trump, as much as 60%, according to one poll.
What Does It Mean to Be Catholic? The President, the Cardinal,
and Communion for Pro-Abortion Politicians
At his inauguration on January 20, Joe Biden went out of his way to display his left-wing Catholicism. The day’s ceremonies were full of prominent Catholic leftists, from former Georgetown University President Fr. Leo J. O’Donovan, S.J. to poet Amanda Gorman to singer Lady Gaga. He even invoked Saint Augustine, “a member of my church,” in his call for “unity.”
The same day, Archbishop José Gomez, USCCB President, issued an official statement to the new administration. He acknowledged that the bishops were looking forward to working with President Biden on issues of common agreement. He pointed out, however, that the president “pledged to pursue certain policies that would advance moral evils and threaten human life and dignity, most seriously in the areas of abortion, contraception, marriage, and gender…Of deep concern is the liberty of the Church and the freedom of believers to live according to their consciences.”1
Progressivist bishops immediately attacked Archbishop Gomez and the letter. Cardinal Blaise Cupich, Archbishop of Chicago, tweeted that the statement was “ill-considered” and had “no precedent.” Speaking at a virtual event at Georgetown University on February 2, Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego, said that denying Holy Communion to Biden amounts to “the weaponization of the Eucharist.”2
Cardinal Burke issued a statement on the controversy. On April 8, he wrote that politicians who “publicly and obstinately” support abortion are “apostates” who cannot receive Holy Communion. An apostate is automatically excommunicated and may also be “in heresy, if they obstinately deny or doubt the truth about the intrinsic evil of abortion.” Bishops have a “solemn responsibility” to deny them Holy Communion. Such public sinners are the ones who are “sacrilegiously” using the Sacraments for political purposes.3
On April 28, the USCCB announced a proposal to draft a document on the proper reception of Holy Communion. Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, head of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities, commented that public figures who support abortion yet claim to be Catholic commit “a grave moral evil…Because President Biden is Catholic, it presents unique problem for us…How can he say he’s a devout Catholic and he’s doing these things that are contrary to the church’s teaching?”
The document would, he said, make clear the USCCB’s view that such Catholics should not present themselves for Holy Communion but would leave decisions on withholding Communion up to individual bishops. “There is a growing sense of urgency,” said San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone. “Abortion is not just one among many issues… it’s a direct attack on human life.”4
Three days later, on May 1, Archbishop Cordileone published a pastoral letter on the issue, “Before I Formed You in the Womb I Knew: A Pastoral Letter on the Human Dignity of the Unborn, Holy Communion, and Catholics in Public Life.” He wrote that it is “our responsibility” to the rest of the Catholic community “to correct Catholics who erroneously, and sometimes stubbornly, promote abortion.” “This correction,” he added, “takes several forms and rightly begins with private conversations between the erring Catholic and his or her parish priest or bishop” but can also “take the public form of exclusion from the reception of Holy Communion.”5 Archbishop Cordileone’s statement was especially significant as his diocese is the home of Nancy Pelosi, one of America’s most well-known pro-abortion “Catholics.”
The Vatican has not remained indifferent to this confrontation. On May 7, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, sent a letter to Archbishop Gomez throwing cold water on the initiative. Cardinal Ladaria stated that any new Communion policy first requires “dialogue” between the bishops and “between bishops and Catholic pro-choice politicians within their jurisdictions.” Even then, the Cardinal wrote, the bishops should see unanimous support for any national policy to avoid it becoming “a source of discord rather than unity within the episcopate and the larger church in the United States.”6
On May 26, a letter to Archbishop Gomez was leaked to The Pillar news website. Signed by sixty-seven bishops, it asked him to disallow any discussion or document about Communion for pro-abortion politicians citing a lack of “consensus” on the question of Eucharistic coherence. Among the signers were Cardinals Gregory, Cupich, and O’Malley.
