Abortion and the Grumbling Crowd

Should a Catholic politician who campaigns for abortion rights receive communion? American bishops have been divided on this issue, at least since Senator John Kerry, a Catholic who strongly supported “free choice,” ran for president in 2004. The uproar died down after Mr. Kerry lost, but debate returned when he became president. Biden became the first Catholic to occupy the Oval Office since Roe v. calf 1973

The issue of communion seemed settled, at least for Mr. Biden. Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the Archbishop of Washington, said he would not refuse communion to Mr Biden. The pastor of Holy Trinity Parish in Georgetown, where the President often attends Mass, agreed. But earlier this year, Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco said Speaker Nancy Pelosi would be barred from receiving Communion in his archdiocese.

Archbishop Cordileone joins the US Conference of Catholic Bishops in calling abortion the “supreme” moral issue of our time. If a Catholic acts against this teaching or opposes it in the political sphere, then that person is not “in fellowship” with the Church. The archbishop has written that a Catholic lawmaker who advocates “forced abortion” is “committing an obviously grave sin which is a cause of the gravest scandal to others”. General Canon Law, Archbishop Cordileone pointed out in his statement, provides that such persons “are not admitted to Holy Communion (Code of Canon Law, can. 915)”.

But there is another approach. Bishop Robert W. McElroy of San Diego, who was recently made a cardinal by Pope Francis, has spoken out against “arming” the Eucharist. After all, can every Catholic pass the communion worthiness test? “It is the moral obligation of Catholics to accept all the teachings of the Church in their entirety,” he writes. “But failure to fully live up to that commitment cannot be the measure of Eucharistic worthiness in a church of sinners and questioners who face intense pressure and complexity in their daily lives.”

Bishop McElroy also points out that the focus of these restrictions is often very selective. Why only target abortion? There are other important “life issues”. Think of former Attorney General William Barr, who advocated the death penalty, which the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” clearly declares “inadmissible”. Still, there was little outcry over Mr. Barr’s reception of Communion. By focusing only on abortion, pastors risk politicizing something sacred. “The Eucharist must never be used for any political purpose, no matter how important,” said Bishop McElroy.

Amidst these controversies, Pope Francis is offering leadership to the Church. The Pope, like me and like virtually all Catholic ministers, is pro-life. However, there is a difference in how the Bishop of Rome and the American bishops view abortion in the context of other life issues. In his Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate, Pope Francis begins his discussion by stating that “our defense of the innocent unborn . . . must be clear, firm and passionate, because it is about the dignity of a human life, which is always sacred and requires love for every human being, regardless of their level of development.”

But he acknowledges that abortion is not the only issue of life: “Equally sacred . . . are the lives of the poor, the already born, the destitute, the abandoned and underprivileged, the vulnerable sick and elderly subjected to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery and every form of rejection.”

Pope Francis is also clear about the best practical applications of these teachings. “I’ve never refused communion to anyone,” he said last year. As for Mr. Biden’s receiving communion, despite its “inconsistency” with church doctrine, the pope considered it a matter for Mr. Biden’s conscience and his pastors.

The best solution might be to observe Jesus in the Gospels. He called the people away from sin and to a metanoia– a word usually translated as “repentance” but better understood as a thorough change of mind and heart and not just a desire to repent. Yet during his public ministry, Jesus also regularly dined with “tax collectors and sinners,” much to the consternation not only of the crowd but also of his disciples.

In the Gospel of Luke, when Jesus invited himself to dine at the house of Zacchaeus, the chief publican at Jericho, “everyone who saw it began to murmur” (Luke 19:7). The crowd frowned upon Jesus breaking bread with Zacchaeus, who, thanks to his collusion with the Romans, would likely have been considered the city’s “principal sinner.”

When I asked the late New Testament scholar Father Daniel J. Harrington about this passage, he pointed out the Greek word Panta, meaning “all”. He says the whiners “included the disciples.” Even Jesus’ closest advisers were opposed to breaking bread with sinners. It wasn’t him. It’s no surprise that the controversy and grumbling continues.

Father Martin, a Jesuit priest, is an editor at America Media and the author of Learning to Pray: A Guide for Everyone.

Wonderland: The administrative state has created ideological divisions that cannot be reversed for a long time. But an updated judgment on climate change could help revive the critical role that substantive politics played at the time of America’s founding. Images: Reuters/Getty Images Composite: Mark Kelly

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Alley Einstein

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