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Communion, communication, and controversy

Some media chose to see Cardinal Ladaria’s letter as a brake on action by the bishops, but it’s more accurately read as a green light to move ahead cautiously, with indications of how to do that.

Prelates pray during the 2017 fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. The 2021 spring general assembly of the USCCB will take place June 16-18. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

If you’re seeking evidence of how hard it is for the Church to communicate its message in and to our secularized, polarized, hyper-politicized society, consider reactions to the news that the American bishops are thinking of making a statement on Catholic politicians like President Biden who receive communion while backing abortion.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops lacks authority to deny communion to Biden or any other abortion supporter. Whether to do that or not is up to local bishops in their own dioceses. But USCCB certainly can speak to the issue. The bishops will discuss developing a statement doing that during their June 16-18 general meeting.

The discussion, which will take place virtually, will have as its background a letter to USCCB president Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles from Cardinal Luis Ladaria, S.J., prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Replying to a letter Archbishop Gomez had sent him, Cardinal Ladaria said the bishops should dialogue among themselves and with other bishops’ conference facing the same problem–Catholic politicians who back “abortion, euthanasia, or other moral evils”–before they say anything. Even then, he added, deciding what action to take, if any, will remain with individual ordinaries.

Some media chose to see the Ladaria letter as a brake on action by the bishops, but it’s more accurately read as a green light to move ahead cautiously, with indications of how to do that.

A few bishops would prefer saying nothing, but most appear disposed to proceed. One who argues for silence, Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego, cites the danger that the bishops will be misrepresented. “In our society,” he said in a panel discussion earlier this year, a bishops’ statement raising the communion issue would be viewed as “weaponization of the Eucharist…to pummel [politicians like Biden] into submission.”

Bishop McElroy is right–not about the pros and cons of a statement, which is overdue and badly needed, but about misrepresenting the bishops, whether by design or accident. For example: a Religion News Service commentary told the world the bishops’ real aim is to give a hand to Biden’s GOP opponents, an Associated Press story quoted a theology professor who claimed the proposed statement would be payback to unnamed “donors,” and an ultraconservative news site said Cardinal Ladaria was “admonishing” Archbishop Gomez in his letter rather than giving him a conditional go-ahead.

The kindest word for these remarks is obtuse. Think what you will about the advisability of a statement, it’s abundantly clear that the bishops have two things in view here: the good of souls–including the souls of erring Catholic politicians–and reverence for the Blessed Sacrament.

Several bishops already have stressed both dimensions in statements of their own. One of them, Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix, called it “false patience” for bishops to keep quiet while the “slaughter” via abortion continues “with the full endorsement of Catholic politicians under our spiritual care [who] receive Our Lord in the Most Blessed Sacrament.” Telling such people not to receive communion as long as they support abortion is “an obligation and an act of love,” he said.

And so the stage is set for what could be a dramatic debate by the bishops. From their perspective, the issues at stake are profoundly religious, but the media can be expected to stress the political angle. Here’s hoping that, whatever the bishops decide, it will be interpreted accurately as arising from pastoral concern about an issue not of their choosing.


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About Russell Shaw 231 Articles
Russell Shaw was secretary for public affairs of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops/United States Catholic Conference from 1969 to 1987. He is the author of 20 books, including Nothing to Hide, American Church: The Remarkable Rise, Meteoric Fall, and Uncertain Future of Catholicism in America, and, most recently, Eight Popes and the Crisis of Modernity.

21 Comments

  1. Let the ordained priesthood take their teaching authority in hand casting fear of hardship aside for the good of souls.

    2 Tim 2:1-5;23-26
    1.So you, my child, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. 2.And what you heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will have the ability to teach others as well. 3.Bear your share of hardship along with me like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.4.To satisfy the one who recruited him, a soldier does not become entangled in the business affairs of life.5.Similarly, an athlete cannot receive the winner’s crown except by competing according to the rules. 23. Avoid foolish and ignorant debates, for you know that they breed quarrels.24. A slave of the Lord should not quarrel, but should be gentle with everyone, able to teach, tolerant, And what you heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will have the ability to teach others as well. 25.correcting opponents with kindness. It may be that God will grant them repentance that leads to knowledge of the truth,26and that they may return to their senses out of the devil’s snare, where they are entrapped by him, for his will.