One day before the bishops’ vote, CRC Research released a poll. It showed that 83% of Catholics who attend Mass regularly believe that Catholic politicians with stated positions contrary to Church teaching “create confusion and disunity.” Nearly three-quarters say that these officials should not present themselves for Holy Communion. In addition, 72% of respondents said the bishops should discuss” admission to Holy Communion for these officials, and nearly 90% believe it is important for Catholic bishops to teach and lead others in matters of the faith.7
The Catholic Left Responds
The very same day of the bishops’ vote, a group of pro-abortion Catholic Congressmen signed an open letter “Statement of Principles.” The letter was drafted by Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and signed by fifty-nine Congressional Democrats, including Ted Lieu, Joaquin Castro, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
“We believe,” they wrote, “the separation of church and state allows for our faith to inform our public duties and best serve our constituents.” Although claiming to “work every day to advance respect for life and the dignity of every human being,” they attacked the “weaponization of the Eucharist to Democratic lawmakers for their support of a woman’s safe and legal access to abortion.” They invoked the so-called seamless garment argument that claims that an integral pro-life ethic must include support for illegal immigration and welfare programs.8
Later that day, a reporter asked Mr. Biden if he thought the bishops might deny him Holy Communion. “That’s a private matter, and I don’t think that’s going to happen,” he said. Two days later, he attended Mass and received Holy Communion at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church near his Delaware home.
A Catholic Civil War
The bishops’ vote was not the result of a sudden conversion. Many U.S. bishops, such as Cardinals Cupich, Tobin, O’Malley, and Gregory, have no problem giving Holy Communion to pro-abortion politicians. Most of the rest have turned a blind eye to the problem. Since the sixties, the policy of the Vatican has been to embrace the spirit of the world and allow individuals to follow their own morals as they see fit and without any consequences. This policy reached its logical conclusion in 2013 when Pope Francis responded with “Who am I to judge?” to a question about homosexual priests. Therefore, rather than a profound conversion, a more likely cause of the June 18 vote is the enormous pressure from lay Catholics to do something.
For Pope Francis, the Holy Eucharist Is the “Bread of Sinners,”
for Saint Thomas Aquinas, It Is “Panis Angelorum”
As weak and insufficient as it was, the significance of the vote is still a major defeat for the Catholic left. It is perhaps the first time since Vatican II that the U.S. bishops, as one body, took a step towards enforcing Catholic faith and morals among Catholics in the public square. It represents a serious defeat of the post-Conciliar obsession with “dialogue” in which heresy and orthodoxy were allowed to peacefully coexist side-by-side. Also defeated was the so-called seamless garment metaphor, which denies that abortion is a “pre-eminent issue” and instead pushes progressive causes like the Green New Deal, gun control, or amnesty for illegal immigrants. Most significantly, it is a sign of open warfare between two factions in the Catholic Church.
On the one side is the pseudo-Church of the Catholic left rooted in socialism, modernism and heresy. Never have so many Catholics in public life so defiantly rejected Catholic morality on abortion and the natural family. They are descendants of the French movement Le Sillon who tried to reconcile the social Revolution with Catholicism and were condemned by Pope Saint Pius X in 1910. From Richard Durban and Nancy Pelosi to Bishop Robert McElroy and Fr. James Martin, S.J., their spiritual descendants have been a source of scandal for Catholics. Many are open supporters of evil ideologies such as socialism, Marxism or communism. This pseudo-church is spreading like cancer inside the Mystical Body of Christ.
On the other side is the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church rooted in orthodoxy and the traditional Magisterium. This Church comprises the millions of faithful, practicing Catholics – clergy and laity – who defend the Church’s traditional teachings on both Faith and morals. These Catholics do not believe that the truth evolves, that the Church must adapt to the modern world, or that Catholicism and socialism are compatible. They are also the heart and soul of the pro-life and pro-family movements. Yet, they have been forced to watch President Biden receive Holy Communion while at the same time supporting procured abortion.
Like previous heresies, members of the Catholic left’s pseudo-Church are interspersed with faithful Catholics in the same visible, external structures. But they are locked in an intensifying struggle, with both claiming to be the true Church while trying to wipe out the other. The outcome of this battle will determine the fate of the Catholic Church and Western civilization.
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