The expected overturn of Roe v. Wade increases the pressure to ensure "Eucharistic integrity."
As the nation awaits a potentially game-changing Supreme Court ruling on abortion, and Catholics in the U.S. prepare for the beginning of a three-year “Eucharistic Revival,” there have been more and more calls for Eucharistic integrity on the part of public officials who are Catholic.
Notably, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco last month called on his highest-profile parishioner, U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, to refrain from receiving Communion as long as she continues to support legal abortion.
While Cordileone’s decree has received the support of many bishops around the country, the bishop of Arlington, Virginia, Michael Burbidge, has sent a similar message to Catholic President Joseph R. Biden Jr.
“I find it very troubling that President Biden continues to contradict the most basic teachings of the faith he professes,” Burbidge said in a recent episode of his podcast, Walk Humbly. He said that Biden causes “great scandal when he announces both his faith and his pro-abortion position publicly. I pray that he will change his position, repent of the scandal and the damage that is being caused.”
The Diocese of Arlington covers Northern Virginia and borders Washington, D.C.
The debate over denial of Communion for pro-abortion Catholic public officials has gone on for years, but recently intensified. Pelosi, Biden and other Catholics in office have voiced support for strengthening the legal “right” to abortion as the Roe v. Wade decision is increasingly threatened. In early May, Politico leaked a draft decision written by Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito and signed on to by four other justices, which would indicate that the high court will overturn Roe when it releases its opinion this month in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
This past year also has seen a number of states place much stricter regulations on abortion, with some states nearly banning the procedure altogether. Again, other states, with the help of some Catholic lawmakers, have gone the opposite route and worked to shore up abortion rights.
Colorado’s bishops issued a strong statement this week, saying any Catholic legislator who voted in favor recently for an expansion of abortion in the Centennial State should refrain from receiving the Eucharist.
Cordileone, in his letter to Pelosi on May 20, said that in April he had informed the 82-year-old Democratic congresswoman that “should you not publicly repudiate your advocacy for abortion ‘rights’ or else refrain from referring to your Catholic faith in public and receiving Holy Communion, I would have no choice but to make a declaration, in keeping with Canon 915, that you are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.”
Pelosi’s home is within the canonical territory of the Archdiocese of San Francisco.
“As you have not publicly repudiated your position on abortion, and continue to refer to your Catholic faith in justifying your position and to receive Holy Communion, that time has now come,” Cordileone said. “Therefore, in light of my responsibility as the Archbishop of San Francisco to be “concerned for all the Christian faithful entrusted to [my] care” (Code of Canon Law, can. 383, §1), by means of this communication I am hereby notifying you that you are not to present yourself for Holy Communion and, should you do so, you are not to be admitted to Holy Communion, until such time as you publicly repudiate your advocacy for the legitimacy of abortion and confess and receive absolution of this grave sin in the sacrament of Penance.”
Bishops weigh in
As of June 9, at least 20 bishops around the country have made statements supporting Cordileone’s actions. Archbishop Joseph Naumann, a former chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, issued a statement the same day Cordileone announced his decision regarding Pelosi, saying he “fully support[s] the both pastoral and courageous actions that Archbishop Cordileone has now taken in an effort to awaken Speaker Pelosi’s conscience and at the same time to protect Catholics in the Archdiocese of San Francisco and throughout the country from being confused by Speaker Pelosi’s radical support for abortion, while claiming to be a faithful Catholic. I pray that Speaker Pelosi will have a change of heart.”
One prelate, however, Bishop Michael O. Jackels of Dubuque, Iowa, took a different tack.
“Some people want to repair the scandal of pro-choice Catholic politicians by refusing them the Eucharist. But that’s a misguided response for at least two reasons,” Jackels said. “As Jesus said, it’s the sick people who need a doctor, not the healthy, and he gave us the Eucharist as a healing remedy; don’t deny the people who need the medicine.
“Also, to be consistent, to repair the scandal of Catholics being indifferent or opposed to all those other life issues [protecting the earth, our common home, or making food, water, shelter, education and health care accessible, or defense against gun violence], they would have to be denied Holy Communion as well,” the bishop continued.
“Better, I think, to put the Eucharist in the hands of such Catholics in hopes that one day soon they would put their hands to work on behalf of life, in defense of all life,” Jackels concluded.
But Archbishop Alexander K. Sample of Portland, Oregon, said that “it’s spiritually dangerous to approach the awesome power of God in Holy Communion with anything less than the respect it demands.” And Bishop Liam Cary, Diocese of Baker, Oregon, said there is a “scandalizing gap” between belief and behavior on Pelosi’s part that “grievously misleads her fellow believers about Catholic teaching on social justice and seriously handicaps Catholic efforts to defend unborn life in the womb.”
Bishop Burbidge, of Arlington, said he would uphold Cordileone’s decision in his diocese – so close to Washington, D.C.
As for President Biden, Burbidge urged him to seek counsel in Eucharistic adoration.
“My prayer recently has been that, as busy as he is, as demanding as his job is, that the president and other elected officials would find time … to just go in church, just sit in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, be still, be quiet, and allow the voice of the Lord to speak to you,” he said. “We know what that voice will say to the president, to all of us. Protect my children, love me, respect one another, uphold the Gospel of Life. And so, as we always say to Catholics, the churches of our doors are open to you to simply be in the presence of the Lord, the one alone who can transform hearts, the one alone in the Sacrament of Penance who is willing to forgive our sins, no matter how great they may be and allow us to begin anew.
Statements Issued in support of Archbishop Cordileone’s decision to bar Nancy Pelosi from Communion
Bishop Donald Hying, Diocese of Madison, Wisconsin
Archbishop Samuel Aquila, Archdiocese of Denver
Bishop Joseph Strickland, Diocese of Tyler, Texas
Bishop James Conley, Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska
Bishop Robert Vasa, Diocese of Santa Rosa, California
Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ, Diocese of Oakland, California
Archbishop Paul S. Coakley, Archdiocese of Oklahoma City
Bishop Thomas Paprocki, Diocese of Springfield, Illinois
Bishop David Ricken, Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin
Bishop Liam Cary, Diocese of Baker, Oregon
Bishop Thomas Daly, Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Bishop Michael F. Olson, Diocese of Fort Worth, Texas
Bishop James S. Wall, Diocese of Gallup, New Mexico
Bishop Emeritus Michael D. Pfeifer, OMI, Diocese of San Angelo, Texas
Bishop Michael Burbidge, Diocese of Arlington, Virginia
Bishop Thomas Tobin, Diocese of Providence, Rhode Island
Archbishop Alexander Sample, Archdiocese of Portland, Oregon
Bishop Gerald Vincke, Diocese of Salina, Kansas
Bishop Joseph V. Brennan, Diocese of Fresno, California