Eucharistic coherence, President Joe Biden’s abortion stance, and pro-abortion Catholic politicians receiving Communion have been hot issues for quite a while, especially since Biden’s election. But the tensions and debates have increased in recent weeks, in part because of stories and rumors about whether or not a discussion on Eucharistic coherence would take place among the US bishops at their Spring Assembly, which meets June 16-18.
Here is a rundown of how the discussion has progressed over the past few weeks.
At their meeting this month, members of the U.S. bishops’ conference are expected to discuss a proposed document on “Eucharistic coherence,” on the worthy reception of Holy Communion by Catholics. But a group of more than 60 bishops has written to Archbishop Jose Gomez this month, pressing for the U.S. bishops’ conference leadership to suspend discussion “Eucharistic coherence” at the USCCB’s June meeting.
The Pillar, which broke the story, reported:
The letter was signed by several U.S. cardinals, including Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, and Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston. New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan was originally a signatory to the letter, but he withdrew his name from the text after it was sent.
However, a source close to the USCCB stated that they believe reports on Biden and Communion from the AP and the Washington Post are either “just totally ignorant of the Church’s structure,” or meant “to pressure the bishops into silence” regarding the Equality Act.
Whatever the case, discussion about Eucharistic coherence and possible ecclesiastical discipline has increased, not lessened. Despite the 60 or so bishops who want to delay the conversation, many clergy and laity are saying it needs to be had sooner than later.
In an April 18th CWR essay titled “Eucharistic Coherence,” Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila wrote:
When one partakes of the Eucharist, one is stating by one’s very action that one is in communion with Christ and his Church. However, if one is in mortal sin when receiving Communion, one is telling a lie, for, in being in a state of mortal sin, one is neither in communion with Christ nor his Church.
The noted Capuchin Franciscan theologian Fr. Thomas Weinandy said in a May 1 essay for The Catholic Thing, entitled “Politicizing the Eucharist”, that dissenting Catholic politicians abuse and politicize the Eucharist when they receive the sacrament while promoting policies and actions contrary to the faith, such as legal abortion. Fr. Weinandy insists that the real culprits when it comes to politicizing the sacrament are pro-abortion politicians, concluding:
In the end, what cannot be denied in all this deception, is the work of the devil. He, above all, wishes to politicize the Eucharist – to reduce it to political marketing. Nothing could be more deceptive than “devout” Catholic politicians wreaking havoc on the Catholic Church and Catholic bishops approving such devilish behavior.
Regarding the charge of “politicizing the Eucharist,” Ignatius Press president Mark Brumley stated, in an essay published at America:
Catholics can and do act in the political sphere in ways either consistent with eucharistic communion or contrary to it. They can and sometimes do commit grave sins in their policy stances. When Catholic politicians act contrary to eucharistic communion (i.e., commit a grave sin in the political sphere), they should either refrain from the Eucharist until after receiving sacramental reconciliation (Code of Canon Law, No. 916); or, if they obstinately persevere in manifest grave sin, they should not be given Communion (No. 915).
Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix said in a May 6 statement, “Woe to us bishops if we do not speak clearly about the grave evil of abortion, and the consequences of any Catholic who participates in the act or publicly supports it by word or action.”
When the Vatican stepped into the discussion in early May, it seemed to only cause more confusion. Luis Cardinal Ladaria, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, wrote May 7 to the head of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops regarding admission to Communion, affirming the centrality of the congregation’s 2002 note on Catholic’s participation in politics and the importance of safeguarding the rights of ordinaries in their local Churches.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) subsequently said she was “pleased” with this letter from the Vatican to U.S. bishops on Communion for pro-abortion politicians. She claimed that the Vatican’s statement “basically said ‘don’t be divisive on the subject’.”
Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco – Pelosi’s home archdiocese – responded that the Vatican actually supported “dialogue” between bishops and pro-abortion Catholic politicians “to help them understand the grave evil they are helping to perpetrate and accompany them to a change of heart.”
Bishop Olmsted spoke out again, reaffirming his position, saying “The care of souls is our first concern.” He stated that he is protecting the Eucharist, not “politicizing” it, by teaching that Catholic politicians cannot support abortion and receive Communion.
“I’m deeply grieved by the rising public acrimony among bishops and the adoption of behind-closed-doors maneuvers to interfere with the accepted, normal, agreed-upon procedures of the USCCB,” Archbishop Cordileone said in a statement provided to Catholic News Agency.
“The issue of Eucharistic coherence is primarily ‘a question of love, a question of charity toward our neighbor,” Archbishop Aquila said in a statement to the USCCB.
Archbishop Cordileone called an effort to push Eucharistic coherence from the USCCB’s June agenda “unacceptable,” and called for U.S. bishops to engage in more mutual prayer, and a free and honest debate on the issue.
Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas voiced support for Archbishop Cordileone on Twitter, saying May 26: “Thank you Archbishop Cordileone… I am with you… let us be pastors.”
On May 25 Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland in Oregon voiced his “full support” for Archbishop Gomez and for “the direction he has provided to the body of bishops regarding the question of Eucharistic coherence.”
“He has laid out a process which includes wide consultation on a particular timeline,” Archbishop Sample added. “Some of my brother bishops have asked to delay the process, but this would be a failure of our pastoral responsibility and a failure of collegiality.”
Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois also believes the bishops must discuss worthiness to receive the Eucharist. “Sadly, there are some bishops and cardinals of the Church who not only are willing to give holy Communion to pro-abortion politicians, but who seek to block the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops from addressing the question of Eucharistic coherence,” he said on Wednesday, May 26.
In a May 15th homily given at Thomas Aquinas College, Bishop Paprocki said, “In seeking Eucharistic coherence in an incoherent era, it is important to remember that the ultimate goal is conversion and readmission to communion, not exclusion and permanent expulsion from the community of faith.”
Bishop James Conley of Lincoln counts himself among those who believe discussions on Eucharistic coherence should happen soon. “If the polls are correct, some 70% of Catholics do not believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist,” he said. “Now is not the time to suspend discussion among the US bishops on the question of Eucharistic coherence at our upcoming June meeting.”
Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego opined that in discussions about whether pro-abortion Catholic politicians should be admitted to Communion, the sacrament is being “weaponized for political ends.”
Bishop James Wall of Gallup, New Mexico, responded to Bishop McElroy, saying that “our concern is not political but pastoral.” “Speaking the truth at times appears to create division,” he wrote, “but often it simply exposes the division that already exists. If Catholics cannot agree on protecting the helpless unborn, then our unity is superficial at best and illusory at worst.”
Just how real or illusory is that unity will likely be demonstrated to some significant degree at the USCCB Spring Assembly. Whether or not clarity and substantial action will result remains to be seen.
(Note: Bishop Wall was incorrectly identified as a bishop in Texas; that error has been corrected.)
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