  2. The subject issue is “ clearly defined universal precept of Catholic Faith.”
    Opinions don’t count! The USCCB has the authority and obligation to address the issue on a timely and unmistakable basis! To date they have failed miserably and are responsible for the resultant Scandal! Shame!

  3. Yes, the bishops, individually and as a group must do the right thing and excercise Canon Law. This concern about the secular media misrepresenting said actions are neither here nor there. Of course they will attack and misrepresent the bishops, they ,the media ,serve mammon, the spirit of the world. The bishops are to serve God and the Church, leaving the outcome of all things with God. Could good Catholics and their bishops be in for a more violent persecution? Sure. They are already vandalizing Church property every day in this country and around the world. I feel prepared, it is called surrendering and trusting in God daily. When I was younger and healthier I prayed in front of abortion clinics. I am 75 and in poor health so I pray at home. What is needed is courage, clarity and speaking the truth in very firmly. Never, never, never give in to the sin of supporting abortion by word or deed. Keep your focus on serving God and His truth.

    • Most of the US bishops are cowards. So don’t expect anything to come out of their Spring General Meeting. It’ll be business as usual, especially in light of the fact they are afraid politicians will stop the flow of government money into their coffers through the likes of Catholic Charities and other operations. Perhaps Cordileone might pull the plug on Pelosi, but most CINO politicians like Biden are in dioceses with liberal bishops. I’m not going to hold my breath thinking this will ever be resolved in my lifetime.

  4. I have enjoyed many of Russell Charles writings. But I am not sure where he’s getting some of his information for this article. “ A few bishops would prefer saying nothing but most appear ready to proceed.“ it’s abundantly clear that the bishops have two things in view here: The good of souls – including the souls of erring Catholic politicians-and reverence for the blessed sacrament.”.
    There are several hundred Bishops in United States. And, I believe I can count on the fingers of both hands those that have made any kind of strong statement on this issue, and many of those statements have been couched in the terms of “the politician should not present himself for communion, “As opposed to the fact that the bishops should refuse them communion.

  5. Nothing will come of this….. the “mitres” are too busy consulting faux-chi on vaccine passes for Holy Communion & George Floyd Masses…
    Next it’ll be the ‘defund the police’ adoration hours…

  6. “Even then, Cardinal Ladaria added, deciding what action to take, if any, will remain with individual ordinaries” (Shaw). Shaw showing consternation like many of us. Infelicitous as it may seem, Cardinal Ladaria is really being practical. Catholic bishops have a severe problem of numbers within the USCCB, with an apparent larger representation of Methodist, Presbyterian, Unitarian Universalist, United Church of Christ, Evangelical Lutherans.

    • You are subtle, Father. God bless you.

      Did anyone read Father Z’s ex/sample letter from a bishop to a politician? No bones or gristle in it– it’s all meat.

  7. San Diego’s McElroy thinks that standing up for the teaching of the Catholic Church “weaponizes” the Eucharist. I fail to understand how that works, unless it’s just subterfuge to allow bishops to hide behind some shield while failing in their teaching role. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is clear: don’t support the killing of unborn babies and present yourself for Communion (2272). The bishops don’t need hammers, they need spines. If any of us lead others astray from the teaching of the Church, we will be held accountable. A mitre doesn’t exonerate the bishops from their responsibility to teach. It’s part of being “shepherds,” who don’t allow the “sheep” to wander away. This goes for all the ordained “shepherds” at all levels.

  8. God said very clearly “Thou shall not kill” The Bishops need to do the same and very clearly speak: “Thou shall not kill.”

  9. From the article: One who argues for silence, Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego, cites the danger that the bishops will be misrepresented. “In our society,” he said in a panel discussion earlier this year, a bishops’ statement raising the communion issue would be viewed as “weaponization of the Eucharist…to pummel [politicians like Biden] into submission.”

    Had Biden, Pelosi, and dare one mention (Ted) Kennedy’s pastor(s) persistently counseled them on their contradiction to Faith and loved them and their eternal life enough to bless them rather than have them consume Our Lord sacrilegiously–to the detriment of their souls–we would not be having this very belated conversation. Yet, what others–mainstream public “think and communicate” about this matter, obviously outside their realm of belief and understanding, is not their prerogative.

