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The media vs. reality when it comes to Eucharistic consistency

If speaking of worthiness to receive the Eucharist is off-limits to Catholic bishops, what in heaven’s name can they say?

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Have you ever read or heard a news account of an event that you know something about and found it to bear little or no resemblance to what happened? That was the case for me with The New York Times version of the U.S. bishops’ proposed statement on the Eucharist and “eucharistic consistency” as it emerged at their June 16-18 assembly.

After long and sometimes heated debate, the bishops voted 168 to 55 with 6 abstentions to have their doctrine committee draft a document on “The Meaning of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church.”

Although the meeting was available via live stream to anyone interested, the account by Times Rome correspondent Jason Horowitz can most kindly be described as tendentious and misleading. Horowitz, I should add, is hardly the only journalist who blew this story, but the Times is the Times, so let me focus on it.

Horowitz’s version featured a dystopian picture of the Church in America as presented in a book by a French journalist who covers the Vatican. The book, he wrote, “explored the ties of conservative American bishops to a well-financed and media-backed American effort to undermine [the present] pontificate.”

Scary isn’t it?

In truth, there are many shades of opinion in American Catholicism, from critics of the present pontificate to strong supporters. This variety of views is merely an unremarkable fact, not the product of a well-financed conspiracy.

As for the proposed document, the Times correspondent wrote as follows:

The vote to go ahead and draft new guidance on the issue guarantees that it will stay in the political bloodstream and grow only more potent as the American bishops’ doctrine committee works on the guidance ahead of a planned November meeting.

This is a murky piece of writing. The writer does not explain what “issue” among several possibilities he is talking about nor does he say what “it” refers to later in the sentence or in whose “bloodsteam” this “it” will grow more potent.

But the paragraph’s intent is obvious enough—to foment mistrust of whatever the bishops say next November.

And what will that be? It was clear during the assembly that in speaking of worthiness to receive communion, the document won’t single out any individual or group for criticism but will speak of the duty of all communicants to approach the sacrament in faith and reverence. It won’t treat abortion as the sole test, won’t set a national policy, and will leave it to diocesan bishops to decide individual cases.

Rather than defying the Pope, the document as described conforms to specifications by Cardinal Luis Ladaria, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and will be reviewed by the CDF before the bishops vote on it.

Certainly the bishops didn’t help themselves by not making all this crystal clear during the assembly and not posting such a clarification on their website until several days later. Still, it was obvious from the start to some of us covering the meeting—though unfortunately not all. Is it asking too much to expect secular journalists to understand an event happening before their very eyes?

As for the document now being drafted, some people would prefer that it take a tougher line while others would prefer that the bishops say nothing. Inadvertently, nonetheless, the misleading coverage in The New York Times and other major news outlets raises an important question: If speaking of worthiness to receive the Eucharist is off-limits to Catholic bishops, what in heaven’s name can they say?

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About Russell Shaw 263 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, Eight Popes and the Crisis of Modernity, and, most recently, The Life of Jesus Christ (Our Sunday Visitor, 2021).


  1. In 1898 William R. Hearst’s “Yellow Journalism” gave us the Spanish American War. He and Joseph Pulitzer were in a duel for circulation supremacy and headlines were everything.

    Today, the rag New York Times (giving new meaning to ragtime!) and other print media are in a losing battle against a bored readership, electronic media and now non-mainline journalism, and even facts. If it’ll sell, why not throw Momma under the train? Or maybe Holy Mother the Church?

  2. “Is it asking too much to expect secular journalists to understand an event happening before their very eyes?”
    Expecting the so-called MSM to understand, or even try to understand, a religious issue is a fool’s errand.

    • Gilberta, to you goes this week’s (unwanted and unasked for I’m sure) ‘Captain Obvious’ award.

  3. Yawn. Another statement from the Bishops that nobody will read unless it can be twisted to support some liberal cause.

    It means nothing unless the timid-hearts actually take action. Go back to bed.

  4. Our pastor has many times told the congregation “Don’t believe anything written about our Church in the secular press.” And I listened!

  5. Journalism schools used to teach that reporters had a responsibility to educate themselves on the issues they wrote about. At least that’s what I was taught in the 1980s journalism school from which I graduated. That seems to be a thing of the distant past. One would expect a responsible news outlet to hire reporters with some expertise in the area of religion prior to having them write on issues concerning religion; however, this is daunting and apparently impossible to achieve. To be fair, many Catholics don’t understand Church teaching either. All Catholics, however, are responsible for educating themselves on the teaching of the Church. If they’ve taken this responsibility seriously, they understand that none of us is “worthy” to receive Communion. We are taught, nevertheless, that we are not to present ourselves for Communion in a state of mortal sin, such as supporting abortion and other immoral issues. Church teaching on this issue is clear. The bishops simply need to point to Canon Law and the Catechism of the Catholic Church in conjunction with Scripture to reiterate the concept, which is what they will do in drafting a document. Serious Catholics already know this. Less serious Catholics who think they only have to carry a rosary in their pockets to be “devout” won’t pay any more attention to the “new” document than they have to ages-old teaching.

  6. Given what the bishops have now said will be in their Eucharistic document, and even more what they said will not be in the document, I would suggest that those wanting information on the Eucharist read about it in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and look up on line canons 915 and 916. There are a page and a half of Eucharistic references in the index of the catechism. I would guess that the upcoming bishop’s statement will not have as much valuable information as these two sources.

  7. Having spent 40 years in broadcast journalism, I’m quite familiar with the bodyguard of lies used to protect the secular, vastly left-wing agenda of the U.S. media. That includes all varieties thereof. To depend solely on any sub-strata of that compost to be usefully informed is to remain willfully ignorant. Just sayin’.

  8. ” . . . the bodyguard of lies used to protect the secular, vastly left-wing agenda of the U.S. media”.
    The keyword here is “agenda”.
    And add the Canadian so-called mainstream media, pls.

  9. Receiving the Holy Eucharist in the state of mortal sin, for example promoting abortion rights, is a sacrilege.
    If the bishops don’t make this crystal clear,they are complicit in Biden’s,Pelosi’s, and other so called “Catholic” pro choice liberal politicians(what a mockery), sacrilege, and will answer to God on Judgment Day.
    Pretty obvious I would think

  10. From Pastoral Incoherence, by Fr. Timothy V. Vaverek
    July 3, 2021


    With Catholic clergy declaring immoral activities to be moral or, at least, to be matters of subjective conscience, it is no surprise that the faithful feel free to act contrary to human dignity and the Gospel. Dissident theologians have continued to promote false teachings. Many Catholic hospitals permit contraception or sterilization. Fr. Robert Drinan, S.J., a Congressman in the 1970s, remained a priest even though he supported federal funding of abortion.

    Why, then, should septua- and octogenarians today, like President Biden and Speaker of the House Pelosi, think there is an incompatibility between their voting record and the reception of Holy Communion? Why should any Catholic believe that Eucharistic coherence requires conformity to the life of Christ in accordance with the Gospel authentically proclaimed by the Church?

    In this context, episcopal statements about the Eucharist won’t change many hearts and minds. Malformed Catholics, including clergy, will continue to act on the false notion of conscience they were taught. This outcome is all the more likely given that the bishops will studiously avoid correcting the false notion of conscience because, otherwise, they would have to correct fellow bishops who hold the dissenting view.

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