Editorial Note: This is the second of a two-part series on the growing scandal in the Catholic Church concerning the active promotion of abortion by Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi while claiming to be faithful Catholics.
In Part One, we discussed the increasing imperative that some Catholic bishops feel in taking action to blunt the impact of high-profile public officials who profess to be faithful Catholics while obstinately – and without remorse – advocating for abortion. San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone published a May 1st Pastoral letter suggesting that public officials who refuse to follow Church teaching on abortion should be considered unworthy to receive Holy Communion. He is not the only bishop who holds that view.
As Archbishop Cordileone was issuing his Pastoral Letter, another California Archbishop, Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, had been laying the groundwork for the possible issuance of a profound statement of national policy on behalf of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). Archbishop Gomez, head of the USCCB, issued a statement upon the occasion of Joe Biden’s Presidential inauguration in January; commending his leadership, but noting several key areas where Biden’s positions are in contravention with the Church he professes to follow. “I must point out that our new President has pledged to pursue certain policies that would advance moral evils and threaten human life and dignity: most seriously in the areas of abortion, contraception, marriage, and gender.”
The Gomez statement resulted in a scandalous rebuke from Cardinal Blaise Cupich, who Pope Francis plucked from obscurity as Bishop of the tiny Spokane, WA diocese to lead America’s third largest Catholic diocese in Chicago. Cupich told the media, “The [USCCB] issued an ill-considered statement on the day of President Biden’s inauguration…[T]here is seemingly no precedent for doing so [and] the statement came as a surprise to many bishops who received it hours before it was released.” It should be noted that Cupich is notoriously weak when it comes to protecting the sanctity of human life. In Spokane, he instructed his priests not to support the 40 Days For Life campaign where people pray outside of abortion clinics. This campaign is a staple of the national pro-life movement and is heavily supported by the Catholic faithful. Prayers outside abortion clinics have resulted in miraculous conversions saving countless babies from death, and played a central role in the story of Planned Parenthood Clinic Director Abby Johnson, whose own remarkable conversion was chronicled in the blockbuster hit pro-life movie “Unplanned.”
From all appearances, Archbishop Gomez was not deterred by Cupich’s criticism. Two months after Biden’s inauguration, in March, Archbishop Gomez informed the Vatican that US Bishops were considering issuing a national policy on public officials who endorse abortion receiving communion. He said that bishops intended to discuss the matter at a conference in June and offered to work with the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) to review and provide suggestions on any draft statements before they were adopted.
The Vatican had not responded to Gomez’ notification until after Archbishop Cordileone issued his May 1st Pastoral Letter. Naturally, so-called progressive bishops like Cupich, New Jersey Cardinal Joseph Tobin and San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy did not take kindly to the idea that pro-abortion public officials – particularly Democrats Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi – might be subject to the denial of Holy Communion. McElroy accused Cordileone of “weaponizing” the Eucharist and said the idea was part of a political agenda.
The First Shoe Drops
Only then did the prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith write to Archbishop Gomez to urge US bishops to proceed cautiously. On May 7th, the head of the CDF, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, outlined six areas of importance that the American bishops should consider in their deliberations. Of these, three stand out in particular: a 2004 determination by then head of the CDF, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who later became Pope Benedict XVI; limitations on bishop conferences to adopt binding policies that are not supported by local bishops; and the inclusion of other moral evils in any policy impacting public officials. Ladaria strongly urged “dialogue” among the bishops themselves, and then among bishops and pro-abortion politicians in their jurisdictions. He also urged that “every effort be made to dialogue with other episcopal conferences to preserve unity in the universal church.”
Bishops like McElroy, Cupich and Tobin say that it is wrong to elevate abortion and euthanasia above other moral issues of concern to the Church. They point to issues like climate change, economic justice and peace as being of equal concern. (Presumably, conservative Republican public officials would more likely run afoul of these issues than would Democrats.) Cardinal Ladaria’s letter seems to give a nod to this view, citing a 2002 “Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life” that was approved by Pope John Paul II. The Doctrinal Note does not address denying officials Holy Communion but does reference “other moral evils” such as those cited by the progressive bishops.
