Last updated on June 2nd, 2021 at 11:02 am
Editorial Note: This is the first 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.
For decades, American Catholics have watched, often in disbelief, as prominent public officials piously declared themselves to be devout members of the Catholic Church even while their public actions actively flaunted the teachings of the Church on serious moral issues. This has occurred on a number of matters — including same-sex ‘marriage’ and euthanasia — but most scandalously occurs on the issue of abortion which the Church considers to be “an abominable crime.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd, 2271)
As it happens, the two most prominent members of American public life, President Joe Biden and US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, both declare themselves to be Catholic. Both say that their Catholic upbringing help define who they are. Both proclaim that their devotion to Catholicism has shaped their beliefs and acts as a moral compass, and influences their service in public office. Both say that their faith is deeply ingrained. Both profess to attend Mass regularly and pray the Rosary.
And yet, both these public officials are proud, persistent and unwavering advocates of the abominable crime of abortion.
The Church May Respond Amid Opposition
At long last – but not without significant pushback from within the Church hierarchy – the leadership of the Catholic Church in America may be ready to do something about this scandal. By their actions on an issue of grave moral importance, the two most prominent lay Catholics in the country invite millions of the faithful to follow them into sin.
This is an emerging saga, with powerful opposing forces at play.
On May 1st, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco issued his first-ever Pastoral Letter on abortion. (Pelosi is a resident of the Archdiocese of San Francisco.) It is a compelling and beautifully composed exhortation honoring life, especially for the most vulnerable; the unborn. The letter discusses at length the moral issues involved in the cooperation with the great evil of abortion. Archbishop Cordileone propounds on those individuals who —
- are directly involved (abortionists and others who facilitate the evil),
- advocate for abortions (especially people in public life),
- cooperate in an immediate material way, and
- engage in a mediate way in the act.
Archbishop Articulates Key Points Concerning Abortion
The letter contains four pivotal points which I quote verbatim from the Archbishop:
- The gravity of the evil of abortion: Science teaches that human life begins at conception. The ending of life through abortion deeply wounds the woman and destroys the foundation of a just society; it is a “pre-eminent priority” because it violates the right to life, the foundation of all other rights. As Catholics we must be a voice for the voiceless and the powerless; there is no one more defenseless than a child in the womb.
- Cooperation in moral evil: Who bears culpability when an abortion takes place? It is never solely the mother’s act. Those who kill or assist in killing the child are directly involved in performing a seriously evil act. Someone who pressures or encourages the mother to have an abortion, who pays for it or provides financial assistance to organizations that provide abortions, or who supports candidates who advance pro-abortion legislation also cooperate by varying degrees in a grave moral evil.
- The meaning of choosing to receive the Holy Eucharist: The Church has taught consistently for 2000 years that those who receive the Eucharist are publicly professing their Catholic faith and are seriously striving to live by the moral teachings of the Church. Those who reject the teaching of the Church on the sanctity of human life and those who do not seek to live in accordance with that teaching place themselves in contradiction to the communion of the Church, and so should not receive the sacrament of that communion, the Holy Eucharist. We all fall short in various ways, but there is a great difference between struggling to live according to the teachings of the Church and rejecting those teachings.
- The responsibilities of Catholics in public life: From the three points above it follows that Catholics prominent in public life have a special responsibility to bear witness to the fullness of Church teaching. In addition to their own spiritual good there is also the danger of scandal: that is, by their false witness, other Catholics may come to doubt the Church’s teaching on abortion, the Holy Eucharist, or both. This is becoming increasingly challenging in our time.
You can read his full letter here.
The Archbishop lovingly calls all Catholics, including those in public life, to conversion. “Let us understand what is at stake here and work together in building a culture of life. To those who need to hear this message clearly: Turn away from evil and return home to the fullness of your Catholic faith. We await you with open arms to welcome you back with joy.”
Actions Under Consideration
Under the provisions of Catholic doctrine, when confronted with a public official (or any Catholic for that matter) who consistently and obstinately acts contrary to the teachings of the Church on the issue of abortion, the local Bishop has several options to consider.
The first option, which is for all intents and purposes mandatory, is to privately counsel the public official as to the nature of their error, the risk they are taking to their eternal soul, and the danger that their actions could result in otherwise faithful Catholics rejecting the teaching of the Church. The pastor instructs the individual not to present himself or herself for Holy Communion until they have corrected their actions.
When a serious effort at private counseling and correction fails, the next possible step for a Bishop to take concerning a public official who obstinately refuses to conform his or her public posture to the Church’s teaching, is to publicly deny the individual the ability to receive the sacrament of the Eucharist. This is a very serious correction, leaving the official unable to experience the very Sacrament that Christ Himself instituted before His death on the cross, and commanded be done in His memory.
Finally, the local Bishop has the power to excommunicate the public official. In fact, under Canon Law, a Catholic who directly participates in abortion (e.g. as the abortionist or a person who procures the abortion) is automatically excommunicated – latae sententiae. That said, there is widespread misunderstanding as to what excommunication means. The excommunicated person is not “kicked out” of the Catholic Church (the Sacrament of Baptism ensures that one’s membership cannot be effaced) but is penalized as an “exile”; seen as a sort of stranger before the Church. The individual never loses the continuing obligation to attend Mass and to adhere to Holy Obligations. However, he or she is prohibited from receiving any sacrament and cannot perform any ministerial function. The primary purpose of excommunication is not punishment, but is a “medicinal penalty” to help break down the official’s obstinate refusal to follow Church teaching, which derives from Christ.
Will Biden or Pelosi Face Repercussions?
Both Biden and Pelosi have been in public life for many decades. Both have largely escaped any repercussions for their rejection of the Catholic Church’s teaching on abortion. If they have been privately counseled and admonished to abstain from presenting themselves for Communion, they have ignored the admonishments. Is it possible that those days may be coming to an end? Stay tuned for Part 2.