Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix celebrates Mass with members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Region XIII at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls on Feb. 12, 2020, during their ad limina visit / Daniel Ibanez/CNA
Denver, Colo., May 7, 2021 / 12:10 pm (CNA).
The bishop of Phoenix this week supported a recent letter from the archbishop of San Francisco stating that Catholics cooperating with abortion should not present themselves for Communion.
“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,” Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix said in a May 6 statement.
He responded to a May 1 letter by Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco on “the Human Dignity of the Unborn, Holy Communion, and Catholics in Public Life.” Olmsted called it “a powerful defense of the Church’s teaching on the dignity of all human life.”
Referring to bishops who do not clearly denounce the evil of abortion and of Catholics supporting it, Olmsted condemned “a false patience and pastoral concern that, year after year, stays silent or speaks in abstractions while the slaughter continues with the full endorsement of Catholic politicians under our spiritual care as bishops.”
The bishop warned that reluctance to speak out in such cases is a pastoral failure, rather than a charitable politeness.
“Such ‘patience’ is false because it is bereft of love and truth, and thus unmasks rather a deadly apathy towards one who professes the Catholic faith but whose public embrace of abortion puts his or her eternal soul at risk of damnation, and risks dragging untold numbers into hell by their example,” he said.
Archbishop Cordileone wrote in a May 1 pastoral letter that any Catholic cooperating with the evil of abortion should refrain from receiving the Eucharist. In his letter, he included a section on Catholic public officials who advocate for abortion.
“You are in a position to do something concrete and decisive to stop the killing,” Cordileone wrote, addressing those politicians. “Please stop the killing.”
“And please stop pretending that advocating for or practicing a grave moral evil – one that snuffs out an innocent human life, one that denies a fundamental human right – is somehow compatible with the Catholic faith. It is not. Please return home to the fullness of your Catholic faith,” he wrote.
The topic of Holy Communion for pro-abortion Catholic politicians has become especially relevant with the election of Joe Biden, the first Catholic U.S. president in six decades.
Biden has publicly advocated for protection of legal abortion, including the codification of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision which legalized abortion nationwide. Biden has also supported taxpayer funding of elective abortions, and has taken action as president to allow for taxpayer funding of pro-abortion groups in the United States and abroad.
The bishops of the United States (USCCB) may address the topic of “Eucharistic coherence” at their spring meeting in June. However, if a document is presented on the matter, it will reportedly address the Church’s teaching on general worthiness to receive Communion, and will not be a specific push to deny Biden Communion.
A source close to the USCCB told CNA on April 29 that at the June meeting, the bishops’ doctrine committee might present a “broad document” on general worthiness for reception of Communion; alternatively, the bishops might wait until their fall meeting in November to vote to consider such a document.
In his own apostolic letter from early April, Olmsted wrote that Catholic teaching sees the Eucharist as Christ’s transformative sacrifice on the cross, and that Holy Communion must only be received worthily. The Church teaches that to receive Communion, baptized Catholics must not be conscious of having committed serious sin since their last confession.
This teaching is not “partisan,” Olmsted wrote, adding that it certainly applies to political leaders who back evils such as abortion and euthanasia.
“Holy Communion is reserved for those, who with God’s grace make a sincere effort to live this union with Christ and His Church by adhering to all that the Catholic Church believes and proclaims to be revealed by God,” Bishop Olmsted wrote, explaining that Church teaching on this has “always been clear and based on Scripture.”
This is why the Church “requires Catholic leaders who have publicly supported gravely immoral laws such as abortion and euthanasia to refrain from receiving Holy Communion until they publicly repent and receive the Sacrament of Penance,” he said.
Olmsted recommended that all Catholics read Cordileone’s letter, as well as “all people of good will who desire to know why the Church cannot and will not change her traditional defense of motherhood and the most vulnerable in the womb.”
The bishop also recommended that the faithful read a recent article on the matter penned by Denver Archbishop Samuel Aquila.
“When the church minimizes the danger of an unworthy reception of the Eucharist, she fails to properly love those who continue to jeopardize their souls,” Archbishop Aquila wrote in his April 14 article published in America magazine.
“Trading ‘civility’ and ‘engagement’ for eternal life is not a good trade, and it is especially negligent for me, as a bishop, to remain quiet when people I am called to love may be endangering their eternal souls. This is a danger to them and a danger to me,” he wrote.
Individual bishops have spoken and written on the topic of “Eucharistic coherence” in recent months.
In March, Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield in Illinois told a regional conference of the Canon Law Society of America that Catholics who publicly and obstinately advocate for abortion, including politicians, can and should be denied Communion under canon law.
“I’m talking about their external actions. If they’re living in a way or holding positions that are contrary to church teaching, then the Minister of Communion has to deny them the sacrament,” Paprocki said.
During his homily at the Vigil Mass for Life in January, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas taught that Catholics should not receive Communion if they are contradicting “fundamental” Church teaching.
However, both Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington, D.C. and Bishop William Malooly of Wilmington, Delaware – Biden’s home diocese – have said in the past that they would not deny Communion to a politician who consistently works toward permissive abortion laws or policies.
Msgr. William Koenig was chosen last month as the new bishop of Wilmington, with his episcopal ordination scheduled for July 13.
Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego also said at a February online dialogue that denying Communion to obstinately pro-abortion Catholic politicians would be interpreted as “a weaponization of the Eucharist.” He said that bishops teaching about “Eucharistic coherence” in the Biden presidency was not a “good idea.”