The US Catholic Bishops’ decision to deny President Biden and other politicians the Eucharist based on their pro-choice policies is problematic. On one hand it’s important that they assert the Church’s position on abortion. On the other hand, denying a practicing Catholic this Holy Sacrament is troublesome, because it has often been said, “Silence is consent.” It is one thing to speak out, it is another issue to prevent an individual from receiving Jesus’ teachings and the fullest implications of denying one the opportunity to receive Christ.
Algerian writer Tahar Djouet was a writer who spoke out against Islamic fundamentalists in Algeria. He wrote, “Silence is death. If you remain silent you die. And if you speak you die, so speak and die.”
Jesus spoke out against the Pharisees and died as a result of what he said in putting himself above Caesar. The Jewish authorities handed him over due to his radical theology and exorcising rites on the Sabbath, but Jesus didn’t back down and called out their hypocrisy. More than once he challenged the fundamental belief that those who live by the letter of the law are held to an impossible standard, and he identified how their condemnation worked against them in being bound to it.
His love for humanity had no restrictions, his love was unconditional. His forgiveness was unconditional. “Forgive seventy times seven.” On the cross, he forgave his killers saying, “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.”
Given that the Bishops have condemned one of President Biden’s political decisions and are working to prohibit him receiving of the Eucharist, where is the condemnation for those who have blatantly violated the Church’s pro-life policies that all human life is sacred?
For example, even though he expedited the executions of thirteen people, Attorney General Bill Barr, a practicing Catholic, was awarded with an honor from the N.C.P.B. (National Catholic Prayer Breakfast) As Paul Elie pointed out in the New Yorker:
“Under Barr, federal executions have resumed; the Catholic Church opposes the death penalty. He has deterred people who have endured state-sponsored torture from coming to the United States as political refugees; the New Testament urges believers to welcome the stranger, “for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” He has misrepresented the conclusions of the Mueller report and dissembled about directing federal agents to dispel peaceful protesters in Washington’s Lafayette Square with tear gas (“My attitude was get it done, but I didn’t say, ‘Go do it’ ”); the Ninth Commandment, which Jesus reiterates in the Gospels, warns against bearing false witness. Yet, at the N.C.P.B., (Leonard) Leo introduced Barr as “truly a Catholic public servant” who embodies “integrity, honesty, humility, sincere and wise counsel,” and follows the Church in “respecting limits on the powers of the state.”
It is hard to stomach that the bishops are willing to open this can of worms, especially considering that with this reasoning, there are a number of pro-life issues that could justify forbidding someone from receiving the Eucharist. Child separation and the Catholics who supported this policy being one of them.
Where’s the list? I offer that this would include Steve Bannon who was a close advisor to Trump who supported the child separation policy. Didn’t Jesus say, “Let the children come unto me?” The foundation of Jewish/Christian ethic is to attend to the widow and the orphan and to welcome the stranger. But the bishops have never issued such a decree regarding these Catholics.
The foundation of Catholic Social Teaching, reminds us that church is a place for open dialogue and healing reconciliation.
St. Paul writes, “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you[a] free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh,[b] God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.” (Romans 8: 1-3)
Pope Francis has said time and again, “The Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.” (Evangeli Gaudi) The Vatican clearly made it known that President Biden should receive the Eucharist.
Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark echoed Pope Francis sentiment and noted that such a policy would divide the Church and provide “toxic partisan strife of denying Biden” the Eucharist. He’s right. Other Church leaders have followed suit in condemning the action of the US Catholic Bishops.
Catholics abide by the sacrament of reconciliation to help them find their way to God and seek out a better way in life. Some Church officials get it. Catholics are called to inform their consciences regarding issues of Church and how they reconcile them with everyday issues. Some Catholic politicians believe in the separation of church and state, as they serve the needs of a pluralistic society.
We need to distinguish between the mind and the heart in discerning what is acceptable to God. Are we functioning as robots on a rote understanding of law and exercising our rights? Or do we abide by the spirit of the law and exercise compassionate understanding, mercy and reconciliation through rites and rituals of Church?
If the tenets are so rigid that they cannot deviate, then the US Conference of Bishops should be held to that same standard. Their inability to act during the child sexual scandals and the moving of pedophile priests from one church to another, knowing they were committing these heinous crimes would be a sin worthy of such a decree. No doubt the Eucharist has served as a healing salve for many of the Bishops’ souls, as they were forced to face their wrongs in allowing predators to walk free.
Many Catholic women who have received abortions continue to receive the Eucharist – as they should. It is between them and God. May that Eucharist serve as a healing agent in the midst of pain and suffering such a decision imposes on the heart of a woman who has made that decision. It is not our place to judge.