Cardinal Ladaria cautioned the US bishops that no binding national policy can be adopted by the bishop conference “by consensus.” Such a policy can only be adopted unanimously or by approval of the Holy See. As is already clear, there is not unanimous support for denying pro-abortion public officials Communion. Thus, a statement by the USCCB might provide guidance to American bishops, but would not be binding. The Archbishops of Washington DC and Delaware, Joe Biden’s home dioceses, have already made it clear that they would not deny Biden access to Holy Communion. However, such may not be the case for Nancy Pelosi when she is in her home diocese of San Francisco, under the authority of Archbishop Cordileone.
Vatican Downplays Precedence
Significantly, Cardinal Ladaria’s letter downplays the importance of the 2004 determination by Cardinal Ratzinger that squarely addressed the denial of Communion to public officials. US bishops were debating the issue in light of John Kerry’s candidacy for president. Kerry, like Biden, favored abortion even though he professed devotion to the Catholic Church. The bishops formed a committee headed by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick – who has since been removed from the priesthood for his repeated homosexual abuse of children and young seminarians – to examine the matter. Cardinal Ratzinger wrote to McCarrick telling him that when a politician who has been instructed by his Pastor that he should not present himself for Communion and yet, “the person in question, with obstinate persistence, still presents himself to receive the Holy Eucharist, the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it.” This direction did not please the politically-connected McCarrick, so he declined to distribute Ratzinger’s communication to his fellow bishops. Instead, he characterized Ratzinger’s direction as urging caution, a description that highly-regarded church officials such as the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus said was an intentional misrepresentation.
Despite this history, Cardinal Ladaria noted in his letter to Archbishop Gomez that Ratzinger’s recommendation to McCarrick was a “personal communication” and was not intended as a governing directive, nor can it take precedence over the papally-approved “Doctrinal Note” that preceded it. Ladaria is very likely correct in placing more authority in the Doctrinal Note than in the McCarrick communication. Being papally-approved, the Doctrinal Note is a magisterial source whereas the letter is not. That said, Cardinal Ratzinger authored both documents, the 2004 McCarrick communication coming two years after the Doctrinal Note. There is no conflict between the two documents and there is no reason that America’s bishops couldn’t consider them both.
All that being said, a fair reading of Cardinal Ladaria’s letter suggests that the Vatican does not favor the US Bishops adopting a binding national policy denying public officials Holy Communion because they favor and abet the grave moral sin of abortion. Pope Francis almost certainly would not approve such a binding policy in the absence of unanimous support from all of America’s bishops.
Nancy Pelosi hopes that Ladaria’s letter will be the end of the matter. No doubt Joe Biden does as well. Pelosi told a reporter that the Vatican had made it clear that America’s bishops must not “be divisive on the subject” and that “I can use my own judgment” on receiving Holy Communion. In that, her arrogance has tripped her up. Archbishop Cordileone clearly does not think that Pelosi can “use [her] own judgment.” He reacted to her comments by signaling that he was grateful that she welcomed Cardinal Ladaria’s letter. “(Cardinal) Ratzinger confirmed that consistently advocating for abortion and euthanasia constitutes formal cooperation in grave sin, and that bishops must dialogue with Catholics prominent in public life who do so in order to help them understand the grave evil they are helping to perpetrate and accompany them to a change of heart,” San Francisco’s archbishop said. “He goes on to say in that letter that, if these dialogues prove to be fruitless, then, out of respect for the Catholic belief of what it means to receive Holy Communion, the bishop must declare that the individual is not be admitted to Communion,” Archbishop Cordileone added.
Many American bishops do not seem keen on continuing to do nothing while politicians like Pelosi and Biden mock core teachings of the faith and entice others to follow their lead. After all, Pelosi and Biden are the two most prominent lay Catholics in America, if not the world, and their active support for abortion provides cover for the grave and abominable sin that abortion represents. Countless other Catholics and non-Catholics alike will be led to an embrace of abortion thinking that it is morally permissible to do so. Thus, dealing with pro-abortion Catholics like Biden and Pelosi is a matter for very serious discussion by Church leaders.