    No one is compelled to receive Our Lord Jesus Christ, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. Daily thousands of contrite Catholics in a state of mortal sin decline to approach the altar. They make wonderful spiritual Communions, though, as they work their way back “home.” Those in illicit marriages (as was I once), know not to receive Communion. Is (was) it painful? Absolutely. Does someone feel outside the community? Absolutely. However, is one hopeless?…absolutely not…or should not. I knew God loved me, but to publicly diminish His MOST Holy Presence in the Host would have been hubris with a capital “H” and sowing confusion and disorder among others besides. I was not about to compound my sin! Better for the Bidens of the Church to genuinely reflect on that which is most important, eternal union with God who does not shirk in any way from Truth and Love. Moreover, how much more respect would persons have for them if they simply admitted their conflicting consciences, but that they were not in union with the Church…and what a great hopeful first step for them. (Praying for their conversion!)

  10. The church has lost all moral authority; financial scandals, sexual abuse scandals, cover ups on all levels. People know the 10 commandments. Keep them! Love God and one another. Put our trust in Jesus. And be good. God, his Saints and Angels will never desert us. The church is done.

    • Not so fast. WE are the church. WE are the Body of Christ on earth, and the Head is with us. No, we’re not done yet.

  11. Having spent a career in broadcast news, I think I can say with some assurance that if the media can get this story wrong, they will. Everything they report has to fit the template, and the template for stories about religion and faith is generally based on ignorance, willful or otherwise, outright hostility, or both. The Church has other means of getting the message out, and these should be given priority over the general media.

  12. Me head’s been hit with somethin’ like a bowling ball.

    The German bishops make statements.
    The German bishops ACT on their statements.

    The US bishops cannot make a statement.

    Where is the man in charge? Is he dead or is he alive? Perhaps he’s searching for the gates of hell. Would he know them if he saw them? Would he dare to hold them open or find the strength to close them?

  13. I abhor, without reservation, the purposeful destruction of an unborn child. I am thankful beyond measure that I have never had to consider the idea.

    I was fortunate. Someone with no means to support a child who finds herself carrying new life but, as most of us, dependent on others for her livelihood may find however much she loves and wants her child that she has no support from those on who she is dependent. What right has she to bring into the world a child for whom she can see nothing but rejection and hardship?

    Yes. It is wrong for me to choose to abort my child. I have been fortunate. Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.

    The stain of illegitimacy is likely to be on a child and mother for life. It does not spread to others in the community. Yet it is said (wisely I believe) that it takes a whole community to bring up a child. It also takes a whole community to reject a mother so that she feels the need to abort her own child.

    It is all too easy to assign blame and punish. My respect goes to those who actively support vulnerable mothers-to-be so that they do not feel they have to abort their own children. I notice Rosemarie’s quote from 2 Timothy 2 ends “25.correcting opponents with kindness. It may be that God will grant them repentance that leads to knowledge of the truth,26and that they may return to their senses out of the devil’s snare, where they are entrapped by him, for his will.”

  14. The time is here to restore the Holiness of the Church. Ladaria has turned God in the Blessed Sacrament into a political issue with misguided charity. This issue is about salvation or damnation, there are those who receive Holy Communion to their own damnation, and Ladaria wants the US Bishops to place it on hold? If the Bishops do not obey Ladaria then the Bishops may be called schismatic. When it comes to Jesus, the Bishops are between a rock and a hard place. What has our Holy Roman Catholic Church come to?

  15. Sometimes it is necessary to just apply the KISS principle and get on with doing what is the task at hand. This dancing around the issue is most inappropriate for those in authority. I would suggest that they say a prayer to Mary, Undoer of Knots and then get on with their job of preaching on the morality of the issue.

  16. If a priest (Bishop etc) KNOWINGLY gives communion to a person who has a public platform & presents him/herself as a Catholic who supports abortion or another teaching that takes the lives of persons unethically, that priest is damning the person to hell for receiving the Holy Eucharist while in mortal sin.

    They know when these persons are coming to Mass. It behooves them to have a serious discussion with them to explain the ramifications of receiving in mortal sin & offering Reconciliation IF they are remorseful & committed to changing their actions/support of abortion. Only then would it be a Holy Communion for those people. I don’t know that I would refuse them after that-maybe Jesus would work to change their hearts-but the onus is on them at that point. And we should be hearing clearly & often what the teaching of the church is. Otherwise we are allowing these public figures to lead others into mortal sin with them. (Prior to last election the head of the Democratic Party stated “We will not support a pro-life candidate.”)

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