Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco does not think so—at least not in a problematic sense of “politicize.” His recent pastoral letter, “Before I Formed You in the Womb I Knew You,” carefully explains Catholic teaching on abortion, holy Communion and the responsibilities of Catholics in public life, including political office.
An advocate of dialogue, accompaniment and private correction by pastors of Catholic officeholders who support abortion rights, Archbishop Cordileone nevertheless states, “Because we are dealing with public figures and public examples of cooperation in moral evil, this correction can also take the public form of exclusion from the reception of Holy Communion.”
“Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone and others are acting for the good of souls.”
Many bishops agree with Archbishop Cordileone. Meanwhile, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is reportedly working on a document some claim is aimed at a national requirement to deny the Eucharist to pro-abortion-rights Catholic politicians. By other accounts, the document will more broadly address the topic of worthiness to receive the Eucharist.
It seems highly unlikely the U.S. bishops’ conference would propose a national standard, which would contravene the authority of individual diocesan bishops. Besides, as we will see, a general pastoral standard already exists.
Does Archbishop Cordileone’s letter and similar efforts “politicize” the Eucharist? I think the answer is both no and yes. No, not in the way many critics suppose. Yes, in a perfectly sound, pastorally responsible way.
Inappropriately Politicizing the Eucharist
Critics who complain of the politicization of the Eucharist seem to mean that bishops want to deny the Eucharist to politicians mainly to obtain a political outcome, which these critics regard as extraneous to eucharistic participation.
Does Archbishop Cordileone’s letter and similar efforts “politicize” the Eucharist? I think the answer is both no and yes.
Imagine: A bishop denies an officeholder Communion because the bishop’s party lost in the last election, so the bishop uses the Eucharist to try to get the officeholder to join the bishop’s party.
Or a bishop denies an officeholder Communion with little or no concern for public disrespect to the Eucharist or the spiritual well-being of the officeholder and others who might be misled into sin; the bishop’s only interest is to pressure the politician to support policies the bishop favors.
In these examples the desired political outcome, even if worthy in its own right, is irrelevant to the question of the fitness of a would-be communicant to eucharistic participation and all it implies. Is this the sort of thing Archbishop Cordileone and his allies call for? If so, no one has demonstrated it.
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