The Second Shoe Drops
Clerics like Cupich, McElroy and Tobin do not wish to even engage in a discussion of the issues. According to media reports, Cupich and Tobin travelled to Rome following the issuance of the Cordileone pastoral letter to meet with Vatican officials and plot a response. The first shoe to drop was Ladaria’s letter on behalf of the CDF. And in just the past 48 hours, the second shoe dropped, an unprecedented letter from various Bishops (mostly auxiliary bishops) calling on the USCCB to remove the issue from their June agenda, thus avoiding discussion of the issues altogether.
This latest demand has caused great division and strife among American bishops. The Communion worthiness issue was put on the June agenda in the normal course of deliberation months ago by a vote of the USCCB administrative committee, which includes all top officials of the bishop conference. The only issue up for discussion in June is whether the Conference should direct its doctrinal committee to draft a proposal for future consideration. Should such a proposal be drafted, Archbishop Gomez said this week, it would be subject to “the Conference’s usual process of consultation, modification, and amendment” before eventually being voted upon for the possibility of publication “at a future Plenary Assembly.”
Archbishop Gomez has rejected calls for the issue to be removed from the USCCB June agenda.
Once again, the hand of Blase Cupich is apparent in this latest brouhaha. This same Cupich who declared in January that the USCCB statement upon Joe Biden’s inauguration was without precedent and done outside the normal process of consultation among the bishops, is reportedly the architect (along with Washington DC Cardinal Wilton Gregory) of this latest gambit which is itself without precedent and done outside the USCCB’s normal collaborative consultation process. According to Catholic media reports, Cupich was in the Vatican last week and circulated drafts of the letter among Vatican officials.
This latest gambit by Cupich and the others has roiled Archbishop Cordileone. Cordileone issued a public statement saying, “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. Those who do not want to issue a document on Eucharistic coherence should be open to debating the question objectively and fairly with their brother bishops, rather than attempting to derail the process.” In an interview with The Pillar, Cordileone amplified on his statement: “I cannot tell you how aggrieved this makes me feel. I’m really alarmed at this move. We are following our conference procedures. I’m very bothered by [this letter]… I think this is totally unacceptable.”
Archbishop Samuel J. Acquila of Denver also publicly defended the decision to discuss the matter, saying “there have been some who have misrepresented [what Cardinal Ladaria’s letter said] but it was clear from it that the USCCB’s plan to discuss and debate this important issue is warranted and encouraged. In contrast, the publication of the letter calling for a halt to discussion at our June meeting on this vital issue risks creating an atmosphere of factionalism, rather than unity among the bishops.” Bishop James Wall of the Diocese of Gallup, New Mexico, wrote that “Our concern is not political but pastoral; it is for the salvation of souls. This issue has political ramifications, but that is not an excuse to shy away at this crucial moment.” Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, issued his own statement expressing his own support for the USCCB leadership and conference process. “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, which has taken on heightened urgency with the election of President Biden, a Catholic who promotes the evils of abortion, same-sex marriage, and transgenderism.”
It is clear that progressive clerics like Cupich, Gregory and Tobin can pull strings in Pope Francis’ Vatican hierarchy, but it is also clear that there is a strong desire among many US Bishops to take a stand on the scandalous mocking by pro-abortion Catholic politicians of a preeminent aspect of Catholic theology concerning the sanctity of life. We will see in a few weeks if Cupich and his allies are able to shut down any cohesive national discussion of the issue. If they fail – and we pray they do – we will then see what sort of policy the USCCB might recommend, and whether they will seek a binding national policy or focus on a statement of principle that contains guidelines for local bishops to utilize when confronted with an obstinate pro-abortion politician like Nancy Pelosi or Joe Biden.
Catholics in America and around the world will be anxiously watching the USCCB as it debates the issues in a few weeks. If they do eventually adopt national guidelines on public officials receiving Holy Communion, those guidelines likely will not enjoy binding authority, but they will be a most welcome statement of moral authority. The faithful will be praying for a just resolution of this important issue. And they will be praying for the sixty-six million-plus souls sacrificed in America to the abominable crime of abortion; a crime in which people like Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden are complicit.